Sunday, July 27, 2014

Of witch queens and princesses, Jane Eyre gettin' her YouTube on, and glorious Robin Hood romps.

Hello there, blog! Unsurprising confession: I may be the world's actual most negligent blogger. Which is probably pretty obvious, considering I have had this blog for like three years (possibly more than three?) and have posted maybe ten times. I'm just trying to maintain an air of mystery! Ooh, mystery!

... Nah, not really. Actually, I have a pretty ridiculous case of Blogging Shyness, where I feel like there's just not much I have to say that will actually be very interesting. But I'm going to try anyway, friends!

I figure I will just devote this post to talking about some stories I've been enjoying recently.

1. My own current novel in progress - (Well, this one I've been alternately enjoying and cursing the heavens over, as you do when you are ensconced in a writing project.) This one is about a witch queen named Penelope, who oversees a quaint pastoral village called Verdancy in a fairytale-y land. There's a longstanding tradition wherein witch queens kidnap royal princesses so they can have them on hold, should the fae folk demand a fancy human sacrifice. So Penelope kidnaps Princess Calista -- accidentally on the princess's wedding day, no less -- and then finds herself completely baffled when the princess is actually super psyched to be stolen away.

An excerpt from the first page:

“May I just say,” the princess begins, looking quite giddy despite the fact that her white dress is in tatters, “that your timing truly is impeccable! Thank you!”
 The witch queen does not know exactly what to do with that.
 To be honest, she is still rather new at this witch queening business, and while she was prepared for any number of reactions for her first kidnapped princess—weeping; begging; a sad, sorry, certainly ill-fated attempt at fighting back—well, ebullient gratitude simply wasn’t on the list.
 The princess grins at her.
 “COWER, SWINE,” the witch queen shouts, a little too late but formidably nonetheless.
 The flowers woven into the princess’s auburn hair all promptly wilt.
 “Oh right,” the princess says, politely apologetic as a ballroom guest. She sinks down onto her knees and stares down at the floor, shoulders hunched in supplication. Then she peeks up at the witch queen. “Will this do, cowering-wise?”
 The witch queen feels a surge of sheer bafflement. She has always been at a loss in social situations; it’s a large part of why witch queening appealed to her. No one expects proper manners and sparkling social graces from a witch queen.
 Except, apparently, this deranged princess.
 “A terrified whimper or two wouldn’t hurt,” the witch queen says, trying to sound authoritative instead of awkward. “Maybe an anguished moan.”
 “Got it!” the princess says. Then she starts whimpering quite convincingly. After a few moments of whimpering, she moans, “Oh! Oh, the anguish of me right now!” She pauses and asks, rather cheekily, “How’s that?”

Shenanigans ensue, and many unanticipated heartfelt conversations!

As is often the case with my writing projects, this story isn't heavy on plot, but it's big on feelings! It's really turned into an examination of what it's like to have your own personality and role in the world essentially determined for you by outside forces (i.e. "You're a witch queen! Be hardcore evil!" or "You're a princess! Marry this guy who rescued you even though you don't actually know him at all!") and how exhausting it is to live within those confines, and how impossible it can feel to break free of them.

Also, you know, witches and princesses growing gradually besotted with each other. There is a great deal o' that, and it is a freaking delight to write.

I am hoping it'll shape up to be a sweet and entertaining tale, and I hope to share it with y'all at the Kindle Store within the next few months. :)

2. The Autobiography of Jane Eyre - I've been meaning to devote a blog post to this wonderful web series for months upon months now, but somehow couldn't ever quite find the words to articulate how much it meant to me and how much I enjoyed it. The show ended recently -- which I am having a hard time reconciling myself to (how many times can a girl check the "aoje" Tumblr tag hoping for a super secret epilogue episode? Turns out, lots) -- and so now seems as good a time as any to sing its praises! I am a big Jane Eyre enthusiast and spent a lot of time working with the novel in grad school (and undergrad school!), and I distantly recall that I was really skeptical of Jane Eyre's potential to be retold in a modern setting. It just seemed so fundamentally rooted in its own time period that I really doubted any modern adaptation could capture the heart of it.

