Monday, December 26, 2011

The Weed that Strings the Hangman's Bag by Alan Bradley

Flavia de Luce, girl chemist with a possibly unhealthy interest in death is on the case again. In this sequel to The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, a puppet show run by the charismatic and crippled by polio Rupert comes to town. His assistant Nialla has been placed in a desperate position.
When Rupert ends up dead, Flavia is left to untangle the strings of this mystery. Rupert may be more than just a passerby, his history and the history of the inhabitants of Bishop Lacy prove to be tangled together. The mysterious death of a village boy, the mad woman in the woods, and secret liaisons all conspire to make a puzzle for Flavia to solve.

I very much enjoyed The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie and was interested in seeing how Bradley would follow it up. He continues to explore Flavia's unique skills and talents. We gain insight into her thought process and her talent with chemical equations. Also though, Bradley expands on her emotional life as well in this volume. Her anxiety over her relationship with her sisters and her questions about the mother she never knew are touched on.
Some of the Bishop Lacey residents of the first novel appear again, but we are introduced to other locals who each help Flavia piece together the solutions to the Rupert's death as well as a death from half a decade before.
Though perhaps, lacking some of the dramatic tension of the first novel, it's still a fun read. Bradley's chapters move quickly, each one fairly short and moving. There are some satisfying twists that may come as a surprise. The solution to the mystery, however left me with mixed feelings, especially over how the murderer should be punished.
The Weed that Strings the Hangman's Bag is a fun, quick read that takes you back into the world of Flavia de Luce, a charismatic, but flawed and surprising believable young girl with remarkable skills. The third book A Red Herring Without Mustard will go on my TBR list. Sequels don't always live up to the quality of the first, but this novel came fairly close.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

The Secret History by Donna Tartt

The novel opens with Richard, our narrator and protagonist thinking back on the murder he and his friends committed back in college. From there we go back to how this story began, making this a sort of inverted murder mystery. We know the victim, we know the killers, now we need to find out why.
At a small college in New England, a select group of students study the Classics with Julian, a charismatic professor who is well traveled and well loved by his students. Richard, newly transferred from California with some Greek study in his background wants to join the class, but has to be accepted by Julian personally. When he finally is, he immediately begins to form bonds with Julian's students.
There's Henry, a genius that seems to live more in the world of the classics than in real life. Charles and Camilla are the twins, they are very close and very secretive. Frances, a sensitive young man with access to his aunt's country home is also among the group. And finally, there's Edmund "Bunny" Corcoran. His family maintains an air aristocracy, but appear to be broke, equipping their son with nothing but skills at mooching off of everyone else and a crude sense of humor.
We learn in the first pages that Bunny is the murder victim. After that we go back and get the story about secrets, ancient rituals, and desperation that lead to his demise.

Overall, it's a decent story. In spite of the obvious tension within the story, there were many sections of the book that simply could not keep my attention. Passages meandered and seemed as listless as its characters after a night of bacchanals. Yes, its college student characters are constantly (infuriatingly) drunk or high, especially Richard, the narrator who wanders around getting drunk and doing cocaine for an alarmingly large amount of the time.
It's true that these are young people, and young people tend to experiment, but it seems excessive in Tartt's prose. I also began to wonder why this group of students was considered so elite, other than Henry, there was little to illustrate any impressive aptitude from them.
The novel was structured after a Greek tragedy. Early on Tartt brings up the elements of fate and the possession of a fatal flaw. In a way, looking at a modern situation through a lens of ancient tragedy can work. There is a fatal flaw, there is a fall, there is a noble sacrifice, and there is a sense of repayment and justice in the end.
Tartt is moderately successful at creating this tragic world. Richard serves as our messenger (as every good Greek play should have) who tells us how this tragedy befell our heroes and how they had to pay for it. It wasn't a bad novel. If you enjoy Greek tragedy and murder mysteries, you may find something of interest here. However, it makes sense that this was Tartt's first novel. She shows that she has talent, but she is not entirely successful with her execution.
This is a good novel to compare with Carol Goodman's Lake of Dead Languages which I reviewed a few months ago, as it deals with many similar themes. Although also flawed, I prefer Goodman's novel because of its taut, poetic language.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Life Changing Books

Let's talk about life changing books. The books you read that change the way you think about something, the way you see the world. There are so many books that have effected the way I think and feel. Here are just a couple of the significant ones.
A Series of Unfortunate Events:
These were my favorite book when I was young. Even into high school I read the later ones as they came out. These were so different than most books for young readers, they were dark, ironic, they sent me to the dictionary and made me love all the rich and wonderful words.
The Bell Jar: Such a wonderful book about identity, insanity and growing into young womanhood. Disorienting and razor sharp. I read this in ninth or tenth grade and loved it.
Slaughterhouse Five: Probably the best war story I've ever read. Kurt Vonnegut's genre blending and wry humor intrigued me, occasionally confused me, but ultimately enthralled me. It changed my perspective on trauma. So it goes.
Jane Eyre: Probably the first book I read that made me feel like I was the narrator, we were one. I was eighteen, dealing with isolation and trying to determine where to go with my life, this book helped me through so much.

There are so many more that have touched me or taught me, but these always stand out when I think back on my life.
What are your life changing books?

Sunday, December 11, 2011


Sorry for the silence over here these last two weeks. I've been writing papers and doing presentations. My semester is almost over and I'm trying to plan how best to spend my winter break.
Now, I must finish an essay on Chaucer and I webpage for my new media class. I'll be back soon with book reviews and other (hopefully) exciting posts.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Source Booking

I took a play writing class a few years ago and before starting a project we needed to make a source book. This was a portfolio or document where we collected text, images, music, and anything else that was a source of inspiration or research for our intended projects.
This was invaluable at tough moments in the writing and rehearsing process. I've decided to adopt this technique for my fiction writing as well. Over the Thanksgiving break from school I began working on an old idea, but with a fresh perspective. The idea is for a piece set in Ireland during the age of mythic battles and warriors. I have several early Anglo-Saxon poems that I want to use as a source. I especially want to explore the emotional life of the women that are effected by these battles.
It's not a history piece exactly, because so much of the history from this age is just story telling with fantastical elements. It's not a grounded moment of historical fact, but a progression of human experiences. I had shelved the project a few years ago because I really had no idea where to even begin. That can often be the hardest thing for me as a writer-- I always have ideas, it's finding a way into them, a starting point that is the challenge.
Still, I'm feeling positive about this. I'm creating my source book. This has been in the back of my mind for about two and a half years, I finally think I'm ready to start working on it.
It's funny. When I finally have my mini break-down and decide not to write for anything but my own pleasure, ideas rush to me. A stopper is released and everything can flow again. I know this project will take a lot of time an research, but I'm excited about it. I think it will be good. I don't usually say that about my writing.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Possession: The Book vs. The Film

Possession is a romantic novel that traces the love affair between two Victorian poets as well as the story of the modern academics piecing together the trail of letters they left behind. The novel is beautiful, full of the lush language A.S. Byatt was famous for. Though, there are some long passages of poetry that seem a little indulgent and unnecessary, you gradually get more and more drawn into the story of the Victorians, Randolph Henry Ash and Christabel LaMotte.
I saw the 2002 film last night with starred Gweneth Paltrow and Aaron Eckhart as Maud and Roland, the modern academics turned historical detectives. Jeremy Northam and Jennifer Ehle play Ash and LaMotte.
Of course the film makes many cuts so that it can fit in a 1 hour and 40 minute time slot. They trim down many things (like some of the epic poems) that don't effect the story too much, but the film seemed to be missing something deeper. The character of Roland, especially seems underdeveloped. Everything seems to happen very quickly and some of the slower, more character driven moments from the book are missing.
Filmmaker and playwright Neil LaBute does tap into a few highly emotional moments which came as a surprise to me. His plays are often rather cool and cynical, but he found his romantic side while working on this screenplay.
Even though it's not my favorite of Byatt's novel, it is certainly worth the reading, even if you've seen the film. If you've read the book, but haven't seen the movie, it's nice to see the story brought to life, but you may have the strange sensation of missing the characters you know from the book. As with nearly any book to film, the book is better, but it was a decent adaptation. Still interesting, intelligent, and romantic. It will never be the way I saw it in my head, of course, but that's always the problem with adaptations.

