Fictionista, Foodie, Feline-lover

Friday, August 31, 2012

Fun with Shakespeare

I am a big fan of anything that makes Shakespeare fun and Shakespeare the Bard Game looks like a lot of geeky fun. In it, you play an Elizabethan-era theatrical impresario collecting manuscripts.  The product description says a game lasts about an hour and can be played by gamers 12 and up. It's not cheap ($40), so replay-ability would have to be a factor.
The Bard Game is also called Shakespeare the Board Game,
If you fancy card games more than board games, for $8, you can buy Shakespeare's Insult Playing Cards. For two dollars more, you can get Shakespeare's Quotes Playing Cards.
If you like playing with words, there's a Shakespeare edition of Magnetic Words to create your own epic poetry. For less than $10, your refrigerator can be the most erudite appliance in town.
Another great silly Shakespeare thing is a stuffed Shakespeare doll from Little Thinkers. Priced at $16.10, it's a little expensive for something so whimsical, but it's pretty great. 

My all-time favorite frivolous frippery of a Shakespeare toy has to be this Shakespeare action figure (with removable quill pen!!!)

Toto, Thank God We're Not in Kansas Any more

Feminist Fiction Friday--The Winter Palace

Eva Stachniak's beautifully researched historical novel about Catherine the Great is a big juicy read. Told from the point of view of a young woman who enters the Winter Palace as a seamstress and becomes a spy (a "tongue") on behalf of the young woman who will one day be the Empress of All Russia, the book is filled with sex, intrigue and treachery.
The story is told by Barbara (called Varvara in Russian), a Polish book-binder's daughter who turns out to have a natural knack for espionage, although her lessons in it include deflowering at the hands of the spymaster, Alexei Bestuzhev, the Chancellor of Russia. The two women whose lives bookend the story--the ruthless Elizabeth (daughter to Peter the Great) and Catherine--seemingly could not be much different but as Varvara realizes, Catherine has her own agenda and her own methods.
There is love in the book, and a fair amount of sex, but that aspect of the story does not drive it. Probably the most intense man/woman connection in the entire novel is the one between Varvara and her spymaster, and in later scenes, when he tells her some harsh truths about her situation, we know that he is right because we're told so in Catherine's own words at the very beginning of the story.
If you're looking for an historical novel that's long on detail and layered with great observations, you should take a look at The Winter Palace.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Courtesy of Grammarly

My sister's pet grammar peeve was the Its/It's thing (mine is Your/You're) and she would have enjoyed this silly cartoon courtesy of Grammarly.

Update--This kind of behavior will not be tolerated

Why is Deadline Hollywood's Nikki Finke the only reporter covering the story of the CNN camera operator pelted with peanuts? Today the young woman gave her feelings about the incident. You can read the update here.  The CNN employee does not think much has changed in terms of race relations.
 Last night Condoleezza Rice rocked Tampa with her speech about growing up in segregated Birmingham and not being allowed to eat at the local lunch counter. It was a great speech and a bit of a thumbing of the nose at Romney and Ryan and their not-so-subtle cracks appealing to the birther crackpots.
 I couldn't help but think that a Rice/Clinton race would be an epic political event with two extremely smart, extremely shrewd foreign policy experts going head to head.

ThugLit is back

It's actually been back for awhile. There's now a new ThugLit page on Facebook so if you do the FB thing, you should go here and like it.

An Aha moment....Lynn Beisner

Feminine symbol from Loco Roller Derby
We read a lot about urban feminism but not so much about rural feminism. My paternal grandmother was the first woman in her county in Virginia to earn a college degree. She was a farm wife who also worked at the family's general store. Like my maternal grandmother (who was a traveling sales lady), she was ahead of her time.
I was thinking about that when I ran across this entry on the Role/Reboot site. It's the story of the moment feminist writer Lynn Beisner became a feminist. I like her message of "sisters doing it for themselves." Check out the post here.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

The word of the day is ... narrative

Have you noticed?  The word "narrative" is all over the coverage of the RNC.  And in the news in general. It looks like it's replaced "calculus" as an expression of how a story is spun. Narrative...

