Friday, January 27, 2012

Solving the Mystery Genre: Independent Study Update

This semester I designed my own course for independent study. Basically I draft up the curriculum, choose course texts and an advisor to look out for me and the college approves it (or not). My study of the mystery genre was heartily approved. So now I'm deep into the earliest offerings of the genre from Poe and moving on into Doyle.
There are so many amazing and important writers and even lesser known writers I wish I could have included, but it's already a pretty heavy course load because in tandem to my readings I'll be working on writing as well and must surrender a mystery manuscript at the end of the semester.
It's going well though, my professor is supportive and a big fan of mysteries herself, so we have good advisor meetings. Best of all, I've had a real break though on my characters I believe. I've always wanted to write several books with this cast and now I can more clearly see how that would work, how the characters will evolve and when we get to meet certain other characters.
Right now I can see four or five books with the core main characters. It's very exciting to be able to plan ahead. Of course, there are certain things to come in future books that I'd like to jump ahead to and start writing now, but I have to keep moving forward and begin at the beginning to get where I'd like to be eventually. I have a notebook full of scenes and outlines for the future, however.
It's my goal, or my pipe-dream perhaps, to have a literary agent by the time I graduate next May. I don't want to wait to start my career as a writer until I finish grad school-- in fact I'm not sure I want to go straight to grad school. And I'm afraid that if I let myself just slip into job that has nothing to do with writing but takes up a lot of my time, that I won't move forward and keep pursuing my writing. I probably will have a full time job besides my writing, but I would like to be something that uses my writing (such as journalism).
Like I said, it's just a goal, but I really want it. I want to be a writer, that's what I'm spending my college career training for, and that's the only thing I really want to do. The only thing I feel like I have to do as a career.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Review: The Reichenbach Fall, Sherlock series 2

On Sunday, The Reichenbach Fall, the series 2 finale of Sherlock aired. Based off Doyle's story "The Final Problem" (a title which is referenced several times in the episode), the episode opens with John back at the therapist's office. He tells his therapist he's come back after all this time because his best friend, Sherlock, is dead.
From there we get the story filled out. Sherlock steadily gains more and more media exposure through John's blog and the solving of several high profile cases. John warns him that this might be dangerous. Meanwhile, Moriarty is back with the ultimate plot. He has a computer code that can open any security system. He simultaneously breaks through the security of The Tower of London, The Bank of England, and Pentoville. It's going to be the trial of the century and Sherlock will be the main witness for the prosecution.

The episode was a fantastic cap for the season. It was great to have more screen time for Andrew Scott as Moriarty. This version of Moriarty is certainly unique, but he's always exciting to watch. His Moriarty is brilliant, unpredictable, and relishes the game so much. He's delicious to watch, and he scenes between Sherlock and Moriarty are extremely powerful. Their verbal chess match towards he end of the episode contains several surprising twists. Scott's versatility comes through and there's a scene about an hour into the episode where he might make you momentarily question your sanity.
This episode lets us see Sherlock at his most desperate. This whole season has been about uncovering his vulnerabilities, finding what's really important to Sherlock and this episode takes that even farther. By the end of the episode you may have to disagree with Sherlock's earlier assessment that "Heroes don't exist, and if they did I wouldn't be one of them."
It was Martin Freeman's performance, however, that really made the episode. Give that man another BAFTA. His ability to emote, but emote in a controlled way that would be appropriate for John Watson, the soldier and doctor, is so subtle and deft. It's heartbreaking to see him in pain, more heartbreaking when he tries to be strong about it.

The series as a whole definitely lived up to expectations. The success of the first season gave the writers more license to push boundaries and experiment, some experiments were more successful than others, but they were always entertaining.
The direction and overall cinematography put this leagues above any other show on television. The transitions between scenes are always visually interesting and cleverly done. The creation of atmosphere, whether in on the moors, or in the middle of London, grab hold of the viewer. They found even more interesting ways to visualize Sherlock's thought process this season as well-- the "Mind Palace" sequence from Hound was definitely a highlight, and possibly a new dance move.
The end doesn't leave on as painful a cliff hanger as the first season, but will leave fans eager for more, and indeed, a third season has been commissioned. Unfortunately it won't arrive until 2013 due to the filming of The Hobbit which Martin Freeman stars in with Benedict Cumberbatch supporting as Smaug.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

A Moveable Feast

Sorry it's taken me so long to get around to writing about this piece. I checked it out of the local library last month and read a few chapters each week in the Laundromat.
A Moveable Feast is Ernest Hemingway's chronicle of his life as a young writer in Paris. He meandered between cafes and friends' homes, staying in bare bones accommodations with his wife Hadley. Many other writers of the time figure into his account, Gertrude Stein, Ford Maddox Ford, Ezra Pound, F. Scott Fitzgerald and others. Each person sketched in detail sometimes brutal detail. Fitzgerald especially comes off as a bit of a naive fool, best illustrated in this infamous passage.
I love many of Hemingway's short stories, but his novels tend to be a little hard for me to connect to and read all the way through. However, I loved this memoir. Its stark prose was littered with surprising moments of poetry. This is one of my favorite passages from early in the book:

"All of the sadness of the city came suddenly with the first cold rains of winter, and there were no more tops to the high white houses as you walked but only the wet blackness of the street and the closed doors of the small shops, the herb sellers, the stationary and newspaper shops, the midwife— second class—and the hotel where Verlaine had died where I had a room on the top floor where I worked.”

