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.