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. :)