Of course, reading about Hemingway's struggles as a young writer is reassuring to this young writer. All his desire to write "one true sentence," to publish, to be a good writer are something I can connect to in my own journey. Even when set backs (like losing a suitcase full of stories there were no other copies of) didn't deter him from his quest. It makes me want to go back to my "Complete Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway" and reread all of his early works that are alluded to in the memoir.
So definitely give this one a read, even if you don't always enjoy Hemingway, this is not to be missed

Friday, January 13, 2012

Review: Sherlock "The Hounds of Baskerville"

In a nod to a lesser known, lesser adapted Holmes story "Black Peter," the episode opens with Sherlock arriving back at the flat covered in blood and carrying a harpoon he used to spear a pig that morning. He had to take the tube home "None of the cabs would have me." With that slightly gorey start, writer Mark Gatiss takes us on a horrific adventure into Dartmoor on the tail of a giant hound. Henry Knight arrives on the morning train asking for Sherlock and John to help him. Twenty years before, his father was ripped apart in front of him by what seemed to be demon hound- possibly an escaped genetic experiment from Baskerville, a government testing facility nearby.
The episode did a great job of inverting some of the expectations that Holmes fans would have for an adaptation of Hound of the Baskervilles. No longer set in a creepy country home haunted by a curse, it takes the story to that modern haunted house, a laboratory where anything could lurk. Many moments of pure psychological terror were in store for all of the characters, even Sherlock our cool logictician. How can Holmes deal with fear and doubt, the inability to trust his own senses? How can Watson deal with such a Holmes?
Our two leads had an opportunity to explore a new aspect of their relationship. One where Sherlock tests certain limits. More importantly, we see John hurt by Sherlock when he insists in one taut scene, "I don't have friends!" By the end though, Sherlock has to relent that he doesn't have friends, just one friend.
Though the episode pays homage to Doyle's original creation, it steps boldly into new territory, allowing itself to differ from the original. Hound is the most adapted Sherlock Holmes story, one that carries with it a lot of baggage. Gatiss sheds much of that baggage by reinventing several aspects of the story and giving fans something fresh and original, something they won't be as familiar with.
Overall, it was a very strong episode. It continues on the momentum created by the raucous first episode and keeps giving us something new from our characters, which can be hard when they are so established in the public consciousness.

*Here there be spoilers:*
One small issue I did have with episode was how the characters were exposed to the hallucinogen. It wasn't in the sugar as Sherlock originally assumed, so how did it get into John's system? Before he goes into the lab, there is a pipe spurting steam and we see the passage fill with it a bit, but would a top government lab allow drugs to freely flow in its laboratories? Unless we assume that Franklin was slipping what was usually a small amount of the drug to his colleagues. That does seem like a plot hole that could use some patching.
The ending was an interesting gear up to next week's episode. Mycroft has clearly made good on his vow at the end of "Scandal" to give Moriarty some of his attention, but since he doesn't get his hands dirty, is forced to let him go. The eerie graffiti all over the holding room shows us that Moriarty has reached a new level of obsession. This version of Moriarty has been a little hard for some to swallow, but I think it's interesting. Why do the same old thing over again?
This Moriarty is a little younger, a little more childlike (which makes him a good counterpoint to our younger, sometimes immature Sherlock). He is clearly intelligent, running a huge criminal enterprise, but Sherlock has become his one obsession. Maybe it's the crack in his lens, maybe his obsession will make him vulnerable? We'll see this Sunday.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Quick Review: One Good Turn by Kate Atkinson

I read this over week ago, but haven't had time to review until now.
At the end of Case Histories Jackson Brodie ran off to France with his inheritance for an early retirement. One Good Turn sees him back in the UK two years later. He arrives in Edinburgh for the festival to see his girlfriend Julia in a play and finds himself in the middle of police investigations and in the cross-hairs of Louise, a no-nonsense female officer.
The plot sees several seemingly unrelated crimes: a fit of road rage, the body of a girl washed up on the beach, and the unscrupulous practices of a business man, but they all prove to be connected. Atkinson richly illustrates the lives of these characters, making each one come alive, not just Jackson. One of the best characters is Martin, a soft-boiled crime writer who is hapless, but sympathetic. Atkinson clearly has fun writing passages from Martin's formulaic stories. Gloria the middle aged wife and Tatiana "Jojo" the dominatrix form an interesting alliance to find their own brand of justice. The introduction of Louise as a match for Jackson was a good move as well, I hope that's developed more in the next book. I never liked Julia as his romantic interest.
This is a rare example of the sequel being superior to the original. Atkinson improves on her ability to balance multiple stories and bring them all back to Jackson, the linchpin. The way all the cases end up intersecting is creative and intriguing. She makes you interested in all their lives, even when they make mistakes, even when they break laws, they still have your interest, your sympathy. Rather than the unrelated stories of Case Histories, One Good Turn brings everything together to make a more cohesive story.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Review: Sherlock "A Scandal in Belgravia"