Monday, November 21, 2011

A Writer Recharges

After my mini crisis last week, I quit NaNoWriMo (gasp!). I am reassembling myself and my thoughts, and especially my writing. I think I just need to reinvigorate my work. I now find myself working on a play I started a while ago. Playwriting is certainly not a profitable direction, but I can't write with selling as the point. Writing has to be the point.
The play is an hour long farce, and I'm having fun. Writing needs to be be fun again. I find that letting myself relax and enjoy what I'm doing helps the ideas flow. As a young writer, I'm still finding my methods and my niche. I'm not off making my own living yet, I still have some time to flush out my writing.
There will be plenty of pressure later.
So, I'm doing plenty of reading, writing a little everyday, and trying to get out of the house more.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Skip this rant

I apologize in advance for this outburst.
A piece of flash fiction I wrote for the The Vestal Review was rejected last week which sort of set this whole thing in motion. I really liked that piece, I thought it was quality. So now I'm doubting my ability to judge my own work. Work on my NaNo has been increasingly halting because I'm a little overwhelmed with school work.
I just feel like I'm stuck in this place where I'm putting all this time and effort into a degree that no one will ever pay me for. Yes, an English degree can help you go in other directions besides writing, but I honestly don't want to do anything else. I write because I love it, because I have to do it, I can't stop myself, but now that I get closer to graduating (and having my bills ever increasing) I have to think about doing it for money as well.
Putting monetary value on my work is so difficult. When magazines and publishers aren't willing to pay for work that I originally did for free, it devalues it and makes me doubt myself as a writer. I hate entering writing contests, even though they may have cash prizes because I hate having my work held up and arbitrarily judged by people comparing it to dozens of other submissions. I'm very private about my writing and these terrible experiences trying to make it more public only tell me that it should stay private. No one wants it. But I don't know what else I can possibly do with my life. Molding words and telling stories are the only thing I know how to do. But apparently I don't do it very well.
I need something positive to happen to me, I'm having some kind of quarter life crisis here.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

The Tempest (2010)

I finally had a chance to see Julie Taymor's adaptation of William Shakespeare's The Tempest. Taymor has previously adapted Shakespeare for the screen with Titus, her 1999 adaptation of the gory revenge tragedy, Titus Andronicus.
The first noticeable change Taymor makes to Shakespeare's play is that of making the dethroned Duke and part time sorcerer Prospero a woman, Prospera, played by Helen Mirren. People have complained about this, "But this doesn't fit the thesis I wrote about gender roles in The Tempest." However, Taymor wasn't writing a thesis, she was looking at the text with a fresh set of eyes. Mirren is incandescent in the role, full of rage and sorrow.
The rest of the casting is fantastic as well, Ben Whishaw as Ariel and Felicity Jones as Miranda stand out especially. Russell Brand appears as Trinculo, a jester sort of role. He plays Trinculo as Russell Brand, if you don't find him particularly funny, you won't enjoy his scenes very much. In my opinion, he was the one low point in the casting.
Djinmom Hounsou's portrayal of Caliban, like Helen Mirren's Prospera, add new shading to the roles and the play over all. In moments between Prospera and Caliban the sense of imperialism or western colonialism in general seems to be an undertone; the ruling invader speaking to the native, holding power over them. The role of Prospero as a woman brought in the idea the undermining of women's inheritance and legal power and, of course, the witch trials common of the era.
As usual, Taymor's visuals are stunning and artistic. Whishaw's Ariel, the airy spirit, transforms through many of the scenes. From a sheer, snowy white figure able to split himself into several portions, to a terrifying black crow, glistening and winged hovering over the King and his men, driving them mad, each scene presents a new visual landscape which Whishaw and Taymor fully embody.
Toward then end, some of the surreal visuals of the hell hounds chasing Stephano, Trinculo, and Caliban looks vaguely video game like. As one of Shakespeare's later comedies, it is very dark and Taymor struggles to bring out the moments of comedy from within the play with such visuals as well as a very modern sounding musical score under these parts. It is difficult for her to capture what is humorous about these characters in this sublot on film.
In typical Taymor fashion, nothing is completely straight forward. Though the costumes of the nobles that are shipwrecked on the island are grounded in the 17th century, there is a gothic, punk-rock feel. All of their doublets are black festooned with zippers and metal. The belts and boots also have buckles and marks that would make them more appropriate for the grunge movement than the late Elizabethan era. Her costumes are like wink to the audience, reinforcing her point; it's Shakespeare, but filtered through a modern lens.
Shakespeare is different from most literature you probably read in school. It is also (and in my opinion, primarily) theatre. Literature is a more stagnant art form, but theatre is constantly moving and shaping and being collaborated on. If you aren't going to add anything new to the conversation, why bother directing Shakespeare? Taymor is always brave and always willing to experiment which makes her a director worth watching. Some of her experiments are more successful than others, but The Tempest represents mostly success.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

NaNoWrimo Playlist

My novel's not going as quickly as last year, I feel like it would make a better novella. I will also be working on some short stories to make my word count. Though many people use "quick and dirty" word count expanding tricks, I prefer to work on other creative projects to count toward my 50,000 goal. That really is the point of NaNo, to make time for developing your writing. I don't know about everyone else, but I love to have music playing when I write. I feel like it helps me develop an atmosphere.
Here's one of my most recent NaNo playlists:
"Girl is on my Mind" -- The Black Keys
"Crying Lightening" -- Arctic Monkeys
"Brainy" -- The National
"Miss You" -- The Rolling Stones
"I Turn My Camera On" -- Spoon
"Feathers and Down" -- The Cardigans
"Pieces of the People we Love" -- The Rapture
"What Sarah Said" -- Death Cab for Cutie
"Furnace Room Lullaby" -- Neko Case
"Shakespeare's Sister" -- The Smiths
"My Boy Builds Coffins" -- Florence + the Machine
"Dear Avery" -- The Decemberists

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Happy November!

I wanted to rush out of the gate and get 15,000 words my first week, but a research paper on Don DeLillo and other projects for my classes had delayed me. I'm sure I can catch up this weekend.
I'm excited about my novel. It's definitely an experiment compared to my usual writings. It is a fragmented narrative interspersed with memories and other routes that life could have taken, there may even be a little poetry involved. Lately I've just been fascinated by how slender the thread our lives hang on is. We believe we have control and we can plan out our lives, but in reality the smallest chance or the slightest choice can through us in a different direction completely. I want to explore that, whatever that is. A tidy little project for the month of November.
Happy Noveling everyone.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Refugee Writer

No heat or electric since early in the day on Saturday. I've been sleeping under a pile (2) cats in an effort to stay warm. Early this morning I awoke with a red nose and numb fingertips. I've been living off apples and cashews. Trees are dangling on wires and split into pieces along roadways. It's been moderately intense.
Tomorrow the power is anticipated to be turned back on, but some of the towns around us won't have it until Thursday, so it's hard to tell. You become very aware of county and township dividing lines in this sort of weather. Roads will be clear until you pass the county line, then they are covered with tree branches and slush. I'm huddled here on campus. I may stay over until power gets back on at home.
If power comes back tomorrow, it will be just in time to start typing my NaNoWriMo masterpiece.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

BBC's The Hour

I was down with a fever and swollen glands last week, so to pass the time I immersed myself in the BBC series The Hour.
It surprised me that I hadn't heard about it sooner, it's a fantastic series. With all the Mad Men fever, more and more mid-century set dramas keep popping up. However, most of these dramas (Mad Men included) seem a little caught up in the costumes and the time period. The Hour makes the 50s seem immediate and fresh.
The struggle of BBC journalists amidst the cold war is full of moments of suspenseful drama. We follow Freddie (Ben Whishaw) as he decodes and unravels the involvement of MI6 with the death of a childhood friend. The reporters and staff of the program must also fight to deliver the news truthfully in spite of blockades and censorship from the government.
The cast is phenomenal. Romola Garai plays Bel, the producer of the news show called "The Hour." Though she inevitably faces some sexism, her character is not defined by it. She is tough, but has moments of self-doubt and the very common fear of becoming her mother. Her friendship with Freddie is one that shows a softer, more laid back side to Bel. Ben Whishaw's Freddie makes a compelling leading man. His earnest, determined search for the truth shows his strength, but he has moments of immaturity and unkindness, especially with Hector, the anchorman and his romantic rival for Bel played by Dominic West. West layers what could simply a "pretty boy" sort of character with surprising depths. Excellent supporting roles played by Anna Chancellor, Lisa Greenwood, Josh McGuire and Anton Lesser round out the newsroom crew.
The writers are even more responsible than the actors for the layering of the characters. With each episode we get to know the characters more, what they want, where they are vulnerable, but it all arises naturally from within the conflicts and decisions they are involved with.
Overall, I was very impressed by the series. I hope there will be a second season and more to enjoy from writer, Abi Morgan, and the cast.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

The Lake of Dead Languages by Carol Goodman

Jane returns to Heart Lake, the boarding school she won a scholarship to as a freshman in high school. After divorcing her husband, she gets a job at the school teaching Latin, but her past won't let her go.
Her senior year, her two roommates, Deidre and Lucy, as well as Lucy's brother, killed themselves. The lake holds so many memories for Jane, most of them bad. When the events from her senior year seem to be occurring again, Jane is the only person that can unravel the threads linking the past to the present.

