Fictionista, Foodie, Feline-lover

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Lord Voldemort rocks Shakespeare

When I read John Locke's adaptation of Coriolanus for a film market in 2009, I scoffed. Although I thought he did a brilliant job with the language and the conceit of the play (which was filmed in Serbia, Montenegro and the UK), I predicted it would not be very commercial. In fact, it was a box office disaster, earning a little over a million dollars in its global release. (Interestingly, three-quarters of that million was from US dollars, it only earned $31 million overseas.)
I've never seen the play performed live an I barely remember reading it, so when the dvd of Coriolanus came out, I picked it up. And was ... dazzled.
Ralph Fiennes directed the movie and stars in the title role. with his shaved head and facial scars he looks every inch the warrior he is playing, a soldier who never wanted to be a politician and who has no patience (or love) for the common people who want to embrace him as their hero. In the Harry Potter movies, Fiennes delivers lines like, "Harry Potter, the boy who lived, come to die," with a sinister silkiness. Here he blows out all the stops--sometimes whispering his lines, sometimes roaring them like the "dragon" he becomes. It's a symphonic performance even when it skirts close to melodrama.
Vanessa Redgrave plays Coriolanus' mother--a great part for a mature actress--with a ferocity that just wipes everyone off the screen. (You'll get a glimpse of her intensity in the trailer.)She is a master (mistress) of manipulation but her ambitions for her only son go horribly awry. With her coronet of silver braids and her noble profile (it should be on a coin), she takes command of the story.  "I would the gods had nothing else to do but confirm my curses," she spits at a Tribune who has betrayed her son. (This story is full of excellent insults, my favorite being, "This Triton of minnows.")
Of course, she's Vanessa Redgrave... so you'd expect her to be awesome, but what's surprising is Gerard Butler's mastery of the Shakespeare's words. He's terrific and in the scene where Coriolanus' mother comes to beg him not to destroy Rome, he's got one line and does everything else with his eyes and his body language.
And then there's Brian Cox. Brian Cox should be in every Shakespeare production somewhere.  He's just the perfect actor.
The setting of the story is a world of graffiti and greed, and the color scheme is monochromatic, often black and white in color (or more precisely...gray and white with splashes of blood). Blood is spilled here, and there are a couple of brutally intimate scenes where one or another character is slitting someone's throat or knifing them int he guts. (The story begins with a character sharpening the blade he will later sheathe in a body.)  The war-torn country LOOKS war-torn and not art-directed, and some of the scenes could have come from an Occupy Wall Street rally.
The directing is spotty and Fiennes occasionally makes some creative choices that seem a bit iffy. But all in all, this is a terrific production of one of Shakespeare's lesser-known plays and it's worth two hours of your time.

Just Say No

Foodie advisory.  You may come across a carton of McConnell's Salt Caramel Chip ice cream in your supermarket freezer. You may read the description on the side of the carton and visions of chocolate ice cream stuffed with salty-sweety bits of pure caramel may dance through your head. And you may pick up that carton of ice cream and buy it.
Don't do it! 
Because you will be disappointed.  The salty-sweety caramel bits are tasty but the ice cream, a pinky light brown substamce even more pallid than a layer of unadorned German Chocolate cake, has a faint ... chemical ... taste.
I tried a spoonful.
I tried another.
I let the ice cream melt around the caramel bits.
Third time was not the charm.
And so, the search for caramel ice cream goes on...

What's in a name?

"A rose by any other name would smell as sweet," Romeo insisted. In his own time, "Shakespeare" was a household name, with many variant spellings--Shakespear and Shake-spear, for example--but though he had three children, there was no one to carry on his name. His only son Hamnet died in childhood, his daughter Judith (married to an unsavory character named Thomas Quiney) outlived all her children and died at 77. Shakespeare left most of his estate to his daughter Susanna, who married a local doctor and gave birth to one child, Elizabeth. Elizabeth married well but died childless--William Shakespeare's last direct descendant.

Friday, June 29, 2012

"I'll Take Shakespeare for 500 Alex"

My head is stuffed with trivia. I blame my father. He had an eidetic memory and my siblings and I inherited various degrees of it. I can't remember how to do some of the simplest things on a computer for more than a minute and a half, but I can recount the plots of books I read at 8
I've tried out for Jeopardy a couple of times and have never made it past their trivia test. (There's always a geography question that stumps me--some question about a river in Tanzania or a mountain in one of the 'Stans.) But I would rock a Shakespeare category.
For example, di you know...
Shakespeare was 52 when he died.  Hard to believe he died that young and left such a rich legacy behind. And according to the site No Sweat Shakespeare, it was a rich legacy; Shakespeare died a wealthy man. He left everything but his second-best bed and bedclothes to his daughter Susannah. (His wife, Anne Hathaway, got the bed.)
The Fun Trivia site has a slew of Shakespearean trivia quizzes for people who just can't get enough fun factoids about the bard. If I were teaching English, I'd lean heavily on this site to engage my students and show them that Shakespeare doesn't have to be boring.  I'd also teach Macbeth as a Shakespeare noir.  It's got everything--friends betraying friends, a dangerous woman, a manipulated man. And witches!!!  But I digress.
A lot of Shakespeare sites (like the Shady Shakespeare Company)  use Shakespeare trivia as a marketing gimmick, most likely to promote "stickiness" among their users.  I know I always "stick" around to read trivia and quotes. 
Some sites are just in it for the trivial pursuit of it all, like Sporcle, which has a whole bunch of Shakespeare trivia games. Check out "Shakespeare or Batman?" with its compendium of hilariously over-the-top quotes you have to match to either the superhero or the Shakespeare hero.
It's more fun than popping virtual bubble wrap. (Don't pretend you haven't done that.)