The Next Noir at the Bar Los Angeles

I missed the most recent Noir at the Bar event here in L.A. (featuring Megan Abbott, Sara Gran, Denise Hamilton, Christa Faust and Jen Westeman, all writers I admire and have never met, although Hamilton and I  have tweeted about the whole NoHo Noir thing). But I will not be missing the next event, coming in October.
I will not be missing it because I HAVE BEEN INVITED TO PARTICIPATE.
I am so thrilled. I will be in stellar company--Eric Beetner, Johnny Shaw, Greg Bardsley, and Owen Laukkanen.  I cannot wait.
P.S. You can get a copy of that autographed poster from the August event--the link is on the FB page--and the proceeds go to a good cause.

This Kind of Behavior Will Not Be Tolerated...

You may have heard that yesterday there was an incident at the Republican National Convention in which two attendees threw peanuts at a CNN camera operator while whooping it up and yelling, "This is how we feed the animals."
The camera operator is a black woman.
And it's hard not to see that act as sort of symbolic of the party's disdain for African-Americans and Female-Americans, Mia Love's speech notwithstanding. A beautiful black Mormon Republican, daughter of Haitian immigrants, Love is being positioned as the "new face" of the Republican party, and good for her. She's already broken a number of barriers, including becoming the first black woman to be elected mayor of a Utah City. She's only 36; she'll go far. But how proud can she be of party representatives who are still openly racist and sexist?
The RNC responded swiftly to the incident with the CNN camera operator, calling the behavior of the attendees "deplorable." But with racism and sexism being subtexts in so much of the party platform, the protestations sound hollow.
You can read about the incident here on Deadline Hollywood.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Line of Duty, my new addiction

In general I don't watch a lot of television. And when I do, it tends to be in big, season-long chunks on dvd or streamed on Netflix when I'm recuperating from a hard day at the eye clinic and can't see well enough to read. It's not that I'm a culture snob--one of the shows I DO watch is Drop Dead Diva and another is Grimm--but I still haven't figured out how to balance out a freelance career, a pretty demanding writing-on-the-side career, a personal life and the odd night's sleep.  Something had to give and it was television. 
I did check out the BBC's Sherlock and liked it well enough, although honestly, I thought Sherlock's behavior in the second season ws a little ... smug.  I honestly didn't believe he'd go to Buckingham Palace wrapped in a sheet. But Freeman and Cumberbatch are lightning in a bottle together.
I'm still on the fence about Copper. I know a lot about the era. I once spent about six months researching a script called Dead Rabbit, which was basically Gangs of New York but with two brothers at the center. I thought the first episode was dark and dreary and predictable and on the nose. I liked the second episode better.
But then I stumbled across Line of Duty.It's currently streaming on Hulu (although I suspect it's eventually going to be part of their Hulu Plus package) and it's a slice of grit pie.  Martin Compston, playing the lead, a young detective sergeant who refused to take part in a cover-up after a raid leaves an innocent man dead, looks distractingly like a young Mark Dacascos in his Crying Freeman period,  but he's extremely good as the button-down cop. Lennie James, the other lead, is a black cop with a complicated love life and a taste for corruption. He's great too.
Sexism. Racism. Budget cuts. It's all there. Two episodes in, we really don't know that much about Kate Fleming, one of the detectives on James' squad, and I'm hoping that will change.
If you liked Dirty Pretty Things, I think you'll like Line of Duty.

Monday, August 27, 2012

A little knowledge can be a knee-jerk thing

there's a poster going around Facebook that celebrates American women in a way that's meant to contrast American attitudes toward women with Taliban attitudes toward the fairer sex.
It's pretty in your face, but doesn't it feel good to see those attractive American women in flight suits laughing it up on the flight line. (Never mind that they're all white and all but one of them is blonde, the picture looks like a screen shot of some new television series.)
And the message is--America, where women can be anything they want!
But not so fast... There's a really interesting website called Worldwide Guide to Women in Leadership that has some sobering  statistics that suggest (and I know this will be a shock to you) that perhaps the United States is not quite as progressive as some people would like you to believe.
On, there's a list of countries by percentage of women in government. Belgium is number one, with a whopping 55 percent. Care to guess where the US fits in?  We're at number 92 with a shameful 7.1 of women in government. (And remember, women outnumber men in the US by almost 5 million.)  The list only encompasses 112 countries (Good news, the US is ahead of Tajikistan, Benin, Syria, Chad, and Iceland (a surprise). But the countries with a better track record for women in government include Iran (27.1 percent), Saudi Arabia (33 percent), Libya (11.8 percent) nd Rwanda (10 percent).  Something to think about before dancing around singing "Neener, neener, neener."

