cricketmuse

a writer's journey as a reader

Archive for the category “writers”

From Super-size to Bite-size


With summer vacation officially starting for me I decided to attack my office and tidy up the mounds of paper that has been accumulating through the year. This is both a needed chore and also serves as a means of procrastination. I know I should be sitting down and actually getting back to those writing projects. Like that cow joke book…

Cows can wait momentarily, for I found treasures to share.


[Zits points out that literature, and I will extend this to quotes, is a matter of perspective] 

Every year in September I attend the local SCBWI (Society of Childrens Book Writers and Illustrators) annual conference. My main goal is have a manuscript professionally critiqued by an editor or agent (who will be so delighted with my writing that I am offered a contract on the spot). Another goal is network and source gather. Both are conducive to bettering my writerly skills.

One workshop handout proved too fun to toss.The idea is to take a well-known quote and make it more relatable to teens by translating into more YAish language. Here is their example:

“When today fails to offer the justification for hope, tomorrow becomes the only grail worth pursuing.” Arthur Miller, Death of a Salesman

Here’s their translation: “Some days it’s hard to see the point of it all, so you have to wait for tomorrow and hope by then there’ll be something worth waking up for.”

I don’t know about you, but I can see this opening up a YA book that will be full of angst, humor, a touch of romance, and maybe even a bit of defiance.

YA is one genre that I would like to get out there into the hands of readers. There must be room for another John Green. I’m working on getting my YA voice down, and that’s the point of this exercise. Tell you what, rate me on whether I’m even close.

Marcel Proust, In Search of Time
“We believe that we can change the things around us in accordance with our desires–we believe it because otherwise we can see no favourable outcome.”

C.Muse translation:
“If I can’t see the silver lining, I’m still gonna carry an umbrella.”

Ernest Hemingway, A Farewell to Arms
If people bring so much courage to this world the world has to kill them to break them, so of course it kills them.”

C.Muse translation:
“The world wants to suck your joy, just like vampires, and vampires aren’t exactly EMTs.”

Charlotte Bronte, Jane Eyre
“Life appears to me too short to be spent in nursing animosity or registering wrongs.”

C.Muse translation:
“Life is too short to be hanging on to bruises–get over it and go have a bagel.”

Quotes of great possibility I didn’t get to:

“Nothing is so painful to the human mind as a great and sudden change.”
Mary Shelley, Frankenstein

“I know not all that may be coming, but be it what it will, I’ll go to it laughing.”
Herman Melville, Moby Dick

“There is nothing I would not do for those who are really my friends. I have no notion of loving people by halves, it is not my nature.” Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice

Everyone suspects himself of at least one of the cardinal virtues, and this is mine: I am one of the few honest people that I have ever know.” 
F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby

It was actually pretty entertaining to listen to everyone’s interpretation. As I recollect my vampire translation received a few polite guffaws. Does that mean it was perceived as a home runner or just a bummer?

I do have a couple of YA manuscripts I plan on revisiting and sending out on their “please-publish-me” tour.

Blue Skies and hope your summer is also off to a spiffy start.

 

 

Author Spotlight: Shakespeare and The Force Is Still With Us


We are still in the year of Shakespeare, and exploring how the Bard has touched our lives. Ian Doescher took his self-proclaimed Shakesnerd and has done something productive about. It makes sense that Star Wars would be the next mash-up since, after all, we have Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.

The Folger Shakespeare Library provides a nifty blog addressing all things Shakespeare, appropriately naming it “Shakespeare & Beyond.” One delightful post involves a focus on Doescher and his creation of his Star Wars series, in which he retells the Star Wars stories in iambic pentameter. Yes, he has done this. Brilliantly. On a radio interview, a podcast, he discusses how the Star Wars series came to be. His Yoda impression is not to be missed.

Ian Doescher interview

What if Star Wars was written four hundred years ago…

Shakesyear


This is a biggie for Shakespeare fans. This is the year we Bardinators celebrate the 400 years of the Bard’s influence since he left us in 1616. Usually I spotlight an author around this part of the month, but I plan I spotlighting Billy Bard every month this year as my personal salute to the guy who brought us plays like Hamlet, words like crocodile, and phrases such as “in a pickle.” So if you are not into Shakespeare plan on skipping my posties at the end of the month OR maybe I can convince you that Shakespeare is a big deal. You might want to skip down to the Shakespism video to see if you suffer from this malady.

I was fortunate enough to participate in the first Folger Summer Academy  in which thirty teachers from all over the USA came together and studied Hamlet for a week at the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington DC. It was a WOW time–Wonderful, Oh Wonderful.