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Feminist Fiction Friday--The Nora Ephron Edition

I was working for producer Lauren Shuler Donner when her movie  You've Got Mail was filming. Nora Ephron wrote and directed the movie, so that's my one-degree of separation from a woman I considered a modern Dorothy Parker.
But of course, she was her own woman and not an imitation of anyone else. Since she died this week, people have been posting quotes from her all over social media and they're all terrific "sound" bites.
Here's one that's been posted on IMDB forever: Insane people are always sure that they are fine. It is only the sane people who are willing to admit that they are crazy.
In addition to You've Got Mail,which starred Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks, Nora wrote Sleepless in Seattle with the same stars and also When Harry Met Sally, the Meg Ryan-Billy Crystal film that became everybody's favorite date movie.
She wrote several movies that starred Meryl Streep--most recently Julie  & Julia. (The other two were Heartburn, a fictionalized version of Nora's marriage to journalist Carl Bernstein of Watergate fame, and the terrific true-life whistle-blower story Silkwood.) A picture of Nora with Meryl Streep (who is no giant at 5'6") makes her look impossibly tiny.
Good things come in small packages.
Here's something I'd forgotten about Nora Ephron. She was a foodie. (And long-time friend of my favorite foodie of all, Calvin Trillin, author of Alice, Let's Eat.) In one of her books, I think it might have been Heartburn, she included recipes.
The first thing I ever read by Nora was her collection of essays, Crazy Salad: Some Things About Women. It's out of print now--Amazon lists used copies in the three-figure range--but it's probably at your local library. (It's at mine.) And you might be able to find a copy on eBay. It's worth tracking down. (I just checked eBay--there are three auctions for copies of the book--one is at $14, one at $55 and the other at $125, so maybe the library IS the best option.)
I love that Nora Ephron guessed (figured out) who "Deep Throat" was before his identity was finall revealed. I knew that her marriage to Carl Bernstein had not ended well, and it seemed like her knowing that was a great "screw you" to the man who had screwed around on her. (In Heartburn, she describes her protagonist as a man "capable of having sex with a venetian blind," which is a great line that's made even more potent because you know it came from a very painful place.)
Nora began her career as a journalist and ended as a blogger with HuffPost (presumably one of the few paid ones), and in between she was a humorist, essayist, screenwriter, novelist, director, and feminist.
I have lost a role model.

Random Internet Silliness

Yes, I'll admit it.
I waste time on the Internet.
I'm not talking about the time I spend updating my social media either, which at least has a purpose.
I mean just general roaming around getting lost in the corners and crevices of the web.
Thanks to Chuck Wendig's weekly flash fiction challenge, I stumbled across the Band Name Maker, a random band name generator. And then kept hitting refresh.  It was sort of mesmerizing.
And speaking of entertaining ways to amuse yourself, check out James Hibberd's hilarious roundups of Game of Thrones episodes. He periodically suggests Heavy Metal Band names based on characters in the show.

Shakespeare Resources

I once wrote a paper comparing the character of Hotspur (from Henry IV, part 1) to Hamlet and got an A because my professor though the comparison was just too weird (Hotspur is all about action and Hamlet is deliberate) but he was entertained by my argument. I was thinking about that as I surfed around looking for resources students can use for writing papers these days. Who needs Cliff Notes?
Shakespeare Online is kind of an ugly site but it's really entertaining. The home page features something called "Bard Bite" which is a Shakespeare trivia question. (Today's is a question about what Edwin Booth thought was teh worst rhyming exit in all of the plays.)  The landing page offers fodder for at least a dozen term papers and it changes daily.
Absolute Shakespeare is another basic-looking site that includes study guides and trivia and summaries and all sorts of other info in a matter-of-fact all text format.  Their list of Shakespeare films is way out of date (it ends with the  Ethan Hawke version of Hamlet from 2000) but the rest of the material is still relevant.
Mr. Shakespeare and the Internet is a livelier looking site that has two goals--to be an annotated guide to scholarly Shakespeare resources; and to provide material not available anywhere else (like a timeline). They also have a store that will link you to DVDs of great Shakespeare plays (including a recording a performance of Macbeth by Patrick Stewart).

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Adventures in Shakespeare--Ian McKellen's Acting Shakespeare

Years ago, Ian McKelen brought his one-man show Acting Shakespeare to Los Angeles, where it played to SRO crowds. It was a thrilling night of theater but I only really remember two things about it. The play contains a setpiece in which McKellen explicated the "Tomorrow and Tomorrow" speech from Macbeth, and then acted it out, turning around and around so that with each new line his face grew more and more evil. The physical transformation, which we watched step by step, was astonishing. He ended up with an almost Kabuki mask face.
The other moment that was memorable came near the end when McKellen invited members of the audience to join him on stage to act with him.  Dozens of drama students came up (and I wanted to go too--just to say I'd done it, but I was too shy).
McKellen huddled with the actors and then began proclaiming a speech from one of the history plays, I think.  And at a word cue--everyone else on stage fell down dead.  It got a huge laugh.
Here's McKellen picking the Macbeth speech apart. It's a mini-marvelous lecture.
There's also clip on YouTube of McKellen performing the speech (from a 1979 Trevor Nunn production of the play that was televised). The picture quality is poor but the sound is still quite rich. Check it out.