Saturday, August 25, 2012

He was the first, he won't be the last

Neil Armstrong, the first human to walk on the moon (the first man, we're still waiting for the first woman) has died. He was 82. R.I.P.

Shakespeare Trivia

I've just landed a job with a company that sells trivia games to the hospitality sector and one topic that we can't use for questions is Shakespeare because Shakespeare is everyone's go-to topic for trivia and has been overused. No kidding. If you Google "Shakespeare Trivia Game" you get more than 2.5 million responses in 0.29 seconds.
The first site listed on the first page of responses is Fun Trivia, which has a whole assortment of Shakespeare Quizzes and Trivia Games. Games are divided up into individual plays or lines and quotes. Other examples is a game called "Sad but true" (a phrase Shakespeare created) and one that asks you to identify the true source of a quote. The games are all silly, English geeky fun if you find yourself between seasons of Game of Thrones with nothing to do. (Seriously, Ned Stark could have been a Shakespearean character, not unlike Coriolanus in that he just couldn't learn to go along to get along.)

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Feminist Fiction Friday--the Lists

I love lists. I could not function without my to-do lists (daily, monthly). But I also love lists that people post on websites, especially lists of recommended books. Sometimes the lists are disappointing--like lists of vampire books that begin with Twilight but don't include Barbara Hambly's Those That Hunt the Night. Sometimes they are great places to find a new book to read. On a whim, I Googled "Feminist Fiction" and the first thing that popped up was an amazing list--more than 600 books--on Goodreads. Crowd-sourced (anyone can add a book to it), you'll find the list here.
It's an eclectic list of books and includes the usual Kate Chopin, Jane Austen, Alice Walker, Margaret Atwood titles you would expect. But it also had some books I wouldn't have thought of right off the top of my head. One of those books is Khaled Hosseini's A Thousand Splendid Suns. Hosseini wrote The Kite Runner, which was excellent, but A Thousand Splendid Suns is whatever comes after excellent. The friendship of two women is central to the story and there is a section in which a woman desperately tries to get medical aid in a country that forbids male doctors from touching female patients that will have you reaching for a checkbook to donate to Doctors Without Borders.
I wouldn't have chosen Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials for the list, even though there are so many female characters in it. But then I only read the first book in the series, which seemed to me all set up without real thought into the practicalities of having daemons with you everywhere.
But I digress.

The word you're lookiing for is "pay"

Samuel Johnson once famously wrote that "No man but a blockhead ever wrote except for money." These days, writing for non-paying markets is just part of the landscape of marketing your work, and there's no shame in it.
My attitude toward the issue of paid versus unpaid is embodied in a quote from the movie Honeysuckle Rose. "I did it for the love, but I was not above the money." (And if I'm not ashamed to admit that I paid money to see Honeysuckle Rose, I'm certainly not going to blush at admitting I sometimes give it away.
What annoys me, however, is the way some sites try to sugar-coat their non-paying status. My favorite is when, rather than admit it's a "4-the-Luv" kind of a deal, they point out you'll get "lots of exposure" and virtual "clips" you can then use to get a better (one that pays) gig.  I'm not talking about a site like BellaOnline, which doesn't pay but which does provide its editors with incredibly useful training, a lot of support for their side projects, the opportunity to put advertising on their pages and much, much more. I spent a year as a BellaOnline editor and it was a fantastic experience and I'll do it again if the right topic becomes available. (Right now BellaOnline is looking for editors to cover dozens of topics from adoption to African-American lit to Water Gardens and Women's Sports. If you're interested, go here to learn more.)
I'm talking about the brand-new literary magazines that promise pay as soon as the revenue starts rolling in. In the meantime, though, "we can't afford to monetarily compensate you." 
Whenever people use two big words in place of one small one, I start to worry. (And don't get me wrong. I am a huge word snoot. I delight in the more ornate words out there and relish precision of their use. But often, when overly flowery language is used where plain speaking should be, the writer is a) trying score points by making whoever they're talking to feel dumb; b) trying to hide something. (It's the old "baffle 'em wiht bullshit" ploy.)
If you want to say that you don't pay your contributors, just say it. You don't have to use fancy words. I'll get the message.