Being surrounded by Shakespeare scholars and being immersed in Shakespeare culture for an entire week fortified my appreciated for the legacy of the playwright/poet of Stratford.

An embarrassing confession: it’s only been a mere fifteen years since I discovered Shakespeare. There was no Shakespeare in my home, in my schools, nor did I encounter him during my college years. Sad and shocking, I know. It wasn’t until I became an English teacher and had to teach Romeo and Juliet, Julius Caesar, and Hamlet that I realized I had much to learn and I determined I had best make up for lost time.

As a celebration of  the Bard’s 400 years of influence the Folger Library is providing a first ever tour of Shakespeare’s First Folio. This is the book Shakespeare’s friends and colleagues put together after the Bard’s death and contains the thirty plus plays we associate with Shakespeare. I saw AND touched the Folio. Big ooooh factor. I also handled his lease for his Stratford house. Somehow that had more meaning because I know he actually touched that document. The folio is a more or less a tribute of his greatness, but he knew nothing about it.

However, I realize not everyone is wowed by William. Here are some videos that might help you overcome your Shakesfear or ennui of Bard Hoopla.

 

Wouldn’t You Know–A Reflection on Desks


Where writers write is almost as fascinating as how they write. Personally, I become rather discouraged rather than encouraged to read about authors with routines that involve getting up at 4:30 am, doing yoga first, downing their wheatgrass shake, writing away until noon with no breaks because they are of the “plant butt in chair” answer to the obsequious “how to be a writing success?” Quora question.

I am more interested if it’s a wouldn’t desk or not. That’s no typo.

A “wouldn’t” desk is different than a wooden one. A wouldn’t desk involves an alter ego, as in “You wouldn’t believe that when the laundry is off this couch, this is where I work on my cow joke book.” Or “You wouldn’t think that writing in bed would be comfortable or even productive.”

Both couches and beds have served as my desks. Apparently I’m in good company because Mark Twain is famous for writing in his bed. He kept a pool table in his bedroom for when he needed a break from  writing. That’s one big bedroom.

I have yet to find an author who wrote or writes on a couch, that is, a purple one. I purchased mine as my muse and placed it next to my bed. A lovely shade of deep eggplant, it’s  in patterned plush, reminding me of the old movie theatre seats in the Rialto of my childhood years. It has since disappeared into the guest room where it lives an unfilled life as a laundry sorting station.

I ditched desks a long time ago due to two factors:

1. Space

2. Clutter

Desks take up a lot of space. Plus they are so imperiously demanding. Desks can’t go anywhere and require sitting at them. My creativity is shackled somewhat to planting my hindness in that chair. Realizing sitting at a desk feels too much like being a student expected to produce something worthy of a grade, I have since ditched the desk.

Another factor for being deskless is guilt. I could not bear allocating one of the bedrooms as my office. Kids do better not being piled up like Twinkies in a box  in terms of sharing rooms. So, my desk found itself in the living room or our bedroom which led to problem #2:

Clutter is ineviable when a flat horizontal surface beckons. Bills, library books, toys, plates, cups, laundry (which finds a place no matter in the house) all land on my desk. Like Rodney Dangerfield, my desk got no respect. Hence the switch to the couch. Which is a horizontal surface, wouldn’t you know. I ditched desks, couches, beds as writing stations when I switched to a laptop from a desktop computer. My desk is now an IKEA chair. Foot rest is option. It has yet to serve as a laundry station.

Now that I am an empty nester, I have commandeered an abandoned bedroom (after 18, unless they pay into the mortgage,a progeny’s bedroom is absorbed into the household) and have a bed, a couch, a rocking chair, and an IKEA chair as muse choices. No pool table at present, but I do have my son’s lava lamp, which is pretty good entertainment.

So–about your desk?

image: Wikipedia The secret is in Twain’s plumpy pillows

Do Rah Mean Reviews


I started reviewing books about twenty years ago, mainly because I wanted a steady supply of books to read since at that time we lived out in the toolieloops, about an hour from town, and with three kids in tow this involved a spirit of adventure and a rousing case of cabin fever to shake me into organizing a “going to town” outing.

A book reviewer I became.

One thing learned about book reviewing is the art of the “do rah” as in do be a cheerleader of sorts and Thumperize a book–find something nice to say. As a writer, I can’t imagine reading a review and having to bear any slicing and dicing of my creative endeavour.

Yet, there are those who skip the do rah and just go for mean. You know what I’m talking about. Those vitriolic reviewers that pen scorn and derision that practically blame the tree for providing the pulp that provided the paper for the book.

Tsk.