Coming This Friday--Special Nora Ephron edition of FFF

Nora Ephron

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Because you know someone who's had breast cancer

Breast cancer pretty much decimated the women of my mother's and grandmother's generation. It got my beloved Great-Aunt Helen (and a cleaner-living, more God-fearing, gentle woman you would never meet) and it also claimed my Great-Aunt Marie, who was a newspaperwoman in Chicago and during the war captured a spy!!
My Aunt Mabel died of breast cancer. An aunt on my father's side died of it too.
Two friends, one of them a very close friend, have had bushes with the disease and are now cancer-free.
But it's a sneaky disease. And 1 in 8 women are expected to develop it. (Here are some statistics.)
A charity anthology of seasonal essays: Write for the Fight, is now out and the proceeds are earmarked for breast cancer research. Right now it's free, though, so help spread the word.

Alias Shakespeare

Most survey courses in Shakespeare don't really get into the question of whether "Shakespeare" was actually someone else, but I had a college professor who was sort of fascinated by the topic, so he added in writings by all the top contenders--Christopher Marlowe, Francis Bacon. For me, it doesn't really matter. It's like the debate over who "Jack the Ripper" might have been. The plays exist; they're wonderful, and whoever wrote them chose to use the name Shakespeare.
Wikipedia has a great synopsis of the whole authorship question here.
You probably missed it, but last year director Roland Emmerich's movie Anonymous weighed in on the question,  making the claim that Edward De Vere (the Earl of Oxford) was the author. Rhys Ifans played the Earl with Vanessa Redgrave as Queen Elizabeth I.

A different kind of Zombie Novel

I am a fan of Rachel Caine's weather Warden novels and did not know about this book in advance. (And there's already a sequel to Working Stiff, due in early August.) So another for the TBR pile.

Pulp Ink 2 is coming!

So Pulp Ink is free!  Get it here. Like it! Review it! Spread the word. And then get ready for a second helping of inky pulpy goodness. And while you're on Amazon getting your free copy of Pulp Ink, why not pick up a free copy of Nigel Bird's third collection of short stories, With Love and Squalor.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Looking for a Good Read?

I spent most of May working on an interesting project, compiling a list of recommended biographies for a curated site offering listings of books in a number of categories--mystery, sf (curated by writer Cat Rambo), and children's stories. The bio page is now live. Check it out.

Fun with Shakespeare--the Games Edition

A few years ago the Shakespeare Country Tourist Board commissioned an online game based on Romeo and Juliet. Much to t heir delight and surprise, the game became an online hit, with more than 22 million people worldwide taking on the role of Romeo as he wanders through the streets of Stratford collecting roses for Juliet and dodging wild boars and skeletons.  (The Royal Shakespeare Company has given its seal of approval to the game, despite the skeletons, saying, "Although its not entirely representative of the way we perform the play, it's a good hook to get people interested in Romeo and Juliet."  I love that "not entirely representative" part.)You can play Romeo Wherefore Art Thou here at LorenzGames.  (I got turned into a skeleton after encountering a wild boar.)

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Shakespeare in Fiction

 Who knew that Shakespeare's life and plays (and poetry) would inspire fan fiction? Who knew that some of those fans would be well-known writers? One book I'm particularly intrigued by is My Name is Will by Jess Winfield,subtitled "a novel of sex, drugs and Shakespeare.  The "Will" of the title is Willie Shakespeare Greenberg, a modern grad student who's up to no good, with a parallel story back in the 16th century.  It sounds ambitious and it's got a ton of four-star reviews on Amazon, so I'm going to check it out.  (I also love the cover.)

Christopher Moore, who wrote the delightful Practical Demonkeeping, has a novel called Fool that's based loosely (and hilariously) on King Lear.  Here the story is told, as the title suggests, from the point of view of the court jester. The story is Lear-centric but touches on the entire Shakespeare canon in passing and if you're a fan of Moore, you will love it and if you don't know Moore, this is the book to read after you've read Practical Demonkeeping, which is one of the funniest urban fantasies out there. (In fact, if I ever do an Amazon "listmania" list, it will be first on my list of "Urban Fantasies without vampires or werewolves.")

Another novel that intrigues me (and is, in fact, already resident in my Kindle) is AJ Hartley and David Hewson's Macbeth: A Novel, a reimagining of "the Scottish play." Set in 11th century Scotland but conceived like a 21st century thriller, the book sounds like a great read.