Picture of the Day--Owl

My brother is an amateur photographer who frequently gets great pictures of critters in his own yard. One of the best pictures he ever took was of a pair of reclusive little owls with violet eyes. Today he sent me this picture that was taken by a friend of his. He doesn't know how or why the owl ended up in someone's hands, but the picture is wonderful. (And all my brother's friends love animals, so I'm sure the owl is in good hands, so to speak.)

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Planting Shakespeare--the Shakespeare Garden

The Shakespeare Garden at the Huntington Library

William Shakespeare's plays are filled with quotes about flowers, with the most famous probably being "That which we call a rose would smell as sweet" from Romeo and Juliet. Over time, gardeners developed a very special, formal version of an English garden termed a "Shakespeare garden." As the name implies, these gardens feature plants and flowers mentioned in the plays, or typical of the Elizabethan period but not mentioned.
Here in LA, there's a gorgeous "Shakespeare Garden" at the Huntington Library. (For information on the garden, go here.) There's a Shakespeare Garden in Central Park and also in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park. for a list of other, public gardens, see the Wikipedia article. Shakespeare's favorite flower (at least in terms of how often he used it) was probably the rose. the Garden Web has a section on Elizabethan roses, and there are lots of forums for gardeners who want to grow heirloom roses in their own gardens.  "Elizabethan Roses" became a popular design motif for china.
Here's an excerpt from Folk-lore of Shakespeare that talks about his knowledge of plants.

Judging a Book By Its Cover

Last year I released Twelve Nights of Christmas, a collection of dark stories themed to the Christmas song "Days of Christmas." Some of the stories had originally been written for the Dark Valentine website promotion for the season, some were written especially for the book. I was pleased with the collection, especially my story "Birds of a Feather," which was my version of the "turtledove" stanza.
Sales were whatever the opposite of "brisk" is. 
(And is there a direct opposite of "brisk" the way "inept" and "adept" are linked?)
I've decided to put out a version 2.0 of Twelve Nights of Christmas (now called The 12 Nights of Christmas)  this year and I'm going to change the cover. the current cover is intriguing but isn't getting it done.I've done that before--the original cover of Toxic Reality was elegant and dark, but when Indie Author Services came up with a more "in your face" image, sales picked up. (Briskly.)
One of the beauties of epublishing is that you can change things up with relative ease. I've edited and revised the copy, I think the new cover more accurately reflect the kind of stories I write.
The new version features an image by Linda Bucklin, with design stylings by (again) Indie Author Services.
I've pulled the book from Amazon's "Select Program," and as soon as the time period of that runs out (mid-September) I'll debut the new version. I'll be very interested to see how it does with the new cover. Thoughts?

Seventy is the New Fifty

The Seventies aren't what they used to be. I don't mean the decade, I mean the age. Case in point. I saw Expendables 2 last weekend. The whole audience exploded when Chuck Norris showed up. He was the Chuck Norris he's always been--and he kicked ass. And he is ... 72 years old. (Stallone and SArnold are both 65.)
I just got back from the Neil Diamond concert in Anaheim. Two hours of beautiful noise without a break and three encores. The Honda Center was sold out. (Floor tickets were $400 a pop.) His voice isn't what it used to be, but he gives one hell of a show. He is 71.
Harrison Ford is 70.  So is Aretha Franklin. So is Stephen Hawking.
Journalist Charlayne Hunter-Gault and designer Betsy Johnson have both passed the big Seven Oh,
Judge Judy, Calvin Klein, and Garrison Keillor are all 70.
It doesn't surprise me that Sir Paul McCartney is 70 but ... Andy Summers of the Police? Monkee Michael Nesmith? Beach Boy Brian Wilson???
Where did the time go?
I was born on the trailing edge of the baby boomer generation and am facing down that first really scary birthday. I hope when I'm 70 I'll be a force to be reckoned with.
To Seventy and Beyond!!! 