This book is eerily similar to Goodman's Arcadia Falls, but at the same time, a much better book. The setting of a boarding school with its atmospheric woods and equal parts beauty and danger, are the setting for both these novels.
The Lake of Dead Languages is a highly atmospheric book with a suspenseful plot. However, the suspense dwindles around the middle of the book where it becomes obvious what all the plot twists will be. There are very few surprises in the latter part of the book. One keeps reading just to make sure they are correct and hoping for a new turn that makes it exciting again. Unfortunately, that doesn't happen.
Goodman assumes the sophistication of her audience, peppering it with classical allusions, thoughtful comparisons, and plenty of Latin phrases. This is refreshing when compared to authors who write down to their audiences with 6th grade vocabulary. Some of the comparisons of within the story to the writings of Ovid and others do seem a little indulgent.
I would still recommend it for fans of modern gothic literature. Part of me wants to read more of Goodman's writing because of her lushness of language. The other part is afraid I'll be stuck in the same story for the third time.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Fall Reading Mini Reviews

I've just finished my reading of A.S. Byatt's Possession. It wasn't quite as luminous as The Childrens Book. It was very intellectual, less emotional, but as the stories grows, it does grip you. Part historical, part mystery, part love story, Possession explores the nuances of what ownership means. Possession of our hearts, minds, bodies, objects. It also evaluates the genre of "romance" and classifies itself as such, but presents many variations on the term.
Besides my readings for class for this week (The Friar and Summoner's tales for my Chaucer course and Toni Morrison's Bluest Eye for my contemporary lit class), I'm working my way through Corduroy Mansions by Alexander McCall Smith.
So far I'm enjoying it. Smith has a timeless, light, whimsical style and a clever way of entwining the stories of the lives connected together by the Mansions. After I finish this novel, I'd like to try some of his mysteries.
Next on the pleasure reading agenda is Case Histories by Kate Atkinson. It was suggested by my advisor and I just found out that Masterpiece Mystery is showing an adaptation of the story next week. I'm such an English major. I unwind from class readings by reading.
Today I have a respite from my classes and am using it to catch up on work as well as baking scones while singing Florence + the Machine at the top of my lungs.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

To Grad School or Not to Grad School

Bad Hamlet references aside, I really don't know. I really want to start my life, my writing, get out into the world and maybe travel. I have not been thinking about grad school, but my advisor suggested I really look at it.
Part of me is a little terrified that in about a year and a half I will have to go out into the world and support myself and start making my way. Grad school would delay that a bit and also throw me in the way of contacts in writing and publishing.
I've looked at Seton Hill a bit, they have an MFA in popular fiction. Their program is mostly done online with only a few weeks spent on campus (which is probably best, it is near Pittsburgh). The study of marketing and publishing your work is a major part of the course as well.
Boston University intrigues me as well. That would be a year long program of work shops and classes that would allow me to student teach as apart of the program. If I had to choose a school that would involve a move, I like the idea of Boston. For some reason I've always been drawn to New England and it's a great literary town. Their program is very selective and very specific however. They only accept 10 students for fiction, 10 for poetry, and about 6 for play writing. That would also mean I have to choose which one I want. They do have Global Fellowships in the program, though, where they send you to a country of your choice for three months to 'do there what you wish.' How amazing is that?
Of course, Emerson has an MFA in Creative writing and Publishing and Writing and they are in Boston as well.
I suppose I should leave the option open and prepare myself for the possibility of graduate school. That does mean I have to take the GREs. There are definitely some programs that sound like great opportunities, but would it be better for me to go out and find my own experiences?

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Happy Banned Books Week!

I am sitting at the Banned Books table for our college's branch of Sigma Tau Delta. It's probably one of my favorite society events of the year. We hand out bookmarks, sell buttons, and raffle off commonly banned books.
Visit the Banned Books Week YouTube channel

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Sonnet Sunday: more Keats

When I have fears that I may cease to be

When I have fears that I may cease to be
Before my pen has glean'd my teeming brain,
Before high-piled books, in charactery,
Hold like rich garners the full ripen'd grain;
When I behold, upon the night's starr'd face,
Huge cloudy symbols of a high romance,
And think that I may never live to trace
Their shadows, with the magic hand of chance;
And when I feel, fair creature of an hour,
That I shall never look upon thee more,
Never have relish in the faery power
Of unreflecting love;--then on the shore
Of the wide world I stand alone, and think
Till love and fame to nothingness do sink.

It's been a while since I've done Sonnet Sunday, too long. I watched Bright Star again last week and I fell in love with the poetry of Keats all over again.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

We are the Snowdens of yesterday- Thoughts on Catch-22

We just finished our study of Catch-22 in my Contemporary American Literature class. My experience reading it for class was much different than my first time reading it-- then again, I was about 13 the first time I read it.
Though I did appreciate the irony and concept of the "Catch-22," on this reading I began to appreciate the text as a story of trauma. The circular, recurrent pattern of the story always returns to the Avignon mission where the gunner, Snowden was killed. The way the story is told in waves of memory, often out of order it isn't just to create a state of chaos, it has psychological significance. Slowly we get closer and closer to the trauma, we get closer to Snowden's "secret" and the impact in had on Yossarian.
Heller plays with language and the inversion of expectations. The "secret" is not what we're expecting it to be. He can turn a whole situation or character in one sentence.
In class we were discussing the shift in the second half of the novel. No longer just bizarre and surreal, the world becomes a nightmare that the characters are constantly waking into. It's a fight for identity and the definition of what Catch-22 is become more and more sinister. There is less humor to find in the ending chapters. Yossarian's frustration at the insane world around him becomes our frustration as well. We are equally gutted by the horrendous deaths of characters we've come to know earlier in the story.
I really enjoyed my rereading of Catch-22, though enjoy seems the wrong word to use. I can appreciate Heller's contribution to the changing landscape of literature. It was difficult at some points, but when I finished and set it down on the table, I knew it was one of the good books, one that I'll never forget.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

The Writing Life

Inevitably, whenever I am busy and barely finding any time to write I am bombarded with ideas for stories. Today I mapped the plot structure of a writer's life:

Or is that just my life? I'm mapping out another murder mystery, a completely independent one, not a sequel to the story I wrote last autumn. My honors course has also inspired me write a collection of fairy tales. I've already written two. I am inspired by contemporary writers like A.S Byatt and Angela Carter.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Sherlock Season 2 Preview Released

Just released from the BBC is a new teaser for the second season of Sherlock:
It looks like clips from the episode featuring Irene Adler. It looks like they will be introducing some exciting story elements and creative cinematography. Have I mentioned how excited I am? Let me reiterate the point: it is so painful that it will likely not fall in front of my eyes before 2012.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Variations on Little Red Riding Hood and Sleeping Beauty

The first reading for my honors course had us reading different versions of the classic stories Little Red Riding Hood and Sleeping Beauty. From different times and countries, some of the variations are startling.
The morality tale for children to learn obedience, Little Red Riding Hood has sometimes included blatant references to canabalism where the wolf makes Little Red eat some of her grandmother and drink her blood. The earliest version of the tale actually describes the wolf as a sort of werewolf creature, half man, half wolf. The sexual danger posed by the wolf depending on the tale-- some version play on the idea of the wolf as a sexual predator, making Little Red take off her clothes and get into the bed with him.
Some version do allow Red to be more than an unwitting victim, but rather she cleverly outsmarts the wolf. In an early Chinese tale that also shares elements with The Three Little Pigs, three young sisters outsmart and kill a wolf that comes to their door while their mother is away.

Sleeping Beauty also contains canabalism in several versions of the story. A jealous wife or mother to the beauty's prince/king lover tries to eat both the Sleeping Beauty figure and her children on several occasions. The earliest Sleeping Beauty story in the book involved a philandering king coming upon Talia (the beauty) unconscious and basically raping her in her deep slumber. The Brothers Grimm story, Briar Rose, is by far the tamest version of the tale, but tells it more from the perspective of the prince. The chapter wraps up with "Sleeping Beauty and the Airplane" a clever modern take on the idea of the unattainable sleeping princess from the perspective of a modern day would-be prince.
It's just interesting to analyze how these stories have changed over time and what each change enhances. Sleeping Beauty seems to promote female passivity in most version, while Little Red Riding Hood encourages wariness and obedience.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

The Autumn Begins

It's not even September yet, but the autumn feels like it has already begun for me. Perhaps it's because I'm back in classes, but the shift in nature has already begun. A coolness has come at night and in the morning and leaves are already beginning to fall.
I already miss the freedom of summer, the time to write stories and query editors and agents will now be reduced to the odd moment between classes and papers and meetings and rehearsals. Still, aesthetically the autumn is my favorite time of year and something about cooling weather always draws me to thick books and steaming tea cups.
My class schedule is ambitious, but I'm excited about all my classes. I'm taking an honors course on "Webs and Imagined Spaces"-- it explores how story telling has changed, from basic fairy and folk tales to the Victorian era, and now how electronic media is changing the reading experience again. Our first major project is to write our own fairy tales which we will tell in a hypertext format, linking parts of the story so it can be read in different orders if you follow the links in a specific pattern. We are also writing our own ending for Dickens' The Mystery of Edwin Drood, the novel he died before completing.
I'll post some of my work on here as I go.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Rock Me Like a Hurricane