Several different sources have compiled lists of books inspired by Shakesoeare, including Steinbeck's The Winter of Our Discontent, Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace, and A Thousand Acres by Jane Smiley.  Here's Matt Haig's top ten novels inspired by Shakespeare.  Here's another list from Hub Pages. And finally, from the New York Public Library, a reading list of fiction based on or inspired by Shakespere.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Gender and Shakespeare

In Shakespeare's Women,  a documentary about Claire Bloom and her one-woman show (she calls it a "recital"), the actress muses about the more difficult female roles and wonders just how well equipped the boys of the time were equipped to play them. She points out that the boy-actors playing the women would have all been prepubescent, very young to have the knowledge she believes is needed to pull off some of the roles. (Bloom has a lot to say about sexual power in some of Shakespeare's most famous characters, particularly Juliet, and it's worth tracking down the documentary, which is available used on Amazon and also streaming on Netflix.)

I was thinking about this documentary when I stumbled across the website of the Los Angeles   Women's Shakespeare Company. The company's artistic director is actress/director Lisa Wolpe, who is currently working with the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland, Oregon.  This is their mission statement: 

The Los Angeles Women's Shakespeare Company (LAWSC) is a nonprofit organization which produces professional productions of Shakespeare's plays with an all-female ensemble. We provide opportunities for collaboration between multiracial, highly accomplished artists who are actors, producers, directors, choreographers, designers and educators. LAWSC contributes to a transformation of the perceptions of women's roles in our society by working to create a deeper, more powerful, unbounded view of women's potential. Our productions illuminate contemporary issues through a classical context, offering a unique political and social perspective. Our ongoing mission is to provide a creative forum for the exploration of violence, victimization, power, love, race, and gender issues, and to provide positive role models for women and girls. 
I'm intrigued by the goals of the group because I've always felt that productions where women play male roles were a little ... gimmicky just like white actors playing Othello in black face (like Olivier did back in the day and more recently, Anthony Hopkins). In the context of what the LAWSC is trying to do, though, such productions make sense. I look forward to Wolpe returning to Los Angeles so I can attend one of her productions. Her version of Iago (pictured) won rave reviews.

Here's an interview with Wolpe in Footlights. Interesting stuff.

Friday, June 22, 2012

A quest for the story "Spidersong."

While searching for a story to post for today's 365 Short Story Challenge, I ran across a mention of a story called "Spidersong" by an author named Susan C. Petry. The story won the Hugo Award for best short story in 1981, the year after Petry died. There is a Clarion Workshop Scholarship dedicated to her memory (writer Kathe Koja won it in 1984) and that's about all I can find out about her. On the scholarship site there's a mention of a book that compiled her stories (Gifts of Blood) but they don't make it easy for you to buy it. (No link, no way to buy it online from them.) You can buy the book new on Amazon for $49 or used for a penny and $3.99 postage.  Most of the stories seem to be about a race of healer/vampires with intense world-building involved.  I had hoped to find the story online, perhaps in the Magazine of SF&F, where it originally appeared, but no such luck.  You know what that means?  I HAVE to buy another book. 

Adventures in Shakespeare--San Diego's Old Globe Theater

Neil Patrick Harris & Emily Bergl; photo by Ken Howard
I used to drive down to San Diego's Old Globe Theater pretty regularly to get my Shakespeare fix. (This season they're doing As You Like It, Richard III in rep with Inherit the Wind.) The last play I saw there (in 1998!) was Romeo and Juliet starring Emily Bergl and Neil Patrick Harris, who was very good in the role. The play was performed on the theater's outside stage, which was fine until... the seals at the zoo next door started barking during some of the play's most intense moments.
The actors stayed in character, the play went on, but the seals did not shut up. 
Not your usual audience participation moment.

Feminist Fiction Friday--odds and ends

Janet Evanovich has signed a deal to write several more Stephanie Plum novels, but more excitingly, she's teaming up with crime writer Lee Goldberg (co-creator of the Dead Man series, amongst other thing) to write a new series. starring a female FBI agent and a dashing male fugitive. Will lovejinks ensue as well as crime? You can read the details here.

The Library of Congress has released a list of 88 Books that Shaped America.  (Why not 100 or 50?  Eighty-eight seems like a really odd number.)  They are listed in the order they were published and the first woman author appears at #9--Amelia Simmons' American Cookery (1796).  Billed as "the first American cookbook," an exact reproduction of the book is available on Amazon. Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin is number 18, with Louisa May Alcott's Little Women coming in at a few notches lower.  (Seriously--it's like a rule you have to read this book if you are a girl.  It should have been #1 no matter when it was published.) Toni Morrison's 1987 novel Beloved is the last book written by a woman on the list, at #86.

In the oldies department, I just ran across an anthology called This is Not Chick Lit, published in 2006.  Subtitled "Original Stories by America's Best Women Writers," it's crazily affordable.  Amazon -affiliate sellers offer it for a penny plus $3.98 shipping.  (And btw, I don't have an Amazon affiliate account--they were discontinued in California awhile ago, so I'm not making any money by shilling books and videos for them.)  Of the women listed, I only know the work of two of them, so I am looking forward to my introduction to Dika Lam, Judy Budnitz, Samantha Hurt, and the rest of the ladies.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

You sir, are a whoreson zed! Shakespeare's insults

I am bored with the F-word. I have heard it used too many times in too many dreary ways for it to have any power any longer. And when it is used as part of an insult, the person hurling the invective often descends into word salad, sputtering the expletive over and over without a hint of art or grace.
I admire someone who can curse with conviction and originality. (The movie Sexy Beast offers a very good example of fluent cursing.)
Shakespeare's curses are marvelous things, layered and nuanced and pointed as a dagger.  Take "whoreson zed' for example. "Whoreson" has the advantage of combining the notion of bastardy with the ever-popular "son of a bitch." Then add "zed" and the insult takes on an extra gloss of intelligence--especially for Americans, since we don't use the word and it sounds exotic.
It certainly sounds more insulting than calling someone a douche-bag.
I'm not the only one who thinks we need a better caliber of swear. Check out a couple of offerings available on YouTube.
Here's a woman named Simone Haruko sharing her 50 favorite Shakespearean insults (including "Thou whoreson zed."
Here's TedEd's deconstruction of a couple of Shakespeare's famous insults in a way that makes you want to now more.