Monday, August 20, 2012

Shakespeare and Suicide

R.I.P. Tony Scott.  My condolences to your loved ones.
One of my biggest clients has been in business forever with Scott Free, the production company fronted by directors Ridley and Tony Scott, so Tony Scott's suicide over the weekend hit home. I'd met him (and his wife Donna, a sharp lady) and had worked the development side of some of his projects, including the upcoming Potsdamer Platz.
One of my colleagues posted a lovely tribute to Tony on Facebook and ended it with "See you in the Danger Zone," a reference to Scott's movie Top Gun. (Plans for a sequel were in the works.) He was well liked and the tributes are pouring in.
News reports are now saying that Tony had been diagnosed with inoperable brain cancer. And so the ancient debate emerges again--is suicide an act of dignity or an act of despair?
Speaking as someone who has known people who took their own lives or contemplated the act, I'd say it's complicated and personal but if nothing else, for God's sake leave a note.
The question "why?" will haunt those left behind and an answer to that question will help, if only a little.
Suicide is a dramatic act and Shakespeare used it a lot as a plot device, particularly in Hamlet. I found this article that takes Shakespeare's plays and his fictional suicides as a point of departure to discuss a whole range of topics relating to the act. You can find that article here.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Self-Promotion Sunday--The Poisoned Teat

The Poisoned Teat, my latest collection of short fiction is now up at smashwords and available at all their distribution channels. Whenever KDP gets around to it, the book will also be up at This new 100-page collection features more than 30 stories, a mix of micro, flash and longer pieces. Most of the stories fall into the noir category, a few are straight up horror, but there are some that really don't have a category.  Check out the samples here.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Death of a Patron of the Arts--Veronique Peck

Veronique Peck, the widow of actor Gregory Peck, has died. You might think that the death of a movie star's wife is less than newsworthy, especially in this day of reality shows about the wives of famous (and infamous) people, but like her late husband, Veronique was both old school and a class act.
Here's a brief statement about her that all the obits are running:  Veronique Peck helped create the Inner City Cultural Center in South Los Angeles, was a founder of the Los Angeles Music Center and a longtime fundraiser for the Los Angeles Public Library. By status, the Paris-born former journalist was a member of the One Percent, but she was someone who lent her money and her prestige and her passion to causes that benefitted the rest of us.
R.I.P. Veronique. See Nikki Finke's obituary of Veronique Peck here.

Shakespeare and Company Bookstore

Shakespeare and Company bookstore is one of the most famous bookstores in the world. In its first incarnation it was opened on the Left Bank of Paris in 1919 and moved to a nearby location in 1922 where it flourished until 1941, when the city was under occupation by the Nazis. The bookstore that now bears the name was opened in the 50s and renamed in the 60s as a tribute to the original, which was a part of the expat life of Ernest Hemingway, James Joyce, Gertrude Stein, and Ezra Pound. Here's a link to the store's site, which is filled with great images from its archives. You can follow the store on Twitter (@Shakespeare_Co).

Friday, August 17, 2012

Feminist Friday--the blog edition

Taking a break from fiction this Friday to look at a bouquet of blogs celebrating women and their passions. First up is SheBiz, which bills itself as looking at life from the "passionista's" perspective. The work of Renee Daniel Flager, and assorted sister-friends of the blog, the site has invented teh motto "KIC" (Keep it Confident), which is a great thing to remember, kind of the modern variation of "Never let them see you sweat."
The site has a badge from the Lady Blogger's Society on it, so check them out too. They seem to be a support group, a social networking site and a job source all in one.
On confabulicious, I found a post called "This List of Top 10 Blogs by Women will change your life."  Among those cited are Ree Drummond's Pioneer Woman; Rosalind Gardner's Net Profits Today (helping real people make real money online), and Gretchen Rubin's "The Happiness Project." (For the full list, go here.)
What I love about so many of these cited sites is that they are powerfully empowering, going way beyond the "mommy blogger" stereotype.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Celebrity Culture in Shakespeare's Time

Since I'm thinking about celebrity culture today, I started wondering about who the star of Shakespeare's day was. And then I realized I already knew--Richard Burbage. He and his older brother Cuthbert (don't you wonder how poor Cuthbert got saddled with a name like that while Richard got a perfectly normal name?) were both actors. Their father had been a joiner-turned-theatrical impresario.
Burbage was a member of a number of prestigious acting companies but made his name as Shakespeare's leading man, originating the roles of Hamlet, Othello, Richard III and King Lear.
Burbage later managed his own theater. His epitaph is brief, "Exit Burbage."
Martin Clunes plays Burbage in Shakespeare in Love. Wonder if they'll still be talking about Brad Pitt in 500 years.