I've survived pretty well this weekend. Probably because of all my preparation which included bringing all the potted herbs in and making sure I had a stack of books. My father's preparations included securing pizza and beer. We have our priorities. Many friends had hurricane parties yesterday and a local cafe made their evening cocktail special "Hurricane Hooch."
Actually, where I live fared far better than the town above us. Even though we're lower, we have so much farmland and preserved open space around us, that much of the overflow from the stream was absorbed. My friend Amy who only lives a few miles away called me this morning to say that a boat went by their house. Though we are fortunate, we are also stuck. Many of the major roads are flooded or have downed trees and power lines to contend with. The rain has stopped, but the wind is whipping up, so though we have power now, that may change.
Of course, tomorrow morning I have my first class of the semester which may be a problem. Currently all routes to campus are impassable.
I have discovered that minor natural disaster bring out my nesting instinct. I picked apples on Friday and made apple sauce. It's pretty fantastic. Then I made peach and pear preserves which we had on toast this morning.
I hope everyone is staying safe and having fantastic hurricane parties.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Jane Eyre 2011

I was finally able to watch this new adaptation of one of my favorite novels. Due to its limited theatrical release, I had to wait for the DVD to come out.

Unlike the novel, which is told chronologically, the film starts toward the end of the story with Jane's escape from Thornfield and discovery by St. John Rivers. This makes the story unfold through a series of memories. Jane thinks back to her childhood and her brutal schooling. Gradually then, we get to the main part of the story, Jane's life at Thornfield Hall. Time and events are extremely condensed due to the necessity of keeping the film short enough for theatrical release, but the emphasis on Jane's memory telling the story explains why passages of time seem to be missing. She is remembering the important moments in her time at Thornfield and in her relationship with Mr. Rochester.
The passage with St. John and his sisters takes on a different shade as well. The relationship is changed between Jane and St. John by their miraculous discovery of shared blood being removed from the story. It also credits St. John with more desire for Jane than he had in the original novel.
There are many important moments from the novel that are missing from this film. The character of Grace Poole is almost entirely missing and Mr. Rochester's house party only appears to last about two days, skirting over some important moments that occur between the characters during it. Having seen the deleted scenes, I believe that the veil ripping passage should have been included, it adds to the reason for Rochester's haste on the wedding day and also adds to the sense of menace and danger of the house's secrets.
Though it does lack many elements from the novel, it does still offer worthwhile qualities for Jane Eyre fans. This adaptation emphasizes the the gothic elements of the story, the other worldliness that Jane possesses and experiences, but also the fearful qualities of Thornfield. It also does an excellent job of illustrating Jane's youthfulness and inexperience. Though the 2006 mini-series adaptation preserves the story much better, due to the maturity exuded by Ruth Wilson, Jane seems to be older. Mia Wasikowska is a younger actress and better captures the fact that Jane is in her late teens, she has no experience with or knowledge of men. Though she is inexperienced, she is full of spirit and has a strong sense of self respect.
Michael Fassbender was an excellent choice for the role of Rochester. He has childlike moments of moodiness, but the deeper levels to his inner turmoil peek through, though still finding a sense of teasing to his behavior at times. Another level he brings to the character is that of desperation. He has an emotional vulnerability influenced by his past that tears the heart at moments.
Rochester is not supposed to be a pretty sort of hero, but he is given many moments of masculine strength, shown in his shirt sleeves working with his hands which makes him develop into a very attractive figure. His interactions with Jane are what make him endearing. He sees into her and appreciates her worth, he treats her with value. This exceeds all of his miserable moods, we see that with Jane he is better, and that helps Jane to blossom as well. They are perfect complements.
It is a very respectable adaptation and would be a good introduction to those unfamiliar with the story. The cast and the artistic development of atmospere is what takes it beyond the realms of mediocre and make it a piece that can hold its own against other adaptations.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Herman Melville Meets Dragons?

The Syfy channel is notorious for awful original movies. The Age of Dragons is no exception. While flipping through the channels the other night I came upon this movie. My father's a dragon buff so we paused to watch a few minutes.
It was an adaptation of Melville's famous novel Moby Dick. In a world where lamps and machinery are run on vitriol, a sort of inflammatory dragon oil, Captain Ahab hunts the great White Dragon who killed his sister and maimed him as a child. Ishmael and Queequeg soon join the crew after being recruited by Rachel, Ahab's daughter (an invented character that does not appear in the book). They travel in a sort of tank/ship across a vast terrain while commanded by Ahab who never shows his face to the daylight. Ahab was played dramatically by Danny Glover.
I did not watch the movie all the way through. Being familiar with the source material, I know that only one man would survive the voyage (and that adding a female character gives a romantic interest for Ishmael and lets there be two survivors.) It was not very well written and had poorly conceived CGI dragons.
Still, it was an intriguing oddity, a fantasy version of a classic nautical tale. If you love dragons or Melville, it may be worth a look. Just don't get your hopes up.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Sherlock Season 2 News

Sherlock fans have been clinging to a mere 3 episodes for almost a year now. Any crumbs of news about the next set help calm the manic frustration.
Most of you have probably heard the 3 major Holmes stories that Moffat has said this season is going to cover. It's an ambitious line up: A Scandal in Bohemia which introduces "The Woman," Irene Adler; The Hound of the Baskervilles, Doyle's best novel and one of the most adapted stories ever written; and The Final Problem where Holmes has his cross-country battle with Moriarty ending in Switzerland at the top of Reichenbach Falls. All of these stories have slightly adjusted titles for their episode names: A Scandal in Belgravia, The Hounds of the Baskerville, and The Reichenbach Fall.
The most recent bits of news have been about the anticipated air dates and the casting of Irene Adler.
Unfortunately the originally optimistic "Fall 2011" for season 2 has now been pushed back by the BBC to "Winter 2011." After a recent encore of all three episodes this date change was announced, but the hoped for season 2 trailer has not come to light yet. Word is that some American PBS stations won't be showing the new series until as late as May 2012. I find that absurd, British viewers shouldn't be surprised if American friends beg for them to mercifully upload it onto YouTube.
There has been a lot of speculation over the casting of the character Irene Adler for the first episode of the season. Emily Blunt, Rosario Dawkins, many American and British actors have been suggested as good possibilities. This week I've heard that Laura Pulver will be taking the role. Pulver is known for her roles on the American series True Blood and the recent British production of Robin Hood.
She is a very striking actress and I'm curious to see both her take and the writer's take on how the character adapts to a modern setting. She is a little older than many of the speculated actresses, but that may add interesting overtones to the character. I am a little disappointed that they didn't choose an American actress, as the character is from New Jersey in Doyle's original story.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Arcadia Falls by Carol Goodman

This book was courtesy of the local library. I selected it by playing the "shelf game" where I pick a random shelf of books and grab whatever looks good to me on it.
When recently widowed Meg Rosenthal brings her daughter to the Arcadia boarding school for the arts it feels like stepping into a fairy tale, a fairy tale that brings the fears of nightmares to the surface. In fact, Meg's favorite story growing up, The Changeling Girl was written by the school's founders, Lily and Vera.
Meg's financial difficulties and relationship with her teenage daughter Sally move her to take the post at the school, but they don't signal an end to her problems. During the First Night celebration a student dies in a way the mimics the death of Lily 60 years before. Meg is soon untangling the past to better understand the tragedy of the present.

Goodman has deeply steeped her story in symbolism and myth. She plays with a circular sense of justice and connection that, though initially proves satisfying, feels redundant and improbably by the end of the book. The first seven eighths of the book are enjoyable and engaging, you unravel the mystery along with Meg and feel the atmosphere of the woods and her crumbling cottage.
One also feels invested in Sally's development and the relationship between mother and daughter. Indeed, this story continually comes back to the legacy a mother leaves for her child and the relationships between women. The characters of Sally's school friends sometimes come across as cardboard cut-outs, with the exception of Chloe, who also grows as the story continues. Goodman also strives add realism to her teenage characters by pop-culture references which come across as startling, especially when compared to the ethereal sense of timelessness she cultivates through the rest of the book.
Arcadia Falls is a suspenseful story about the lives of women, about love and sacrifice. It combines mystery with family drama, history, and even a little romance. It is a decent read for a sticky summer afternoon or a long trip, but the ending still annoys me. Unfortunately, though there are many things to like about this book, it is uneven.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Beautiful British Men

It has been far too long since I've done a shallow man-centric post. It's just the thing to cheer me up. Here are some of my current favorites in no particular order:

John Simm- A more subtly attractive man, he has a quiet quality that is sexier than mere looks, though he is equipped in that arena as well. I first saw him as The Master in Doctor Who, but he has also starred in The Devil's Whore, Life on Mars, and Exile.