Not long ago I felt compelled to comment on such a review found on Goodreads addressing a book I recently finished. I mentioned the importance of setting aside 21st century expectations when reading historical fiction. Whoa! A personal tirade was my reply. I didn’t see that one coming. Fortunately, another reader rebuffed that reply saying the writer was out of line and should be warned. Are there Goodread police who hand out “play nice” tickets?

“Don’t be a meanie, be a do rah-er when reviewing books.” morguefile.com/JessicaGale

That little episode provided the epiphany that mean reviews perhaps stem from mean-spirited people, and I try even harder to offer more positive than negative comments in my reviewing. After all, that some day of getting my cow joke book published might actually arrive and I wouldn’t want my bovine humor butchered unfairly by unfriendly reviewers.

What thoughts on mean reviews? Do they dissuade or persuade you to read the book?

Author Snapshot: D.E.Stevenson


As we know authors wax and wane in popularity. Books that eager readers  once  grabbed off the shelves now forlornly gather dust, or go out of print or end up in the free bin. That’s why it’s exciting when an author can rekindle interest and prove she still holds staying power forty years after her death and last book was published. The author? D.E. Stevenson. Her devotees are known as “Dessies.”

  Some fine facts:

  • Dorothy Emily Stevenson was a related to THE Robert Louis Stevenson.
  • Educated by a governess and denied college because her father didn’t want an educated woman in the family.
  • She published nearly fifty books in her career.
  • At the height of her career, her books sold in the millions internationally.
  • A granddaughter discovered a couple of manuscripts in the attic in 2011 and they were immediately snapped up and published.
  • Being Scottish, most of her plots center around Scotland and England, with WWI and WWII’s affect on its people often being a main theme. 
  • Her books gave clear insights into the lives of those who called the countryside their home.
  • Adept at characterization, her books often overflowed and intermingled with one another.
  • Died in 1973, yet beginning in 2009, her books are slowing being reissued.

A snippet from a BBC article

Members of Stevenson’s family are amazed by her enduring popularity. Her daughter, Rosemary Swallow, remembers how her mother worked.

“She would sit down on the sofa, put her legs up and light a cigarette,” she said.

“She had a special writing board, a wooden board covered in green baize and she would just carry on writing whatever was going on around her.

“She was very, very good at character writing. There’s no rude sex or anything like that, just a good yarn with a beginning, a middle and an end.”

On a personal note: 

I discovered her books about twenty years ago when working at a public library. A friend and co-worker knew I preferred “gentle” reads and suggested Stevenson. I read everything the library owned, and even ventured into the scary overflow storage basement to retrieve forgotten copies. 

Currently I’m on a mission to read all her titles. The writing is solid, with its intriguing plots involving mysteries, light romance, and brilliant characterization. When I’m feeling a bit lost due to stress from a long week, I find myself again by reading a Stevenson novel.  

Reading Challenge Met!


2015 Reading Challenge

I signed on with GoodReads mainly to keep track of my books. I so enjoy being spared of the agonizing “Okay, it had a yellow cover and the author only published this one novel…” or some such scenario of “which one and who wrote it.” GR has become my tidy little techno Rolodex of titles.

While keeping track of my books is indeed a boon for this Book Booster, I realized after reading other people’s blogs I was missing out on one other amazing feature (there are still quite a few I’m discovering): The Reading Challenge.

This feature has completely revved up my reading habits. Even though I am voracious reader, I am usually unaware of my volume. Not that it matters, but I would like to know how many books I go through in the course of a year, just because. It’s not that I’m addicted to reading, yet I notice when I don’t have a book to read I’m not feeling quite aligned. For instance, I paced myself and read a long book on my trip (North and Southt) and on Sunday found myself book less because I hadn’t gone to the library to stock up for my return reading afterwards. The reason? I do this odd thing of returning all library books, whether or not I’ve read them, before going on a trip. Even if it’s a just for a few days. I suppose my imagination believes I will fall into a black hole before my return and I don’t want to inconvenience the library of harboring missing books. As a result of my odd ritual of travel preps, I ended up with no book for my usual Sunday nap and read session. Ghastly, I know. On the positive side, it did free up some reflection time for books I have read this year because…

I have met my reading challenge of 50 books way before expected. 

Going through the list I created these stats for myself-I wonder if WordPress would consider loaning their stat monkeys out to GoodReads…

Total pages read:14, 288–I’m not sure if that is profound or pathetic

Average pages: 285–this balances fairly well, since I eclectically read books like The Little Prince, which is 11 pages, and then sit down with books like North and South, weighing in at around 500.