Paris in the Summer

So, you're not going to be able to travel to Paris this summer? Paris-live.com has you covered. You can log into web cam views all over the city, including neighborhoods, shops, traffic cameras, and cafes.  There's not one but six cameras outside the Eiffel Tower.  Which makes me wonder if there's not a Luc Besson movie in the making here.  Bored Francophile streaming video sees a murder.  No one reports it. He tries to do the right thing but it only brings trouble to his door in the shape of a beautiful Frenchwoman. And well, what lonely nerd can't use a little dangerous in his life.  Action-jinks ensue.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

A Tale of Three Richards

Portrait of Richard III by Mark Satchwill
One of the pleasures of seeing multiple productions of a play is being able to compare and contrast the way each actor plays a role and makes it his or her own. I recently saw both versions of the filmed production of Danny Boyle's Frankenstein, starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Jonny Lee Miller. The two men switched off in the roles and although I think Cumberbatch is a terrific actor, I thought Miller was better in both parts. (I thought Cumberbatch was way too remote as Dr. Frankenstein, and a little too "Sherlockian." And his physicality worked against him as the creature whereas Miller's stockier, shorter form suited the "base creaure" more solidly.)
Richard the III is one of the best villains Shakespeare (or anyone else) ever imagined, a real-life player in the Game of Thrones who murdered and manipulated his way to the crown, only to lose it just two  years later. He was only 33 when he died, but like another historical figure who died at 33, his legacy lives on.
Richard III was a hunchback and it's intriguing to see how some actors exploit that physical trait and others don't. Here's Laurence Olivier in the play's most famous scene--the wooing of Lady Anne, the widow of a man Richard III has had murdered. That's Claire Bloom as Lady Anne. (More about her later in the summer. And what's up with that headdress she's wearing? It looks like it came from a low-budget high school production.)
The 1955 Olivier Richard III is available on YouTube in 15 parts if you have the patience to watch it a bit at a time. (Pretend you're watching it old school on a weekend television movie marathon with a zillion commercials.)

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

You say "poe-tay-toe." I say "poe-tah-toe"

The first time I ever saw the word "Zounds," I thought it was a fine word. I was little and fond of words that started with Z, or with X because they often sounded like they started with Z (Xerox, Xenophobe). I had learned to read using phonics, so I was all about sounding words out. And so I thought that zounds was pronounced like "sounds" only with a Z.
I thought that for a very long time because the only way you realize you're mispronouncing a word is by hearing it pronounced correctly and "zounds" wasn't exactly a word on everyone's lips in Washington DC in the last part of the 20th century.
Then I encountered the word in a Shakespeare play and discovered that it was not an expression of amazement (sort of like "Outstanding," or "Excellent") but an oath--a swear--that was an abbreviation for "God's wounds" and that it is properly pronounced "Zwounds," which comes out sounding something like "zoonds."  (In other words, it sounded something like one of those old Zima commercials where they substituted Z for all the S words in the ad.)
Turns out that "zounds" isn't the only word whose pronunciation has changed over the years. Father/son actors Ben and David Crystal have put together an entertaining video illustrating the difference in modern and original pronunciation (known as OP). You can find it here.

Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling are at it again!

In March of next year, Tor is releasing Queen Victoria's Book of Spells, an anthology of Gaslamp Fantasy. The book will contain stories by Tanith Lee, Jane Yolen, James P. Blaylock, Elizabeth Bear, Kathe Koje and more. I can't wait. Thanks to the Mad Hatter's Bookshelf & Book Review for a sneak peek at the cover.