The AOJE team proved me wrong, and I am tremendously glad of that! This series lacks the polish of the pioneer of the genre, The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, and as a viewer I found that really exciting, and really true to the spirit of Bronte's original novel. AOJE feels really real: there's a certain fearlessness to the storytelling, a willingness to really use the web blog conceit in new and unusual ways. This is a series that goes outdoors and uses everything from dreamy folk music to YouTube vlogger memes in this really cool, inventive way that ultimately helps to retell the story in such a rich fashion. It's a constant delight to observe the adaptation choices AOJE makes, especially if you're really familiar with the novel. As a Jane Eyre nerd, I was constantly giddy.

All of the actors are fantastic, and the adaptation pays very thoughtful attention to characters who are often breezed over in film adaptations of JE; in particular, the series has a wonderful range of female characters who are an essential part of Jane's life.

Of course, a big part of any Jane Eyre story is her romance (though in AOJE that is hardly the central experience of her life, and huzzah for that). Even though it took me a little while to warm up to him, Adam J. Wright's Rochester wound up being one of my very favorite adaptations of the character. Rather than just making him dark and brooding like many a Jane Eyre film, the adaptation really plays up the zany sense of humor that's so oddly compatible with Jane's own. Also, the decision to make Rochester a collector of eclectic socks is one of my favorite characterization decisions in the history of the entire world.

The chemistry between Jane and Rochester starts out awkward and tense and gradually becomes warm, witty, and weird in the most enchanting way. The courtship portion of the series is ... like, honestly, kind of straight up thrilling. They're brilliant to watch together. "Kidnapped" is, I think, the best episode of a web series that exists to date--hilarious, atmospheric, so full of energy and the best kind of blossoming romance, where you can tell the two characters just thrive in each other's company.

Last and most importantly, Alysson Hall's Jane is, of course, the heart of the story: she is endearing, funny, gracious, vulnerable, passionate, and remarkably strong in spite of her occasional self doubt -- a wonderful Jane who fully encapsulates the qualities of her literary foremother. When you're swept up in the series, it's very hard to remember that she's not real.

There is one detriment to the series that I'll warn y'all against now because I must admit, I kind of wanted to weep a few angsty fangirl tears over it: Adam Wright was unavailable to return as Rochester in the latter half of the series. The series still ends on a high note in spite of it (because it does an excellent job developing Jane's life outside Rochester), but we don't get to see any of those very funny and affectionate Jane/Rochester scenes that take place after their reconciliation. It's such a great part of the novel, and I have no doubt that, had circumstances been different, it would have been just wonderful to see AOJE's Jane and Rochester getting their banter on once again.

But the series is Jane's, rather than The Jane/Rochester Saga (a mistake so many Jane Eyre adaptations tend to commit), and it ends in a really poignant and satisfying place for our heroine -- and takes its audience so many wonderful places along the way. Highly, highly recommended.

HERE is a link to the YouTube channel where you can find the episodes, and HERE is a link to the official AOJE website. (Following the transmedia elements of the story will be trickier now than it was in real time, but I recommend checking them out regardless! The transmedia for this series rules.)

3. The Sherwood Forest Series by Laura McVey - I am lucky enough to have gotten to know Laura over the past few years, and in addition to her brilliant and insightful analyses of media and storytelling, she is an excellent fiction writer! (Some people have all the luck, man.) Her series Sherwood Forest hit the interwebs at the start of this summer; it's a serialized retelling of the Robin Hood legend, and a new addition to the series comes out every month. (Sidenote: how cool is it that e-publishing has the potential to bring serialization back to written fiction?? I have always been so jealous of those Victorian writers and their ability to leave people with a kickass cliffhanger every month or whatever.)