Most popular genre: this surprised me–I consider myself one who favors fiction and read non-fiction sparingly, yet I came up 11 non-fiction books! That’s getting upwards on my list. Gobstoppers! The other genres are 16 historical fiction/classics; Juvie/YA 13; and 12 for contemporary/popular. The numbers add up to 52, so obviously I counted one for two categories–no doubt those Darcy-type books snuck into the historical popular categories.

Fastest cover-to-cover: Little Prince–yet it’s not really a quick read, especially when I stop to investigate and reference all the lovely information found on so many LP dedicated sites.

Longest to read: those 500 page books do drag a bit, yet if they can keep the pace they go by quickly. Ink heart needed a firm editing in parts, considering it’s a Juvie, the pace moored down to boots in molasses at times–don’t kids prefer snap, crackle, action?

Most attractive cover:this is a toughie because attractive is so subjective, and there is that emotional aspect of expectancy involved–for now I’ll say Go Set a Watchman, due to it hearkening back to the original cover of TKAM, of which I am so fond.

Best jacket blurb: Slight Trick of the Mind–what would Sherlock be like in his waning years? I had to know.

Worst jacket blurb: this is actually my 51st book but it should have been the 50th (I won’t bother you with the details). The Guersney Literary and Potato Pie Society sounded like a quaint, character-driven epistolary novel about a quirky group of book boosters. However, as I became more involved in it, it became clear it was more of a historical reference on the Nazi occupation of Guernsey. I tend to shy away from these books having helped edit my mother’s own wartime memoir, and am now over-saturated with the destruction and sadness of this war. Light-hearted is what seemed promised, and what I really needed at that point in my schedule, and I end up crying upon learning about the further cruelty of WWII victims. It had lighter moments, but became too heavy in horrendous wartime details for my comfort.

Top five favorites:

  • The Great Gatsby–a reread and I truly appreciate the symbols and metaphors so much more now that I teach AP Literature. This time around it was on audio tape, although a newer version is needed (pops and skips *grr*)
  • A Slight Trick of the Mind (Mr Holmes)–Cullin truly treated Sherlock with dignity and the plot is quite plausible
  • The Bookseller–not a raging favorite read, but the premise is fascinating and a page-flipper
  • My Salinger Year–a lovely memoir of the yesteryear of publishing
  • The Little Prince–so charming, so profoundly simple

Anyone else in the midst of a Reading Challenge?

A Trio of Shakespeare 


Considering I had no exposure or any real knowledge of Shakespeare until I began teaching his works in high school, I’ve certainly made up for lost time.

In the twelve years of morphing from a displaced school librarian to an AP teacher I’ve developed an appreciation for Wm. Sh. to the point of labeling myself a Bardinator. *

“Yo, thou intensely doeth Bard if thy be a Bardinator.” image: flickr.com

Bardinator /n./ a person who goes beyond face value knowledge of Shakespearean works and dives in to study, appreciate, and revel in the works of William Shakespeare to the point of total commitment. Simply put–a dedication to the Bard’s works beyond what is considered sufficiently normal. 

This summer I have reveled in more Bard than usual. It began, appropriately enough on July 4th* when I landed in Washington DC to study Hamlet for a week at the Folger Shakespeare Library.

Later that month I finally got around to Anonymous, which is actually anti-Bard, as it is a ridiculous conjecture that William Shakespeare was not a brilliant playwright but actually a drunken sot of an actor fronting for some earl who was a closet playwright. The only takeaway was how stunningly the time period and the theater was portrayed. I squirmed through this insulting and terrible premise to absorb the glory of the Elizabethean stage snippets. One star of note was Mark Rylance. This observation led me to–

Twelfth Night starring Mark Rylance in the role of Olivia. Yes, finally. A Shakespearen production as it might have been presented because of the all male cast. The play was filmed at The Globe with a live audience (groundlings included) in sharp, glorious HD. Mark Rylance and his troupe superceded expectations. It was unprecedented theater. I will have problems readjusting to women playing women now in Bard dramas because Shakespeare wrote the parts knowing men/boys would be playing women. Or in the case of Viola/Caesario-, a youth playing a woman disguised as a youth. The lines and meaning take on a whole new dimension with the knowledge it’s two men playing they are attracted to each other but the manly man doesn’t want to admit to it . But thr audience knows the fair youth is really supposed to be a woman since it’s a boy playing a woman dressed as a boy. The confusion is intentional, as is the jovial mistaken engendered double meanings.