Rufus Sewell- A man who is aging beautifully, if I may say so. He never tries to be a boy, but sits comfortably in the man he is. I first discovered him in A Knight's Tale, buy have enjoyed his work in The Illusionist, Shakespeare Retold: The Taming of The Shrew, The Pillars of the Earth, and the recent series Zen.

Benedict Cumberbatch- He has the unfair advantage of playing one of the sexiest characters ever in Sherlock, his intelligence and beautiful voice increase his appeal. His other films include The Last Enemy, Atonement, The Other Boleyn Girl, and the upcoming The Hobbit

Michael Fassbender- This beautiful actor of Irish/German descent has played roles in Inglorious Basterds, 3oo, Angel, The Devil's Whore, and Jane Eyre, . Perhaps what is most attractive about him (other than those eyes...) is his intensity which he brings to emotional moments.

There are, of course, many more worthy gentlemen that could be in this post, but I don't have the time for all of them. Here are just a few that I have not sufficiently written raptures about on my blog before.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

The Trouble with Costume Dramas

I've had a sinus infection this week, so I've been languishing in my room watching costume dramas. Historical drama is one of my favorite genres. the problem is, the more I watch them, the more I despair over modern clothing. Sure, some garments (especially those Victorian bustles) are impractical, but the richness of fabrics and delicacy of cuts are incredibly enviable. I keep feeling like I was born in the wrong time-- though I surely would not have been content with much of 19th century society. The modern world seems to have less to discover, less optimistic possibility. It's a very cynical world.
I've been outlining my own work of historical fiction this week, my main inspiration is actually The Childrens Book by A.S. Byatt. The way she wove together history and fiction was breathtaking. I'd love to write a novel like that. It's a period piece that doesn't posture in any way. It moves at such a natural pace and does not over-idealize or scandalize the history it covers.
However, on a more practical level, I have submitted more articles for magazine publication this week. Most of the PR work I've been doing this summer is finished, which is a relief.
No more response from literary agencies, but I keep polishing my manuscript, buffing away at it. I've begun drafting the sequel as well, it's turning out to be a different creature than I originally imagined.
I must venture out into the heat now.

Friday, July 15, 2011

The Case of the Sneaky Computer

Guys, my computer has been doing things behind my back at 3 am.
Yesterday I logged on and found that my "updates were complete" and "malicious software" was removed... and now I can't use Internet Explorer. So it removed my LAN thing (sorry to be so technical) and now I have to log onto the internet through my old AOL software I haven't used in three years. However, this has led me to discover that I have 600+ emails in my old AOL account and that spammers are using email addresses from my address book to send things to me.
That is unbelievably cruel. I see an email in my box from someone I haven't spoken to in a year. I think maybe he wants to reconnect and I get an elated feeling in my collarbone. Then I find out it's spam.
I'm only in this situation because my computer's default setting is apparently to do updates at 3 in the morning without permission. I looked up my update history and have found that this has been going on every two since I purchased the computer.
I know the days of this laptop are numbered, but I was hoping it would last through the fall semester. Actually, my fervent prayer was that it would last until I completed my degree, but that is two years away and my computer seems to be having seizures.
I hate technology.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Some Responses Coming In...

I've heard responses from three of the agents I've queried (and I have a list of several more agents to try in the coming weeks). Three out of three are no... well, one was a 'we're not taking submissions right now, try us again in a few months,' so it's not a complete no.
The other two rejections were so vastly different. The first was very kind, thanking me for considering the agency and telling me that my story sounded interesting, just not what the agency is looking for.
The other was a simple one sentence that told me 'no,' while making a grammatical error in that short sentence to add insult to injury. I sighed deeply and then laughed.
Oh well, I supposed I among the ranks of real authors now. I've never heard a story of anyone being accepted at the first agency they try with the first query they send.
I'm rewriting my query to prepare to send out to some more agents before the end of the week.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Uncomfortable Plateau

I've reached the point in my summer where I am in a slump. My sleeping schedule is obliterated, I've done some things that can marginally be considered achievements, but I'm not sure how I can best use the next month.My plans for travel are distant, fragmented dreams thanks to circumstances beyond my control.
I've realized that being self-employed is a major test of my self-discipline. My vigor toward freelance writing has diminished somewhat due to the lack of response from many editors. Most are not even courteous enough to reject me. This is something I'll have to get used to, especially if I do want to make part of my living from it in the future.
I've pretty much finished with this round of edits on my novel and I've written a basic query letter and book proposal. However, I've yet to send anything out to anyone. Perhaps it's because while it's still in my hands it's still my wonderful masterpiece. Once it enters the world it could be shredded in an instant.
I know it doesn't have to be ready for immediate publication, it will have to go through more editing even after someone has agreed to represent it, but it's a matter of professional pride I suppose-- I want it to be perfect.
This past week I've made no progress on either my freelancing or my search for an agent. I've been making soap and reading novels. I'll be at the farmer's market next weekend selling some.
So, sorry it's been quiet on this front, I have been a curious mix of busy and idle recently.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

The Hunger Games

After many suggestions and hearsay, I finally picked up a copy of this novel at the local book store. I started last night around 11 and finished it just before 3 am.

In a dictatorship made from the wreckage of what once was North American, The Capitol hosts a yearly competition called "The Hunger Games." One male and one female child between 12 and 18 is chosen from each of the 12 districts (district 13 was nuked years ago). Placed in an arena that changes landscaped every year, the 24 children must battle until only one remains. It is to remind the people of the districts that The Capitol is in control, they can make them watch their children kill each other on tv and there is nothing they can do about it.
When Katniss hears her 12 year old sister summoned for a place in the games, she volunteers to take her place as the girl from District 12, the coal mining district.

The novel sprints along at an unstoppable pace, making it a definite one sitting book. Though there are moments that fall from expectation, Suzanne Collins is not lacking in creativity when it comes to illustrating the brutality of The Games. Her creation of a bleak, futuristic world is a believable projection. The eerieness of reality tv becoming a weapon feels almost prophetic.
Her main character, Katniss is strong. She is aged beyond her years and a skilled hunter with a bow. Watching her tentative relationship with fellow competitor Peeta bloom is riveting, but sometimes frustrating as her wishy-washy interal monologues continue. Still, Katniss is a survivor. That is why she is so hesitant to trust anyone, but the moments when she is touched in spite of her armour are truly emotional.
Of course, the real battle is not just against the other competitors in The Games, but the government that forces it on the people... which is focused on in the next book Catching Fire. I just started on that this afternoon.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Teaser Tuesday: Third Girl

I'm just finishing this novel of Agatha Christie's from the 1960s. The novel features one of her most famous and beloved characters, Poirot. Christie herself was less than favorably inclined toward her detective. In fact, this novel offers many sly references toward his arrogance, absurdity, and the fact that he may be over the hill. Here is one of those references from the second chapter:
"Who told this girl about you, Monsieur Poirot?"
"No one as far as I know. Naturally, she had heard about me, no doubt."
Mrs. Oliver thought that "naturally" was not the word at all. What was natural was that Poirot himself was sure that everyone had always heard of him. Actually large numbers of people would only look at you blankly if the name Hercules Poirot was mentioned, especially the younger generation.

I'm working my way through quite a few mysteries this summer and gaining more insights into the genre and how my stories will fit into it.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Journalists: unable to resist puns

I'm interrupting my regularly scheduled editing and proposal writing (though I finally figured out how to fix my wonky margins... for now) to bring you a post about an obvious truth:
Journalists love puns. Even on the college level when we try to come up with headlines, the discussion almost always resorts to, "How about a clever pun?" I have seen many admirable examples of headline puns in newspapers, but the recent scandal involving the politician Anthony Weiner needs a post unto itself.
With a name like 'Weiner' the possibility for puns is simply too vast. Now, many newspapers have admirably stayed away from taking such juicy bait, but last night at the grocery store two papers caught my eye. One referred to 'sticking a fork' in Weiner because he's done, intentional or not, one could not help but think of the Oscar Mayer product when faced with this headline. Though it was not quite as good as the Huffington Post's headline "The Roasting of Weiner and the Public Good." Sounds like a community picnic.
Another paper on the stand referred to his 'rise and fall.' How can you print that without knowing the possible connotations? I'm sure everyone in the newsroom had a giggle over that one. That was the point where I rolled my eyes and walked away from the news stand.
Though I must admit that puns are no longer the lowest form of wit; 'your mom' jokes are.