Seriously? The reboot of Beauty and the Beast

You know, I like to look at pretty people as much as the next person, but this new art for the CW's 2012 reboot of the 1980s series Beauty and the Beast (starring Linda Hamilton and Ron Perlman) makes it look like the series has somehow missed the point. On IMDB there's already a thread that asks, "Is Vincent seriously just a guy with a scar on his face? Because that's kind of lame."
Kind of?
The CW's Vincent (his surname is "Koslow," a tribute to the original creator of the series, Ron Koslow, does have the Twilight golden eye thing going on.  Jay Ryan, a Kiwi actor who honed his craft with roles in Young Hercules and Xena, is a fine-looking guy who is probably best known in the US for doing three episodes of the short-lived series Terra Nova.
Here's a link to an interview Ryan and Kristin Kreuk (in the Linda Hamilton part) did at the 2012 San Diego Comic-Con to promote their new show. In the interview they explain how their show's concept has changed from the 80s show--the Beast is a product of a military experiment, for example, and Kristen's character is now an NYPD detective rather than a DA. Although they hadn't yet seen any of the episode scripts--just the pilot--both insisted that the shows would be a mix of procedural and action and romance and fairy tale elements.

Jodie Foster on celebrity culture

I admire Jodie Foster as an actress. I remember seeing her in Freaky Friday (later remade with Lindsay Lohan) and being amazed at what she could do with just a look. And she was, I think, around 11 at the time. She's written an interesting piece on celebrity culture. Read it at the Daily Beast.

Lightspeed on Film

Sometimes, when the news is just generally awful, I feel despair for the species. And then I see a story like this one--technology has allowed a camera to capture the motion of light as it moves around the world. There is a video and what you see is taking place in LESS THAN A NANO-SECOND. In the video you can see that the bottle is an empty coke bottle, but the logo has been obscured for the "official" photo.
Science is amazing. This is called "femto photography."
We might survive after all!  (Or as William Faulkner said in his Nobel Prize acceptance speech, perhaps "Man will not merely endure, he will prevail."

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Best Biography of the Bard?

There are probably a bazillion Shakespeare biographies out there. (Amazon lists 2,311 books if you search "Shakespeare biography). Some are super scholarly, some are meant for children and some split the difference by being engaging as well as literate. One of the best I've read is Peter Ackroyd's Shakespeare: The Biography.  Ackroyd is a novelist as well as a biographer (he has chronicled the lives of Sir Thomas More, Charles Dickens, T. S. Eliot, William Blake, and Chaucer), Ackroyd writes uniquely immersive books. If you're interested in the man's world as well as the man, Ackroyd's bio is a great place to start.

Happy 100th Birthday Julia Child

Is it just me or does anyone else think today's Google Doodle celebrating Julia Child's birthday is really ... lame.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Touchstone--Another Shakespeare Resource

Touchstone is a resource nexus for Shakespeare studies and it's noted that it is pat of the BLCPP project, which is nowhere defined. (There's a logo for the British Library and also one for the University of Birmingham, but on the welcome page it says, "The site is currently maintained by the Shakespeare Institute Library, in partnership with the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, and Birmingham Central Library."
The site has a lot of the usual links you would expect from a study site but it also has links to all the Shakespeare productions being planned throughout the UK, a searchable database of previous productions, links to societies and organizations, and a way to submit questions to Shakespeare experts.  
That searchable database, by the way, is incredibly inclusive. Here's how they describe it:  The scope includes professional and amateur productions, 'straight’ versions, ballets, operas, puppet versions, adaptations for children, apocrypha, plays which include Shakespeare as a character, plays which use Shakespearean themes.  The slightest connection with Shakespeare warrants inclusion. 
I particularly celebrate the inclusion of puppet shows! If you're going to be in the UK and fancy a hit of Shakespeare, this site should be part of your travel plans.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Shakespeare's invented words

The most common complaints my English teacher friends hear when they start a new unit on Shakespeare in their classes is that their students don't understand the words he used in his plays. And it's true, a lot of the words--for better or worse--are no longer used.  (Seriously, how did ZOUNDS go out of favor? It's a most excellent word.)
The thing is, though, that for every archaic and discarded word you'll find in Shakespeare, you'll find hundreds more that Shakespeare invented, words that are still used today.
Words like--accused, bandit, bedroom, blushing.  According to Shakespeare online, the bard invented 700 modern words (ode, Olympian, grovel, tranquil, thoughtless).  If you like words, check out their page on the subject here.