Four Actors You Might Not Expect to See Playing Shakespeare

Keanu Reeves--In Kenneth Branagh's 1993 film of Much Ado About Nothing, Reeves plays Don John. Don John is the villain of the piece and Reeves was fine in the role (and looked mighty fine).  Here's a brief clip of him as Don John, about to spread vile rumor about a lady.
Joss Whedon's next movie, by the way, is a modernized adaptation of the same play, with Nathan Fillion playing Dogberry. (In the Branagh film, Michael Keaton played Dogberry.)
Another unlikely Shakespearan is comedian/actor Russell Brand, who appears as Stephano in the Julie Taymor-directed production of The Tempest, with Helen Mirren as "Prospera." Stephano is part of a comic subplot involving Caliban and Brand is featured in the trailer, doing justice to the language. You can watch it here. That's Djimon Hounsou as Caliban and Alan Cumming as Trinculo.
Molly Ringwald was an uncredited Cordelia (the good daughter) in Jean-Luc Godard's 1987 sci-fi, comedy-drama mashup of KingLear, which starred Woody Allen as "Mr. Alien" and a few other big names (Julie Delpy, also uncredited, and Stage Director Peter Sellars as "William Shakespeare Junior the Fifth," which gives you an idea of just what a strange movie this was). Here's a short clip showing Molly with Burgess Meredith, playing Don Learo, her father.Five years earlier, Molly played Miranda in John Cassavetes' modernized version of The Tempest.  (Raul Julia played Kalibanos). Here's a clip from the opening of the movie featuring Molly, John Cassavetes and Gena Rowlands.
Bill Murray doesn't often get a chance to do drama but in 2000, he played Polonius in a modern-day retelling of Hamlet starring Ethan Hawke, Julia Stiles, and Liev Schrieber and Steve Zahn as Rosencrantz.  Set in modern-day New York, the movie preserved the language of the play and in this scene, Murray gives the famous "Neither a borrower nor a lender be" speech to Schrieber, who is playing his son Laertes. For me, Murray never seems natural--he never quite clicks into the conversational cadence--and the language sounds stilted. Schreiber, on the other hand, is spot on. Stiles would go on to star in a modern-day retelling of Othello (O, co-starring Mekhi Phifer.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Shakespeare Silliness: Lori Handeland's Shakespeare Undead

In the vein of Abraham Lincoln Vampire Slayer, urban fantasy author Lori Handeland created the mash-up novel Shakespeare Undead. The title character is not the Will Shakespeare we've come to know and love but a vampire necromancer who has lived a number of places before ending up in 16th century London. She clearly had a good time with her Elizabethan-era zombies--the sequel, Zombie Island, was published last month. (A review is coming.) Handeland salts the books with lots of references to the plays (too many for one cranky reviewer on Amazon) and Shakespeare lovers who don't take themselves too seriously should have a great time with the book.
I love the cover.  I know the fangs are a little cheesy but if a book is about a vampire need to go with the cheese.

When characters take on a life of their own...

I have been speaking to an agent (squee) about my WIP Misbegotten and he strongly suggested I put together a biography of my main character--paracrimes journalist Kira Simkins. I had bits and pieces of her in folders and files and notebooks and sticky pads, but when I started pulling it all together, I realized that she had taken on a life of her own. I invented two true crime books for her and Joy Sillensen, my go-to-gal for covers, whipped up a couple of dummy covers for me.
I like the covers so much that at some point, I might actually write the books that go along with the covers. 
I never actually intended for my paranormal Los Angeles to be the setting of so much of my fiction. Kira was just a character I conjured up for a story I wrote for John Donald Carlucci's Astonishing Adventures Magazine.
There's a comfort zone there, though. I've lived in Los Angeles longer than I have lived anywhere else in my life--though for an Army brat who moved every year as a child, that's not much of a boast. My first job here was working at Los Angeles Magazine at the same time I was a cityside reporter for the now-defunct L.A. Weekly.  I know my adopted city and am inspired by it every time I leave the apartment. Putting the magical overlay on top of the city amuses me, and the settings I use the most often--Griffith Observatory, Hollywood, Malibu Creek Park--have a magic of their own even in their mundane state. 
When Patricia Cornwell first started writing her Kay Scarpetta stories, she disguised details of the Richmond, Virginia setting. (They were thinly disguised and it was easy to pick out the neighborhoods where the crimes were taking place.) By her second book, Cornwall's depiction of the city was so accurate a reader who found herself stranded in the city would not have needed a road map to get to downtown, where the Medical College of Virginia (location of the morgue) is located.
I can think of other writers who have picked a city and made it their own--from Matthew Funk's New Orleans stories to the adventures of Janet Evanovich's quintessential Jersey Girl Stephanie Plum.
I'm curious--how often do other writers return to a favorite city? Is it their own city or a place they consider their spiritual home town?  Do they ever set a story in a particular city but leave it anonymous?

Sunday, June 17, 2012

The Summer of Shakespeare is coming!

I am newly excited about the bard. And a conversation I had with a friend has  fired me up. He's never read one of the plays and believes he's not the poorer for it. A screenwriter, he is full of suggestions where Will could "show not tell" in filmed productions of his plays. He says when he goes to a Shakespeare movie  it's like listening to a foreign language and he needs subtitles.
He is convinced that no one in high school even studies Shakespeare any more and that "things have changed since you were in school."  (He's only five years younger than I am, so you can imagine how well that comment went over!)  He said listening to me talk about the beauty and the richness of Shakespeare's  language gave him new appreciation for the geeks who love to learn Klingon. 
He is convinced that I am operating with a different set of cultural references than most people and even when I pointed out that practically every single news article on the Nicole Brown Simpson/Ronald Goldman murder referenced Othello somewhere, stood firm.
"Why do you think William Shakespeare is the greatest English writer?" 
I told him why but didn't convince him.
So, I started thinking about the question. I started thinking about how falling in love with Shakespeare informed my writing and enriched my life.  And the result is going to be a summer long obsession with Shakespeare.  No matter what else I post, there's going to be a whole lot of shak3-spearing goin' on.  Hope you can join me.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Patti Abbott's Drabble Contest

Over at her blog, Patti Abbott has posed a challenge--write a drabble using one of several photographs for inspiration. (A drabble is a story that is complete in exactly 100 words, a fiendish literary form.) The links to the entries are posted at Pattinase, check out the others.