Friday, June 17, 2011

My missing June

I cannot believe it is June 17th. May was such a long languid month, but June is passing me by so quickly I feel as though I missed it. I am not ready for summer to be half over. I realized that my August plans are destroyed by the fact that I have to be back on campus a week early to work on the theatre department show that goes up during the last weekend of September.
This past week I have emerged myself in a new batch of edits on my novel. I've also been trying to read more contemporary mystery novels to see what I'm up against. Last week I read The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. It was fairly engaging and enjoyable, but in made me have a mini-panic. The kind of mystery I'm writing is different from what seems to be dominating the market and I don't know if a publisher would find that favorable. I'm a worrier you see.
I think (or rather hope) that my stories will appeal to people that like Agatha Christie and Arthur Conan Doyle because they're sort of the voices in my head when it comes to mysteries.
Anyway, as soon as I finish this round of editing, I solemnly vow to start writing my book proposal and finding agents to send the proposal to. Seriously.
Other than that, I'm working on writing press releases for some community stuff. I used to work with the organization and I heard that they were in need so, I offered my services. It's a good experience and some resume padding. Besides, it will get my writing into all the local papers.

Monday, June 13, 2011

The Romantics

A group of college friends is reunited over the wedding of Lila and Tom-- two members of the group. They were all inseparable and had a reputation for "incestuous dating" among themselves, hence the nickname "The Romantics." Now on the verge of thirty they have to face realizations about themselves and their relationships, most of which are not comfortable. For Laura, the maid of honor, it's especially difficult. She dated Tom all through college and on and off over the past few years. Not only does Laura have to confront her relationship with Tom, but her relationship with Lila.

This film has taken some serious hits from critics, but I believe there are worthwhile moments and performances. It does have some slow parts where the build-up within a scene seems to go nowhere. Unlike most movies that make it to the cinema, it moves at a novelistic pace (having been based on a book, this makes sense), allowing time for conversation and development of relationships.
The ensemble cast is fantastic. Katie Holmes, who I generally consider mediocre, puts a surprising amount of energy and emotion into Laura without becoming too theatrical. Anna Paquin plays the role of the repressed and slightly neurotic Lila. Josh Duhamel plays the conflicted, poet groom, Tom. Diana Agron, Malin Akerman, Jeremy Strong, Rebecca Lawrence, Adrian Brody, and Elijah Wood round out the group. The only performer that felt wasted was Candice Bergman, in the role of Augusta Hayes, Lila's mother.
After a long, strange night of searching, drinking, streaking, and poetic recitation, the friends must face the morning of the wedding. Though the ending is ambiguous, it has metaphorical overtones. It seems to represent the conflict that has dogged the characters. The fact is that sometimes not everything can be planned for and that the unexpected steps in. These "Romantics" like the romantic poets of old must appreciate the forces of nature. The setting of the film assists in that. Plenty of views of the sea and leaf strewn lawns create the backdrop for many key scenes.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Blackbird House

Yet another book kindly provided by the local library.

Alice Hoffman weaves a tale spread over several hundred year following the inhabitants of a small house on Cape Cod. Blackbird House is home to love and loss. From the first inhabitants, victim to a tragic storm at sea, to an unlikely union between the town witch and a blacksmith, to a family from the city in crisis-- the house seems to be either a blessing or a curse to those who stay there.
Hoffman has made a name for herself playing with a style of writing known as "magical realism" often seen in Spanish language writing in novels such as Like Water for Chocolate and One Hundred Years of Solitude. It's a style that emphasizes little bits of fantasy in the everyday. From the significance of a ghostly white blackbird to a pair of red boots, the symbolism becomes real. Hoffman uses this stylistic move to create a world that is based in real human emotions, but full of magic and possibility. People and things can change their shape and almost be reborn by love.
Unfortunately in the last third of the book, some of this luster starts to fade. It becomes difficult to sustain the magic in more modern settings.
Overall, it is an engaging study of relationships. Some stories are ended without any real conclusion which may prove annoying to readers, but the next story is soon the focal point. It's a very quick read, and since each chapter is almost completely self-contained it's easy to put down and pick up again without feeling lost.
Though not as effective as Here on Earth, fans of Hoffman's style will appreciate this effort from her.

Friday, June 10, 2011

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie

Sorry for the silence this past week-- I've been absurdly preoccupied. This is a novel I checked out of the public library a few days ago.

In his debut novel, Alan Bradley offers his readers the eleven year old Flavia de Luce. A precocious young girl, she is the youngest of three daughters, heavily occupied with chemistry. Her father, a widower and stamp enthusiast is alarmed when on a summer afternoon, their cook finds a dead Jack Snipe with a postage stamp skewered on its beak. That night Flavia overhears an argument in her father's study. The following morning she is fascinated to find a man in their garden's cucumber patch. With his dying breath he mutters a mysterious word and Flavia is off on the adventure of her life.
Though young and occasionally unkind, Flavia is irresistible. The reader follows her around town on her trusty bicycle, Gladys, while she conduct interviews and searches for clues in her private investigation. Bradley's mystery has plenty of layers of intrigue to keep the reader engaged while Flavia untangles the web.
Though the occasional plot thread proves to be dropped without much ceremony, it is an excellent mystery novel. Truly character driven, you read not just to find a killer, but to discover more about the cast of three dimensional figures Bradley creates. Energetically written, the 370 pages went quickly. There is a sequel out now, hopefully Bradley will be able to recapture what made this novel special again.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Teaser Tuesday: The Children's Book

I'm elbow deep in A.S. Byatt's recent novel. The story begins in the 1890s and surrounds the Wellwoods, their family, and friends. Olive Wellwood is a children's book author whose son finds a runaway named Philip in a museum basement on a trip to the city. Thus, the story is set into motion. Byatt paints a landscape of artists, revolutionaries, and dreamers, their lives intertwining and changing at the turn of the century. Teaser:

The Palace of Electricity was set about with warnings. Grande Danger de Mort. It was death without tooth, claw or crushing. An invisible death, part of an invisible animating force, the new thing in the new century.
page 355

I'm enjoying this novel better than her Possession. Though it can be a bit slow at moments, it is an enjoyable pace. Instead of sprinting toward the next action of the plot, Byatt allows the reader to stroll-- drinking in detail and getting to know the characters' internal life along the way.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Writing like it's my job... because it sort of is

Hooray! One of the pieces I submitted to a periodical this month has been officially accepted for publication. I've been trying to send at least one inquiry and one story per week. Some editors have been very slow at getting back to me.
This particular editor rejected the first story I sent (see below), but has accepted a review I wrote. The best part is, I'll be getting paid ten cents per word-- not a bad rate. The worst part is, I won't be getting paid until November when the issue is published.
Oh the life of a writer: work your tail off now, starve, get paid later. I sent off a story last week that I'm really proud of, to another magazine. I hope that I hear about it soon.

I've also decided to start more seriously seeking an agent now that the second round of edits on my murder mystery are nearing completion. I've also been feverishly working on the sequel. There's some really exciting mysteries for my main team, Victoria and Jacquelyn, to solve, not just one single case as in the first novel. There also may be a new romantic interest for one of them. I wasn't planning it, but the characters just seemed to have chemistry when I was writing a scene the other night. It will lead so well into the third story where I have major things planned.
The best part about this project is that I just enjoy spending time with my characters. Hopefully other people will too. If other people ever get the chance to read them.

Monday, May 23, 2011

My kind of party

I love the summer books sales at the local libraries. Love.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

My First Rejection Notice

Totally expected. I feel like a real writer now. One of the freelance articles I submitted was rejected. However, the editor gave me a very good reason why which gives me something constructive to work with. It needs, very simply, to be tailored more to the level of familiarity that readers of that magazine have.
He said he looks forward to hearing more from me, so apparently my overall writing style was acceptable, I just need to adjust my level of content.
This, I can do. I have a few book reviews to send in and perhaps I can get to work on a new article that will fit better.
I'm still waiting to hear about another article for a different publication, so hopefully that one will be accepted. Quite honestly, I need the money.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Atonement by Ian McEwan

I found a paper-back copy of this novel for $1 at a used book store. A very good deal.

It's a hot summer day in 1935. The Tallis family has three young cousin's from the north coming to stay while their parents divorce. Briony Tallis, a budding writer at the age of 13 has composed a play for the cousins to perform. Her older sister, Cecilia, eagerly awaits the arrival of their elder brother Leon from the city. He brings along with him a wealthy candy maker named Paul Marshall.
Cecilia is back from college where she attended along with their cleaning lady's son, Robbie. They avoided each other at school and now back on the family estate together seem to do nothing but make each other anxious or annoyed. They have a scuffle by the fountain in the garden which Briony observes from her window and misinterprets.
The events of the dinner party that evening are complicated by what Briony believes she knows about Robbie.
The second part of the book picks up five years later and follows first Robbie and then Briony through their experiences during the war-- Robbie as a solider and Briony as a nurse in training. It shows how one day and one mistake shapes their entire lives from that day five years ago.