Sherwood Forest deconstructs the sort of tra la la! merriment that we tend to associate with Robin Hood, and examines the social issues inherent within the stories in a really poignant and thoughtful way. The stories aren't just given to us through Robin's point of view, which is what really makes the series shine: we get the perspectives not only of the other Merry Men (I especially enjoy her take on Much and Alan A'Dale), but of Marian (in this version, Robin's wife and a hostage confined within the Sheriff's castle -- a poised, pragmatic woman who deeply deserves a break), as well as a number of female characters who are new to the story -- Marian's devoted and super adorable maidservant Cecily; Bess and Alice, young women in the village exposed to the oft-horrific consequences of the Sheriff's reign; and, most prominently, Shaima, a young woman brought back from the Holy Land by Robin and struggling with her place in a world that staunchly views her as an outsider. Robin Hood is one of those legends that's largely male-dominated, and I really appreciate the way McVey portrays women's experiences in Nottingham.

Historical fiction enthusiasts or readers who enjoy retellings of popular myths and legends should definitely check this series out. I am lucky enough to have read ahead a bit in the series (it pays to have friends in high places, folks!), and I can promise that it only gets more engrossing, exciting, and heartwrenching, and it's really enjoyable to discover how the dynamics between the characters continue to evolve.

The first two installments, Homecoming and Foreigner, are available through Amazon's Kindle Store HERE and Smashwords HERE.

--

And that's all for now, friends! Let's hope that my next blog post happens sooner than six months from now, but honestly, I make no promises. :)

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Writing talk!

I have officially passed my master's thesis defense, hooray! Now that my grad school career is winding down, I'm finally able to devote some substantial time to writing again, and I would also like to give some of this newfound writing time to more frequent blogging! So I figure I will do a series of posts discussing the various writing projects that I've been working on; I am dying to release something new this summer, but I'm currently caught between a handful of beloved (and, okay, horrendously neglected) projects and am not sure which to finish first.

Over the past few days, I've found my attention re-snagged by a novella I wrote last summer by the name of Damsel. It is basically an emotionally fraught fairytaley Gothic romp about a highborn young woman named Evelina who gets imprisoned in a spooky manor house as bait to lure her true love (well, "true love") to come rescue her and MEET HIS CERTAIN DOOM at the hands of the villain. And then the villain's ward Tabitha gets appointed my heroine's impromptu handmaiden, and obviously, the sparks, they fly!

And while the plot still needs tons of refining, I have to admit I really enjoy the interaction between my leading ladies. THESE BANTERY WENCHES.

Anyway: is anyone in the mood for a Gothic manor house/fairytale romp with ladyloves? I'm not really sure what the kids are into these days. Ain't no party like a Bluebeard party 'cause a Bluebeard party is all about providing the opportunity to deconstruct atrocious tropes perhaps best encapsulated in the Poe quotation "The death of a beautiful woman is, unquestionably, the most poetical topic in the world"! ... wikka wikka whaaaaat. (Yep.)

An excerpt of the two heroines getting to know each other via that most sacred art form BANTER, just for funsies:

Monday, March 10, 2014

Where oh where is the next book??

About a month ago, I asked over on GoodReads if anyone would be interested about me blogging about anything in particular. Katyna asked, “When are you going to write another book?” – here is the answer!

Rather peskily, a few months after I published Know Not Why, I started grad school.

Since the fall of 2012, therefore, I have been getting my academia on pretty endlessly. My life is basically teaching multiple classes, taking multiple classes, harboring a hearty terror of linguistics, and constructing an elaborate silly secret history about the American Transcendentalists with my grad cohort besties. (Hint about them Transcendentalists: sex piratry, the future ghost of Barbara Cartland, and a particular haberdashery are involved. Possibly a sea shanty about the ribald exploits of Octavius Brooks Frothingham has been composed. I like to think that one day our writings on the subject will become available to the public sphere.)

That’s all my long rambly way of saying that I haven’t had as much time to write as I wish I did!

I’ve still been working pretty regularly – this past summer, I finished an early draft of a rather odd, macabre fairytale-tinged Gothic novella about a damsel in distress who gets tired of waiting for rescue (and a little violent). I’m still not sure if that one would find an audience; my writing tends to fluctuate between Merry Happy Silly RomCom and Anguished, Fraught, Let’s-See-How-Many-Allusions-to-Keats-We-Can-Fit-In-This-Sucker Weirdness. Usually, the Brontes  and Florence Welch are to blame for the latter category.