Here's mine.

Image of Unknown Cultural Artifact

The T’andoor’ii explorers had not thought it likely they would encounter any standing structures remaining in the explora-zone, so they were thrilled when they came across a ruined building that still had an intact roof.

There was much debate about the purpose of the building, which was too large to be a single-family dwelling but too small to contain a whole community. The youngest of the explorers suggested it might be some sort of house of worship but his-her suggestion was dismissed. From what the explorers knew of the dead civilization they were studying, it had been a godless one.

Friday, June 15, 2012

A Tempest in a Multi-plex

Christopher Plummer conjures a tempest
I have a friend who has season's tickets to a series of filmed entertainments (concerts, plays, operas) running one and two-night only at the local multiplex. Last night he treated me to a filmed performance of The Tempest staged by the Stratford Shakespeare Festival with Christopher Plummer as Prospero.  I don't know if this is a one-time only thing (the Festival's site notes that the movie will be playing on June 14, and no other dates) but if you love Shakespeare, you owe it to yourself to hunt this production down.
The Tempest is my favorite of Shakespeare's plays. I love the spectacle of it--the sea storm, the fanciful interpretations of Ariel and Caliban, the fabulous language. "You really  like this play don't you?" my friend said, which was my first clue I was saying some of the lines out loud along with the actors.
Christopher Plummer is the best Prospero I've ever seen and I've seen some Prosperos. Anthony Hopkins played the role here in L.A. opposite Stephanie Zimbalist as Miranda. Ellis Rabb starred in a production he also directed at the Old Globe Theater in San Diego. The set, I remember, was a beach with several huge seashells scattered about. Rabb played the magician in a very patrician manner that was interesting but not engaging. Plummer's performance was ... magical. 
Soelistyo and Plummer plot
I was a little leery of the idea of a filmed play--I've seen some really static ones. And in the opening storm sequence, the sound was really muffled and muddy, which made my heart sink. But once everyone was on the island, those technical issues faded away. And let's just say, filming a play has come a long way since the days my father was recording that production of The Fantasticks from half a mile away in a school gymnasium.
The Tempest was part of the Stratford's season a few years ago (I think Plummer did King Lear last year) and I've always wanted to  go up there for a week and see as many productions as I can. This season they're doing Henry V, everybody's favorite history play, Much Ado About Nothing (my favorite comedy) and Cymbeline, which I can't even remember, although I know I read it.
This version of The Tempest was directed by Des McAnuff.
I really liked McAnuff's conception of Ariel. The tricksy spirit was played by tiny (4'10") Julyana Soelistyo  whose naughty giggle was a reminder that spirits aren't human and find different things funny. (McAnuff definitely played up the humor in the text and made the most of the subplot involving Caliban and the two comic drunkards, Trinculo and Stephano.)
Geraint Wyn Davies played Stephano and he was so hilarious I wish I'd seen him playing Bottom in A Midsummer Night's Dream when it played in rep. If you caught his turn as  pompous Shakespearean actor Henry Breedlove on the wonderful show Slings and Arrows, you have some idea of what he can do.  The man was born to speak Shakespeare and not everyone in the company was up to his and Plummer's level. (The young woman playing Miranda, for instance, sounded like she'd learned her lines phonetically at times.)
I haven't seen the Julie Taymore version of The Tempest starring Helen Mirren, but now I have to go track it down. Because really, can you think of a better way to spend a few hours?

One picure is worth a thousand words

This has been floating around the blogosphere. Not sure where it came from, or I'd tell you, but seems appropriate to post it here on Feminist Fiction Friday.

Happy Birthday Rob!

It's my brother's birthday. I hate that he's 3000 miles away and I can't bake him a cake. And razzing him about his age is not as much fun on email as it is in person.

Feminist Fiction Friday--bits and pieces

There's still time to get in on Patti Abbott's "drabble contest." She supplies the prompts, you write a story in exactly 100 words.

Huzzah--Gillian Flynn has a new book out. Gone Girl. About a marriage gone horribly, horribly wrong.

Coming at the end of the month is a debut novel called The Age of Miracles by  Karen Thompson Walker. It's a combinatin of science fiction, thriller and coming of age story. 

in July, there will be another entry in Tana French's excellent Dublin Murder Squad series. It's called Broken Harbor.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Update to You are not as smart as you think you are...

My landlady got an A in English. The grade was based half on the letter she wrote and half on a final taken in class, so she earned that A herself. And now she will never have to sit in that teacher's classroom again!  I'm very happy for her. 