The book combined several different style elements. The first part of the story takes place mainly in the course of one day. Each chapter jumps into the perspective of a different character, but remains in third person. Later in the story, Briony tries writing in a stream of consciousness style made popular in that era by Virginia Woolf, the first part of the novel mimics elements of that style discussed later in the second part.
All of the characters have a rich internal life and it is interesting to see how they intertwine. The style changes in the second part of the book, following one character at a time and stretching over longer periods of time, condensing them.
The epilogue changes again. It is told in the first person, reflective like a journal entry.
Atonement is a beautiful, but heartbreaking story. It balances both intellect and emotion and brings a startling reality and clarity to both the trials of family relationships and the trials of war. Some of the descriptions of injury and illness in the second part of the book may bother more squeamish readers.
Ultimately, it becomes a meditation on love and forgiveness. What it means to work toward being forgiven and forgiving yourself-- spending a lifetime atoning for a sin of childhood. And the epilogue may leave tears in your eyes.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Thoughts on Series 6 of Doctor Who So Far...

I know we're only for episodes in, but this has been an eventful opening to the season. If you're not caught up on your viewing yet then tread carefully, spoilers lay ahead. It also may get a bit long.

In the first fifteen minutes of the series opener, "The Impossible Astronaut," the Doctor gets killed and then killed again in the midst of his regeneration rendering him completely dead. Though we find out that it's the Doctor from 200 years in his own future the two part premiere fails to prevent/explain who kills him and why he dies. I also think the little sequence from the beginning of the Doctor leaving Amy and Rory messages throughout history may prove important.
Clearly the build up to his death or the prevention of his death is going to be an overall arch of the series. As is Amy's phantom pregnancy. With the presence of two Doctors and a woman who is simultaneously pregnant and not pregnant, I can only assume there is some sort of duel timeline or undecided reality taking place. I believe this has something to do with the Silence (or Silents-- grammatical ambiguity in their name).
Amy's pregnancy (to me) seems to be a plot of the Silence. The Silence tells her to tell the Doctor 'what she must not tell him,' and when they capture her they say, "We do you honor, you will bring the Silence." Amy is also being followed by a strange woman in a metal eye-patch that makes comments to her or about her and seems to exist in another layer or dimension.
In this week's episode, "The Doctor's Wife" we see a physical manifestation of the TARDIS (who thinks Rory is pretty). It was an interesting study on the relationship between the Doctor and the TARDIS and asks who exactly stole who away from Galifrey. Though it seems to stand by itself in the series arch, there are two points to raise. The first is that since the Doctor is so attached to the TARDIS and it is sentient and has some choice in where it lands, why is the future Doctor from "The Impossible Astronaut" without TARDIS?
In the end, Idris with the TARDIS in her tells Rory "The only water in the forest is the river." I'm wildly curious about that. It seems to be an obvious allusion to River Song, but forest and especially water imagery keeps coming up in the show and has since the mid-Ten years.

One final thing that has caught the attention of several Who-bloggers are the messages encoded on the BBC Doctor Who page. In the section on the site "The Fourth Dimension" there are facts about The current episode. In those facts are italicised words. When you line up all the words in italics it forms these sentences:
Ep. 1: "All the secrets you seek can be found here on the Webb."
Ep. 2: "We found your message! You're alive! But what secrets 'D'you mean my friend?"
Ep. 3: "I mean I glimpsed him! And may the gods help him. Perhaps you can."
Ep. 4: "To see what I saw, click on the spot beyond the Doctor's home planet."

It seems to be a conversation between two people. After this week's message you can click the period or "spot" after the word "Galifrey" (the Doctor's home planet) and it links to this video entitled "Analysis Lessons." Make of it what you will.

Friday, May 13, 2011

An American Childhood by Annie Dillard

At the recommendation of my advisor, I checked this book out of the library. Annie Dillard is a well-known nature writer who won the Pulitzer Prize at 27. This memoir is about her childhood growing up in Pittsburgh in the 1950s.

Dillard explores her young life from about the age of five to her early teens. The oldest of three girls, and the child of two eccentric parents, she traces her changing interests and growing consciousness in these formative years. From her description of the mysterious creature floating across her walls at night (the light from passing cars she would later realize), to her obsession with the microscope she received for Christmas one year, to discovering boys, religion, people, Dillard's story of her childhood is rich with detail.
Not all the chapters are perfectly chronological, but are more arranged by subject. In spite of the many decades between my own childhood and Dillard's I found it easy to connect to her process of discovery and growing up. She has a knack for zeroing in on those significantly insignificant moments that shape thinking and perspective in a child's life.
Beyond the easy, metaphor-rich writing style, the book is also full of humor. Dillard's mother had a tendency toward practical jokes and Dillard's description of her odd habits and use of her children as straight-men will likely gain at least a smile from readers. Other incidents also stand out: Dillard describes throwing snowballs at passing cars with the neighborhood boys in winter. On one occasion a man stopped his car, got out, and chased Dillard and a friend. The anecdotes all blend seamlessly into one narrative about the process of growing up.
All in all, it's an excellent memoir. Great for a lazy afternoon. Dillard's style is accesible, but not dumbed down. I will certainly be reading more of her work in the future.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

The Pen Name Question

As I'm preparing several pieces to submit to different journals for summer freelancing, I'm faced with a question. I've always been planning to publish my novels under a pen name, simply so if on the off chance they become popular and I have a few nutty fans it will be harder for them to find me and kill me. And because I've always wanted a new name.
However, these magazine articles fall under journalism, which I've already started doing on a college level under my own name. So, should all my journalistic pursuits happen in my real name and all future novel publishing occur under the pen name. Or, should all professional publishing happen under my pen name?
Any advice or opinions?

Monday, May 9, 2011

10 Things I've Learned from Hitchcock

I took a class on the films of Hitchcock this semester and if my interest in mysteries and the crime genre haven't make me paranoid, this class certainly did. I compiled a short list of the important life lessons Hitchcock has taught me through his movies. Feel free to contribute what he's taught you in the comments.

1. Wanted killers make the best boyfriends
2. Never trust anyone you meet on a train
3. If there’s no one else staying at the motel, you should leave
4. Don’t go up the stairs-- bad things happen there
5. Murder schemes are incredibly common in everyday life
6. Avoid: carnivals, dinner parties, vast fields, national monuments
7. The police are not to be depended on-- investigate yourself
8. Close your curtains
9. Birds in large groups are plotting your demise
10. There’s no such thing as the perfect crime, but it's fun to try

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

I'm Free At Last

Though I still have one final paper to surrender on Friday, I am officially free from classes until the end of August! So here's what I vow for the summer:
I will post book and film reviews, writing updates, Doctor Who speculation, and (hopefully) humorous anecdotes on a more regular basis.
I will do some creative writing every day.
The freelance writing will come to fruition and I will update you lovely people when it does.
Travel. I must. Just a little.
Reading books I have chosen which I will update you with through aforementioned reviews.
I will spend ample amounts of time outside.
I will go mad in a good way.
Though the amount of coffee I consume will be considerable, I will eat healthy to balance it out.
I will actually get to go fishing this summer.
I will get up the courage to start looking into literary agents.

This is going to be a more spontaneous summer. I don't have a reading list or an hourly job. I have some tentative travel plans and the style sheets for several periodicals. Most of my income will be from writing and selling soap at farmers' markets and on Etsy. So it will be low. But this leaves me with time. Time to write and work on finding my voice. Time to have the adventures I'm always talking about having. I'm getting too old to have many opportunities for such madness left. Before I have to settle into respectable responsibility (as settled as I'll get anyway) I'd like to be distinctly unsettled.
Maybe I'll find a literary agent. Maybe I'll finish another novel. Maybe I'll fall in love with a stranger. Maybe I'll get a tan (biologically nearly impossible). Maybe I won't be so devastated when my best friend moves away in the fall as she's planning.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Rainy Spring Nights

The almost non-stop rain doesn't bother me much because everything is turning such a lush shade of green and flowers are bursting out of the naked branches of winter.
It's the end of the semester rushed feeling now. When you have too much to do for your classes and extracurricular commitments, something always comes up in your personal life of course. When plans and worries are fluttering through your brain like a flock of deranged birds, it's hard to focus on your art project or your paper on Vertigo.
Taking time to eat and sleep properly is even harder. Like music and art therapy, I believe in literary therapy. Writing your feelings and even reading certain books can be extremely therapeutic. I'm currently reading An American Childhood by Annie Dillard when I have a few moments-- usually I read one or two chapters before bed. I'll post a review when it's finally finished.
Even worse is when someone decides to clean your things and then you don't know where anything is. It may seem chaotic, but there is a system of organization at work and if you interrupt it, I will be paralyzed for weeks, sorting through where everything was "put away." This is why I probably shouldn't share a living space with other people.
So, basically, it's almost 1 am, I'm sitting here listening to the rain (and looking out for Doctor Who monsters-- the season premiere freaked me out), I'm trying to relax and let my mind shut down so I can sleep tonight.