Right now, I’m in the middle of a comedic variation on the same general idea: I’m about halfway through a draft of a fairytale romantic comedy about a princess whose prince is more interested in raging against the machine than rescuing princesses. (He’s big into playing protest songs on the lute.) Instead, he gets the court sorceress to do the rescuing for him. The sorceress and the princess hate each other first, but in that fun romcom way where they pay too much attention to each other’s beautiful eyes while they’re snapping at each other and stuff. They are on their way to falling in love now (40,000 words in means the besottedness level is high), with many a fairytale shenanigan to help and hinder them.

I’m hoping to finish this one up properly as soon as I have some free time. Alas, I am currently in my last semester of school, which means thesis-writing, so my writing allegiance is first and foremost to that daunting task. (Sidenote: aaaaah!)

After that one, I have another contemporary romantic comedy I’d like to finish up, which is kind of The Nanny meets The Proposal and hopefully a nonstop festival of romcom fun and shenanigans. Basically, my Books I Need To Write! queue is even longer than my Netflix queue, which is no small feat.

I also have a few already-finished or very nearly finished novels that need finishing touches ... including a 250,000-word (and counting) behemoth of a contemporary romcom that I co-wrote with a dear friend. It is one of my most cherished writing projects ever, and I think fans of Know Not Why would really enjoy the tone of it. My friend/co-author and I have both been so busy with school, life, etc. over the past few years that this story has gone into hibernation, but we often talk about finishing it up and dividing it into a series. As soon as we figure out how to coordinate our schedules, that will become a light on the horizon!

In short: I am still trying to figure out how to balance writing with all that other life stuff, and I genuinely hope to succeed at this soon. Especially with my grad school career reaching its end (aaah!), and no concrete future plans in sight (aaaaaah!), I yearn to find some way to make a life with my long time true love, fiction.

Yes, I just said “yearn,” which is pretty melodramatic word choice – but I tend to operate on a very Anne Shirley level, as a general rule. And not Anne Shirley when she grows up and becomes a functional human being, either. Nope. I’m depths of despair!, Slate of Vengeance twelve year old Anne Shirley all the way.

Anyway: I know that I’m at my happiest and my best and, I think, my most valuable when I’m storytelling and entertaining people in some way. I just hope, in the near future, for the strength, skill, and perseverance to figure out how to make a life out of that. To quote my aforementioned soul sister Anne:

“I’d like to add some beauty to life,” said Anne dreamily. “I don’t exactly want to make people KNOW more… though I know that IS the noblest ambition… but I’d love to make them have a pleasanter time because of me… to have some little joy or happy thought that would never have existed if I hadn’t been born.”

Thank you so much to all of you, my first readers; you have helped me so much to start on that grand and daunting journey. :)


And now that I’ve rambled for 800 words, I guess the short answer is: when I’m done with grad school in a few months, I will get back to really devoting my attention to writing!

Friday, February 28, 2014

On Clarissa (Spoilers for Reign 1.12)

Anyone who interacts with me these days knows that I am absolutely bonkers for the CW's Reign. (I may have even done my Discourse Analysis homework on a promo for "Inquisition." I may have included a screencap of Nostradamus just to prove how remarkably furry his coat was. Even my poor educators are not safe.)

Like so many modern day franchises with a female character at its heart, Reign does the love triangle thing -- particularly in its marketing and the buzz around the show. I am not nuts for love triangles myself; in my fangirl old age, I absolutely try to avoid anything as stressful as a love triangle. I put in my time spazzing out over Ron/Hermione during the Harry Potter years and then Kate/Sawyer during the era of Lost. I'm done! I'm old! And I figure as long as a story puts equal time into making both relationships interesting and substantial, then I'd much rather just go with the shippy flow than take a side.

I must confess to being more on the Francis/Mary than the Mary/Bash side of things, but the love triangle isn't what has me so invested in Reign. For me, the important relationships on Reign have always been the ones between the female characters.