“Yonder sun doth the moon, y’all.” Image: YouTube.com

To round out the summer I watched my first ever Shakespeare in the Park or more precisely, on the grass at the local fairgrounds.  A group of thespians out of Montana traversing five states presenting either Cyrano or Taming of the Shrew graced our fare (or fair) town. And what a turn out. Beginning at three o’clock people arrived to claim their patch of grass and browsed the various booths ranging from spun wool goods to sword play. A lively Renaissance trio added appropriate musical ambiance. At six o’clock the western-themed show begun and the audience whistled and hooted out their appreciation at all the puns and ribaldry. The best bit was unplanned when a wee little lass wandered onto the stage at just the moment when Petruchio instructs Kate to speak to the “maiden” (Vincentio).

“Speak to yonder maiden, Kate. Not that one–the other one.”

Not missing a beat, Vincentio grabs up the sweet interloper and announces: “This is my granddaughter” and managed to return her to an embarrassed audience mother.

A truly fun community event to commemorate the closing of summer. Soon I will be bringing Shakespeare to the classroom, but perhaps we’ll Bard out on the lawn. BOOC–bring our own chairs.

Did anyone else have a bit of Bard along with their beach and BBQ days this summer?

—————————-

*yes, there is a connection of studying Shakespeare during America’s independence week–Wm. Sh. became our nation’s first playwright when his plays sailed over from England. In fact, the Folger has the first Elizabethean stage. A regular Tudor de force (upon which I played a hammy Horatio).

*I just spent an hour hopscotching about the Net trying to find that nifty definition I stumbled across years ago. No luck. I did find a new blog concerning Shakespeare. I have created my own definition. This will be a work in progress and I am quite open to other interpretations.

Writerly Wisdom: Quotes on Setting


One reason I read books is because I dread ever so much to travel. I do like the “here I am” of arriving. It’s all that packing, squishing into miniscule airline seats, fretting about schedules, realizing I brought the entirely wrong things to wear, that make traveling drearisome. I do like the exploring, discovering, reveling that is part of going somewhere new. This is a big reason why I read novels. Reading, especially fiction, takes me places that doesn’t involve packing a bag. This month’s Writerly Wisdom set of quotes focuses on that aspect of writing involving place: setting. How does a writer put me in the “there” of their writing?

“The house smelled musty and damp, and a little sweet, as if it were haunted by the ghosts of long-dead cookies.”
Neil Gaiman, American Gods

“An author knows his landscape best; he can stand around, smell the wind, get a feel for his place.”
Tony Hillerman

Eudora Welty said, “Every story would be another story, and unrecognizable if it took up its characters and plot and happened somewhere else… Fiction depends for its life on place. Place is the crossroads of circumstance, the proving ground of, What happened? Who’s here? Who’s coming?…”

“Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.” –Anton Chekov

How important is setting for you when reading? Is it more important than visualizing the character? What memorable settings have you discovered in reading–which authors are able to transport you to that place in the writing?

August POMs


The subtle theme that ties these three poems together is the intertwining of nature as the speaker reflects upon his or her circumstance.

Summer Rain

Amy Lowell

All night our room was outer-walled with rain.
Drops fell and flattened on the tin roof,
And rang like little disks of metal.
Ping!—Ping!—and there was not a pin-point of silence between them.
The rain rattled and clashed,
And the slats of the shutters danced and glittered.
But to me the darkness was red-gold and crocus-colored
With your brightness,
And the words you whispered to me
Sprang up and flamed—orange torches against the rain.
Torches against the wall of cool, silver rain!
——

The Thaw by Henry David Thoreau
I saw the civil sun drying earth’s tears —

Her tears of joy that only faster flowed,

 Fain would I stretch me by the highway side,

To thaw and trickle with the melting snow,

That mingled soul and body with the tide,

I too may through the pores of nature flow.

 But I alas nor tinkle can nor fume,

One jot to forward the great work of Time,

‘Tis mine to hearken while these ply the loom,

So shall my silence with their music chime.
———–

Summer Morn in New Hampshire

 by Claude McKay

All yesterday it poured, and all night long
I could not sleep; the rain unceasing beat

Upon the shingled roof like a weird song,

    Upon the grass like running children’s feet.

And down the mountains by the dark cloud kissed,

    Like a strange shape in filmy veiling dressed,

Slid slowly, silently, the wraith-like mist,

    And nestled soft against the earth’s wet breast.

But lo, there was a miracle at dawn!

    The still air stirred at touch of the faint breeze,

The sun a sheet of gold bequeathed the lawn,

    The songsters twittered in the rustling trees.

And all things were transfigured in the day,

    But me whom radiant beauty could not move;

For you, more wonderful, were far away,

    And I was blind with hunger for your love.

—–

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