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Feminist Fiction Friday--the TBR Edition

Priscilla Royal
The lovely people at Poisoned Pen Press aare offering the first of Priscilla Royal's medieval mysteries free if you buy them from the Apple Store and for 99 cents over at and on other platforms. (They wanted to offer it and several other books for free everywhere but not all the outlets are cooperating)
I don't know Royal's work, but when I read the blurb for The Wine of Violence, it sounded right up my alley. I snapped up the first two books in the series (for a whopping $4 altogether) and can't wait to dig in. The series, which is now up to eight, with a ninth coming in December,  "stars" a prioress named Eleanor of Wynethorpe.  Here's a link to an interview with Priscilla Royal done for Women on Writing.  Here's a link to eleven more books from PPP, all priced at 99 cents.
I suspect the first medieval mystery most people read was either one of the books in Ellis' Peters' Brother Cadfael series or one of Candace Robb's Margaret Kerr or Owen Archer mysteries. (There's actually a Medieval Mysteries site that has lots of lists and an open review policy for writers of medieval mysteries.) A lot of medieval mysteries (and series) feature clever female sleuths who are often nuns or churchwomen, but not always. I'm particularly fond of Peter Tremayne's "Sister Fidelma" series, and Margaret Frazer's Dame Frevisse books. I have not read the most recent book, Winter Heart, which is described as a "tale of frigid winter and icy passion."
Also on my TBR list is the first of the Hawkenlye Mysteries by Alys Clare.  "Alys Clare" is such a beautiful name I was disappointed to find out it's a pseudonym. The sleuths are Abbess Helevise and the knight Josse d'Aquin (friend to King Richard the Lionheart). I'll start with Fortune Like the Moon, which is available used for a penny on Amazon.

Monday, June 4, 2012

I don't mean to be cranky, but....

I saw Snow White and the Huntsman this weekend. It looks gorgeous and had a couple of truly magical moments in it. But it also had a line, a throw-away line, a tossed off moment that got a big laugh and made me cringe.
Snow White and the Huntsman are struggling through a dark enchanted forest chased by the Queen's brother and a miscellaneous assortment of murderous  minions. Realizing that Snow White's long skirt is making it hard for her to run, the Huntsman slashes it off with his knife.
Snow White, who's really been through quite a lot in the last few minutes of screen time, shrinks back, uncertain of the Huntsman's intentions.
"Don't flatter yourself," he snarls and then they move on as the audience chuckles.
"Don't flatter yourself?"

Call me a cranky feminist but I couldn't help but notice that the script was written by three men.

"Don't flatter yourself."

Don't get me wrong. For the most part, Snow White is witten as brave and strong and true and noble. I'm not sure how she learned to sword fight whilst  being locked up in a castle keep for years, or how the Duke managed to procure that snazzy form-fitting armor at short notice, but this is a fairy tale after all.
Did we really need that line?
Am I just being over-sensitive? (One of the disparaging insults hurled at early feminists was that the had no sense of humor when it came to sexist jokes.) After all, I was the only one not laughing.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

You are not as smart as you think you are...

Shiny brain photo by Artem Chernyshevych
One of the hardest lessons you ever have to learn in life--harder even than finally admitting that "life isn't fair," and there's nothing you can do about it--is realizing  that no matter how smart you are, you are not as smart as you think you are.
Yes, you think, I'm smart.  I'm no Stephen Hawking but then, who is?
It is so tempting to look at someone you dislike and smugly think, He/she is so stupid.  And you might be right. But you might be wrong, too.
I've been thinking about this a lot lately.
My landlady asked me to help her with an essay for an English class she's taking as a prerequisite for nursing classes she's going to start in the fall. (She's acing the math class that is also a requirement.)
She asked for my help because she was confused by the teacher's instructions for the paper. She asked for my help because the instructor called her stupid and she's not, and she wanted to prove it.
English is not her first language.
It is her fourth.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Feminist (Non) Fiction Friday: The biography edition

One of the things I noticed while compiling my list of good and great biographies was that the names tht kept appearing on the list--David McCulloch (Truman, John Adams), Walter Isaacson (Steve Jobs, Einstein), Ben Macintyre (The Napoleon of Crime), Robert Massie (Peter the Great), Joseph Lash (Eleanor and Franklin) and A. Scott Berg (Lindbergh) were all men. There were men who specialized in stories about businessmen like Michael Lewis (Moneyball, Liar's Poker) and men specialized in scientific figures, like Mike Venezia (biographies of Albert Einstein, Jane Goodall and Thomas Edison, among others). George Vecsey seems to be a go-to guy for sports bios (Martina, Stan Musial, but also a bio of Loretta Lynn). There are a lot of men specializing in chronicling the lives of interesting people. Women? Not so much.  And I was looking...
Claire Tomalin
My list--which has almost two thousand books on it--only repeats two women writers; both of them specialists. They are Claire Tomalin and Alison Weir. Turns out they're pretty interesting people in their own right.
Tomalin has been dubbed the "queen of literary biography" whose works include biographies of Jane Austen, Samuel Pepys, Thomas Hardy, Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, Katherine Mansfield and last year, a biography of Charles Dickens that's considered definitive. (Here's a link to an interview Tomalin did on the eve of publishing Charles Dickens: A Life.)
Alison Weir
Alison Weir, who is two decades younger than Tomalin, has focused on English royalty, and is the best-selling female historical author in Great Britain (according to Wikipedia). One of the trials she's forced to bear is that she has the same name as a sensationalist journalist and apparently gets mistaken for her enough that she has this notice on her website: 
**THIS AUTHOR IS NOT THE AMERICAN ALISON WEIR, founder of the organisation If Americans Knew.**
Weir regularly hosts tours themed to the subjects of her books, as well as day trips to Hampton Court Palace and The Tower of London.  How much fun would it be to go on one of those tours?