The central relationship on the show, in my eyes, is not Mary's relationship with Francis or Bash, but the complex dynamic between herself and Queen Catherine. They're enemies, sure, but respect and compassion always sneak in to complicate that enmity. Their adversarial interactions always have a flicker of understanding that reminds us that the two were fond of each other in Mary's childhood -- and would be still, if it weren't for a certain prophecy and Catherine's refusal to let it come to pass. Catherine's determination to destroy Mary is purely pragmatic, and that brings a bittersweet quality to her ruthlessness. Combine that with the fact that Megan Follows is some kind of indescribable acting goddess, and, well. In my estimation, the Mary/Catherine dynamic (and Catherine in general) is the true heart of the series.

Mary's relationships with her ladies in waiting, too, have the potential to be fascinating: Greer, Kenna, and Lola are Mary's best friends, but they're in her service, too, and there is a lot of room for conflict between friendship and obligation. This has been touched upon in the storylines of all three of the girls, but not explored in-depth yet; I hope that's coming.

And then there's Clarissa.

I'm currently in the middle of writing my master's thesis on the connection between Jane and Bertha in Jane Eyre, a dynamic that has fascinated me for years. When Reign's first episode established that there was a mysterious girl "whose face is a ruin" lurking ghostlike in the castle passageways and watching out for Mary -- well, that's when this show had me for good.

And at this moment, I was won forever. Hands and shadows!!!
The start of a beautiful Gothic friendship.
(Image courtesy of grande_caps.)

What really got me about the Mary/Clarissa connection is that it wasn't totally relegated to the realm of subtext. Unlike in Jane Eyre, where the interaction between Jane and Bertha can only be found when you really delve deeply into the text, Mary knew about Clarissa straight away -- and Mary felt for her. Mary talked to her -- or, well, talked to the shadows, and knew that Clarissa was listening. And that compassion, that lack of fear, won Clarissa's fierce and rather frightening loyalty. Clarissa appointed herself Mary's guardian angel of sorts, even if the things she's done in her name have been distinctly less than angelic.

The Clarissa/Mary dynamic definitely seems to have its roots in Jane/Bertha, especially the reading popularized by Gilbert and Gubar in Madwoman in the Attic - namely, that Bertha is not Jane's rival. Instead, Bertha is actually acting on Jane's behalf: all her violent actions are manifestations of Jane's own anger. There are problems with this argument, but this is not my master's thesis so I won't go into them too much. The number one issue is that, while suggesting this connection between Jane and Bertha brings a lot of feminist potential to the text, Bertha is never really considered as a person in her own right. Her actions are, in some strange supernatural way, a result of Jane's impulses. 'What a cool symbol for feminist rage and rebellion Bertha is!' this argument seems to say, but does not take into account the suffering and oppression that Bertha has faced. It's very easy, in this argument, to see her as a symbol instead of a person. And taking away a woman's personhood? Kinda not feminist. Kinda breaking that #1 feminist rule, where -- oh yeah! -- women are people.

Mary/Clarissa seemed poised to subvert that very problem in the heroine/her-monster-doppelganger dynamic -- to grant each girl equal personhood. Mary knew Clarissa, even if they never met face-to-face, and saw her as a human being and a friend. A protector, not a monster.

Which brings us to last night's episode.

(Spoilers beneath the cut.)


Saturday, January 11, 2014

Happy 2014, Blog! Also - muffins?

I always wish that I posted here more often than I actually do, so perhaps one of my New Year's Resolutions shall be to hang more around these parts. Hello to all you readers out there (if indeed any readers there are) and I hope that you're doing well!

Blog entries are supposed to offer some keen, deep insight, huh? Some profound reflection upon the state of existence, or at least television (which is fairly synonymous with existence when you are, for instance, me)?

Um.

Well, I made blueberry muffins yesterday evening, and I'm pretty sure the best thing about being an "adult" is that I have eaten nearly all of them by myself (four remain of the original eleven, suckas!) and I just can't quite feel bad about it.

Colin Firth, you can't possibly understand!
Eating muffins nonstop is essential when a new semester looms only a few days away. As Algie from The Importance of Being Earnest says so winningly, especially when he is played by Rupert Everett (who, let's be real, just plain knows how to say things with swagger, that charming cad), "I can hardly eat muffins in an agitated manner, can I?"

Yep, an insightful and electrifying 2014 awaits us 'round these here blog parts.