After almost a year and a half, series two of Sherlock has finally arrived. The first episode quickly ties up last years cliff-hanger in a comical, yet chilling scene. It's a little abrupt, but the episode has bigger things to get to, specifically: Irene Adler.
Steve Moffat's version of the only woman to ever outsmart Holmes has stirred up a lot of controversy. Without giving too much away for those of you who haven't seen it yet, I can say that yes, she is different than Doyle's original, but I don't think that's necessarily a bad thing. Much of the backlash comes from fans claiming that this Adler is too sexualized. The character is a dominatrix in this retelling, one who gathers sensitive secrets on her camera phone from her illustrious clients. When she first meets Sherlock, she walks into the room wearing high heels and blood red lipstick.
Clearly this was a bold choice. This episode and the handling of Adler weren't perfect, but I will make a small defense of this adaptation. The original character was an opera singer who travelled the world living by her wits and was most likely the full-fledged mistress of the King of Bohemia. She was a very racy character in her day. Stage performers were seen as loose women. Having her be an opera singer who was the arm candy of some politico wouldn't have as much impact in a modern setting. Her nudity isn't used to make her an object of desire, or to make her helpless. She reverse to her nudity as being her "battle" attire. It's something that makes her powerful by making Sherlock and John uncomfortable.
As far as her being reduced to a sex object, what makes her an opponent to Holmes, what makes her someone he is (perhaps) interested, is her brain. He can't read her, she surprises him and manages to figure out the solution to one of his cases. Their relationship is very interesting to see develop. Cumberbatch does a great job of making Holmes just vulnerable enough, without ever revealing too much emotion. He and Adler circle each other, both admiring the other, but at cross purposes. It is certainly not a love story, but it introduces the feasibility of a different kind of relationship for Sherlock Holmes without taking him in a romantic direction that would be out of character.
Mycroft was much more developed in this episode as well. His role in the government and his relationship with his younger brother. There are several very telling moments between the Holmes brothers within the episode. Of course Martin Freeman's John is incandescent as usual. It was a fairly John-light episode, but he and Cumberbatch had many moments to show the way that Sherlock and John's relationship has continued to develop. Una Stubbs, as Mrs. Hudson, appeared more in this episode, showing her maternal relationship with the boys-- especially Sherlock.
Overall, it was a solid episode. Plenty of great canon references, especially at the beginning of the episode with a montage of cases for Sherlock and John. A few very funny scenes, but some dark moments as well. Not to mention, several twists that may surprise some viewers and keeps you interested.
To end with a John quote: "We solve crimes, I blog about it, he forgets his pants. I wouldn't hold on to too much hope."

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

2010 An Obligatory Review

Oh, I have to. Even if it's only a new year according to our flawed solar calender (just saying, if we followed a lunar calender we could have thirteen 28 day months which would make a lot more sense).
So here are some ways I'll remember 2010:
1. The year of technological horror. I had one computer cord die on me and have to be replaced, then the computer itself died shortly after I replaced the cord. My flash-drive suddenly ceased functioning, then I got a very determined piece of Malware infested in my new computer in time for midterms. Then, right after finals my computer started acting up. Last week then, the Malware came back. So my whole hard drive had to be wiped. Yes, I just got it back today.
2. The year I gave Dickens another try. And you know, I found it wasn't bad. I rather enjoyed Dombey and Son. It was also perfect timing for my honors course in which we read The Mystery of Edwin Drood and wrote our own endings. My version (not surprisingly) was described by my professor as a bit "film noir." It was a lot of fun.
3. The year of rejection. For the first time, I started actively submitting my work to lit journals and querying agents and editors. I had done little touches of freelancing, but I had never submitted so much before. Ergo, I've never been rejected so much before. Dipping my toes into the publishing world was an overwhelming experience. I may have had a breakdown (or two) and reconsidered my choice to be a writer. Overall though, I learned a lot, and hope to start round two later this year.
4. The year of detective stories. Not just my own, though they have been constantly on my work table. I started a very determined course of education; I began an intensive study of the genre. When I looked back over the list of books I read, at least half were mysteries. I brushed up on my Agatha Christie as well as more contemporary offerings. I watched a good many mystery programs as well, the BBC's Luther being one of my favorites (though nothing can dethrone Sherlock of course). Though some stories have spun me around quite a bit, I've also realized that I'm a fairly hard reader to surprise. I'm fairly good at predicting plot twists. When I'm reading Doyle, it's always an ego boost if I can solve the crime before or at the same time as Holmes.
5. The year of Rory Williams. Well, I certainly appreciated him all year long and am going to miss him when he leaves next season. I think he's probably my favorite Doctor Who companion of all time.