Friday, April 22, 2011

The writing saga

I'm on Easter break through Monday and I have things I just need to get done. I have to finish my nature essay/memoir for my non-fiction class, I have to work on the final paper for my Hitchcock class, and I have to get things in order to start working as a freelancer over the summer.
I could not stay in my house today due to a particularly vicious altercation with a sibling earlier in the week. To write I need a bit of peace and an area where I can focus. Of course, after some deliberation, I decided to go to the organic coffee bar I posted about last month. I saw visions of myself sipping Jamaica Me Crazy while tucked into a corner table churning out masterpieces. My plan was to spend several hours there and get some revisions done on my novel as well.
They were closed for Good Friday.
I bought some ginger snaps at the whole food store that sits just behind them and decided that as long as I didn't get arrested for loitering, I would sit out on their porch and work. Though it's almost May, the day was damp and windy. After about a half an hour I had to depart. Still too early to go home without risking a run-in with my overly emotional brother, I wandered around the whole foods store for a bit, then went to look at herbs at a local nursery.
A thought struck me-- the town library of course, that would be a perfect place to work. Except that it was also closed for Good Friday.
Finally, tired and hungry, and still feeling chilled, I ended up at a nearby deli where I had a turkey wrap and did some reading. My head was aching, so in spite of my brother still being home I went back home and took a nap.
It completely slipped my mind that today was a holiday. I got very little work done.

Monday, April 18, 2011

I've been... Inducted

This weekend I was inducted into Sigma Tau Delta, the International English Honor Society. Basically, I promise to uphold the ideals of "Sincerity, Truth, Design" and do my best to support and further writing and literature.
I got some fancy red and black cords I can wear at graduation, a pin, and a certificate. I can also now publish in Sigma Tau Delta's two journals: The Rectangle and The Review. The Rectangle is for creative writing, The Review is for scholarly pieces, essays and the like.
It's sort of exciting to be recognized and be among the group on campus. Of course, it's not like a sorority or anything, though that would probably be excellent. We could have a permanent literary salon where we sip caffeinated beverages and share our latest masterpieces in the rough. Oh the metaphysical debates... but alas, there's no Greek housing on our campus anyway. Only six new members pledged this year,and some of the officers are graduating, so it's a rather small group.
I hate to be immodest, but it feels nice to be among the "chosen few." There are many benefits to joining and I look forward to taking advantage of them.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Count Down to New Season of Doctor Who

A week from tomorrow the sixth season of the New Who premieres in the UK and the US. Yes it is possible. With previous programming delays, one would think that film reels were being brought over in row boats. I digress.
Word is that during the opening two-parter set in America, one of the main cast is going to die. It better not be Rory. The novelty of killing him is wearing off. River Song will be back and in the mid-season finale (as they are splitting it in half after the seventh episode this season) her identity is said to be revealed.
Here is the BBC America Extended Trailer
Here is Doctor Who Insider Part 1 and Part 3 (nothing new in Part 2)
I'm so excited. It looks like all those little strings left dangling from last season (the thing in the corner of your eye, cracks, "Silence is falling") will all be brought to a climax this season. It also looks incredibly scary. There's also an episode called "The Doctor's Wife" by Neil Gaiman which should prove to be interesting.

In other Who-news, if you haven't heard, David Tennant is a dad. Georgia Moffet had their baby in March. Still trying to spread the term "Whocest" with little result.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Screnzy Slump

Slumps always happen during NaNo, but for some reason I keep forgetting about Script Frenzy. I open my email and see there's another "Script Frenzy Story" posted and suddenly remember the two scripts on my flash drive.
Looking through my script library (a left over from theatre school)I've noticed that most two act stage plays fall at about seventy pages. That's why I decided to write two pieces to total my word count. Still, I always feel my narrative voice is the strongest part of my writing so it's hard for me to be so dependent on dialogue.
I've also been avoiding the forums. For some reason they've been annoying me. Script Frenzy is supposed to be for, well, amateurs. Generally unpublished writers (like myself), but some of the questions on the forums bother me. It seems like many of the writers want to be handed a guide with all the "rules" for script writing, dictating how long all their scenes must be, how many characters they should have, etc. The "quick and dirty" tricks posted for reaching the goal used to amuse me, but again I've been finding them really annoying lately.
Maybe it's because I've been taking so many writing-centric classes and have been cracking down on myself to become a more serious writer to look toward making it my career. These challenges aren't just for fun for me, I may end up living off what I've been writing for NaNo and even Script Frenzy (hopefully).
Maybe I'm also just tired, overtaxed, and wishing summer were here. No doubt that compounds all my issues. The end of the semester is creeping up with an armful of papers and exams to dump in my lap. I also agreed to perform in two of my friends' directing class final, as well as my club president duties.
I'm not in a bad mood, exactly. The weather's been quite fine (I don't even mind the rain because it makes everything so green). I'm working on some exciting stories for the paper, I've been selling things on my Etsy, I'm going back to work at the Renaissance Faire this summer (I'm such a nerd, but I've missed having an excuse to wear a corset and sword fight with pirates), I was also invited to audition for a show that one of my professors is putting on in the fall. Good things are happening, I'm just not sure if I can dedicate the time to Script Frenzy this month. I'm also feeling like I might be growing in another direction as writer-- one that Screnzy and NaNo may not accommodate much longer. There is much for me to ponder.
Sorry for the wrong rant. I'm going to bed now.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Upstairs Downstair Reboot on PBS

The original Upstairs Downstairs was wildly popular, so it makes sense that it's being revisited. Last night the first episode of the reboot aired on PBS's Masterpiece program (and is available to watch online as well).
The first episode laid a lot of groundwork for things to come. In one hour they rather efficiently introduced a brand new set of characters (with the exception of the beloved Rose who now runs an employment agency for domestic workers). There were a few moments of humor and heartbreak, but over all, not a stunning episode. I look forward to seeing more plot and character development now that all the necessary exposition is out of the way.
Lady Percy, played by Claire Foy (of Little Dorrit) was hardly seen in this episode, but her struggles with her family's genteel poverty, adapting to her sister's new lifestyle, as well as her temper poise her to be an important character that will possibly serve as a catalyst to future plots.
It was a risk to try and reproduce a show that was so loved and so revolutionary. It was also a risk putting it in a Masterpiece season that just debuted the spectacular Downton Abbey-- another program that deals with the dynamic of aristocracy and their servants. Both Downton and Upstairs set their characters in a world on the verge of change, social and political conflicts challenge tradition and the way these characters view the world, especially in regards to class and position. Where they seem to diverge (so far) is that Downton is more rooted in family drama, where Upstairs seems to be going in a direction more focused on politics. All in all, worth the watching

Friday, April 8, 2011

National Poetry Month Festivities

In honor of National Poetry Month, the literary society will be Committing Random Acts of Poetry (C.R.A.P) around campus this month-- not the whole month, just the latter half, but still. I will be performing "Jabberwocky" by Lewis Caroll:
'Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.

"Beware the Jabberwock, my son
The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!
Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun
The frumious Bandersnatch!"

He took his vorpal sword in hand;
Long time the manxome foe he sought –
So rested he by the Tumtum tree,
And stood awhile in thought.

And, as in uffish thought he stood,
The Jabberwock, with eyes of flame,
Came whiffling through the tulgey wood,
And burbled as it came!

One, two! One, two! And through and through
The vorpal blade went snicker-snack!
He left it dead, and with its head
He went galumphing back.

"And hast thou slain the Jabberwock?
Come to my arms, my beamish boy!
O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!"
He chortled in his joy.

'Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.

It will be epic.

Monday, April 4, 2011

A Crack in the Lens by Darlene Cypser

“Grit in a sensitive instrument, or a crack in one of his high powered lenses, would not be more disturbing than a strong emotion in a nature such as his.” -A Scandal in Bohemia
A young Sherlock Holmes returns to his home in the English countryside after living abroad for his health’s sake. He has a history of poor health, but now at age seventeen he’s gained strength in his time on the continent and through his study of fencing. He soon gets wrapped up in his home estate. His eldest brother, Sherrinford marries and the daughter of a tenant named Violet Rushdale catches young Sherlock’s eye. However, he is plagued by a tenuous relationship with his father, the squire. His father doesn’t think he’ll amount to much and intends to send Sherlock to study as an engineer.
His father engages a tutor to come prepare Sherlock for university. A mathematical genius, young Professor Moriarty arrives and soon he and Sherlock are engaged in a battle of wits that will endanger Sherlock and people he cares for.

Darlene Cypser paints a rich landscape for her Holmesian prequel. Well researched and thought out, it gives a possible beginning to Sherlock Holmes’ story. It gives a look at the young man before he became the calculating machine described by Watson and how his interest in solving the unsolvable originated. It’s a quick read with plenty of suspense.
Unlike prequels such as The Young Sherlock Holmes that had to rewrite history to make the story work, Cypser sticks with the story. Though initially, I was skeptical about her inserting of Moriarty into the story, Cypser fills out the image of Moriarty. She also develops a back story between Holmes and Moriarty that emphasizes why Holmes is so bent on Moriarty’s removal from society in “The Final Problem.”