And now I am off to finish the rest of the muffins. It's a matter of principle and Oscar Wilde at this point. If the muffins manage to exist for more than 24 hours, it means I've failed!

Friday, September 20, 2013

Regarding my nemesis, Mr. Rochester ...

This year, ye olde second year of my master's degree program, I am going to be writing my thesis on Jane Eyre! I have therefore decided -- maybe a little erroneously, but shh! -- that it totally counts as schoolwork to just obsess over Jane Eyre all day all the time madly and constantly! That is how the serious academics roll, right?

I feel you, way-too-foxy Rochester. (p.s. Check out theotherausten.tumblr.com
if you want some period piece hilarity and snark in your life.)
As such, I've decided to get into the Jane Eyre state of mind by watching different screen adaptations. My favorite by a mile is the 2006 miniseries with Ruth Wilson and Toby Stephens, which, to me, captures an understanding of the novel and the characters of Jane and Rochester that no other adaptation that I've seen has. It seems like often, film adaptations get so bogged down in the Gothic doom-'n-gloom aspect of the story that it's forgotten that Jane and Rochester are both very quick-witted and snarky people. The Wilson/Stephens adaptation allows the story more of the humor and light of the novel than adaptations generally do. Also, I am just convinced that nobody (except for The Autobiography of Jane Eyre's freaking wonderful Alysson Hall) can match the absolute 100% Janeness of Ruth Wilson's portrayal.

But I am not here to discuss that adaptation! Nope, I want to talk about the one I just watched, which is the 1996 film directed by Franco Zeffirelli. It has some stuff going for it: the scenery's great, Rochester is -- true to book canon -- not a super hot hunky hunk, Adele's a wonderful gem and actually gets shown some affection by Jane and Rochester. But it also commits the e(y)r(e)ror of condensing, like, the last half of the novel into 20 minutes.

Yes, I just tried to make 'eyreror' happen. Let's all just move on gracefully past that. Unless you think it's witty, masterful, and hilarious. Then, sure, take a minute to laugh it out!

Anyway! What really got me grumpy about this adaptation is that it cut straight from the scene where Rochester and Jane profess their love to their wedding day. And all that stuff that happens in between is so important, and yet often glossed over by adaptations.

The impediment to Jane and Rochester's relationship isn't the fact that he has a secret wife up in the attic. The impediment is the fact that Rochester is the kind of person who would keep a secret wife up in the attic.


Saturday, September 14, 2013

Oh yes. Now then. What is that phrase you use? Once upon a time ...

School is again upon me, and with it, lots of work I could always be doing! Which means procrastination has become extra important, and today I am going to procrastinate by talking about one of my very favorite movies: Ever After.

When it comes to my favorite genres, 'fairytale retelling' is way up there on the list. It's a genre I've spent a lot of time in myself writing-wise, and I hope to hang out there a lot more for years to come! And Ever After is one of those fairytale retellings where I dream, one day, of writing one as lovely and thoroughly good. It is basically the film equivalent of Ella Enchanted. (Perhaps even more so than the actual film adaptation of Ella Enchanted, which I have to confess I have never watched in full.)

Reading More's Utopia for my Utopian Studies literature class this semester seemed as good a reason as any for another Ever After rewatch! (Way to go, Thomas More. It's possible that at the part about society making thieves and then punishing them, I scribbled "omg Ever After!! <3" in my margin notes. As serious intellectuals do!) And it is just such a good film, lovely and thoughtful and clever and sweet, which is exactly my favorite kind of story.

I don't often see this movie discussed, so I figured I'd just devote a bit of time to explaining the things I love about it. Because having giddy feelings about fiction is what I do best!

FIRST AND FOREMOST: THE LADIES
I really admire how this movie takes the Cinderella archetypes -- the sweet girl and her relentlessly awful stepfamily -- and really gives careful time and consideration to their characterization. It's one of those qualities that kinda makes me feel like this movie is based on a book; there's such a sense of wholeness and nuance to the way it approaches its characters. Like, look at this film, and then look at, say, Snow White and The Huntsman (which I really enjoy as a film too, for different reasons, but OH MAN, my kingdom for a screenplay with actual depth to its characterization, rather than just tons of potential).