R.I.P Helen Gurley Brown

It's been a bad couple of months for feminists. Helen Gurley Brown, the woman who wrote Sex and the Single Girl and turned Cosmo into the bible for a generation of women, has died at the age of 90. She was a self-made woman and proud of it. “How could any woman not be a feminist?" she famously asked. Go here to see a "top ten" of her quotes. 

I will steal your dreams

Sometimes a story comes to me fully formed.
Usually the story is kindled by an image, and I have gotten used to having pictures haunt me until I figure out how to tell their stories. (I have been wanting to tell a ghost story inspired by wreckage from the tsunami floating ashore on the West Coast ever since seeing the first wave of that salt-crusted, rust-corroded flotsam.)
Tonight though, a friend told me a dream he's been having after taking heavy-duty pain meds. It was a horrifying story that made my scalp prickle. And he'd hardly finished telling me when a story flashed into my head--complete and entire.
Two hours later I'd finished writing it down, and had edited and proofed it.
I'm going to reread it tomorrow and then send it out into the world.
I told my friend I was doing this because it isn't nice to steal someone's dream and just ... re-use it for your own purposes.
And although what I have written is only about 25 percent inspired by his account of his nightmare, the broad outline of the tale is his.
He never would have written it.
And it was just too good a story to waste.
Like most writers, I use bits and pieces of my own life in my stories. I mine my memories and comb through my past, and I did not experience those memories in isolation, or live that past alone. So sometimes, there are bits and pieces of other people's lives in my stories.
I change things to protect the innocent and guilty alike.
But still there are traces of reality that can be used like forensic evidence to identify the source of a story if someone is interested enough.
I can't be the only one who does this.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Dying is easy; comedy is hard

I have a very dear friend who frequently sends me links to YouTube videos he thinks are hilarious. And I almost never laugh. (The most recent offering was for some product Jerry Stiller was hawking and I thought the commercial was like bad vaudeville.)  I was thinking about that in relationship to Shakespeare and his comedies. Or more precisely, Shakespeare and his comic characters. Comedy relies so much on context--on the joke teller and the audience "being on the same page" that it's a wonder a single sitcom can manage it, much less a playwright who lived centuries ago in a world that was different from ours today that any account of it might as well begin with "Once Upon a Time."
A lot of Shakespeare's comic relief characters do not work for me, not even in performance when an actor (and the comic relief characters are mostly male, aren't they?) can bring the comedy to a level I can relate to.
I have never enjoyed Falstaff, for instance. He appears in his "jolly" incarnation in three plays, Henry IV, pt. 1, Henry IV, pt. 2, and The Merry Wives of Windsor. For more about Falstaff, check out the post here. Mabillard, Amanda. Shakespeare: General Q & A Shakespeare Online. 20 Aug. 2000. (August 12, 2012) <>.
I also hate Dogberry from Much Ado About Nothing. Every time he steps upon the stage, the energy of the play drops for me. The malapropisms just lie flat for me.
But I know both these opinions are minority ones, and that by general regard, Falstaff is Shakespeare's greatest comic creation. 
If I had to pick, though, my favorite Shakespeare clown would be Bottom from A Midsummer Night's Dream, with the Tempest's Stefano a close second.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Craig's List: The anthology

You know the great anthology Discount Noir, where all the stories take place in a big box store? I think you could put together a dandy noir anthology inspired by Craig's List. My favorite ad of the night, "I need someone to sex my ball python."  Yeah, I know what it means but if you're in just the right mood, a story suggests itself. Then there are the out and out creepy ads where someone wants to hire an assistant and is asking for a picture and wondering if they'd be interested in getting room and board as part of their compensation.  Craig's List the Anthology--you heard it here first.

Feminist Fiction Friday--the Freebie

As a promotion for the upcoming release of my latest short story collection (The Poisoned Teat), you can snag my first collection, Just Another Day in Paradise absolutely free at Smashwords. (Amazon still hasn't lowered the price.) Go here to claim your copy in whatever format you choose.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

The Last Cat Standing

Photo by Orlovic, modified by Tony Wild
The Last Cat Standing
by Katherine Tomlinson
Moo had been the sweetest cat Lois had ever known. An ordinary black and white “cow” cat, she’d been the runt of a litter of kittens born to a feral cat occupying the parking garage of the office building where she worked. A young woman from the sixth floor, a receptionist at the insurance company that sprawled across half a dozen office suites, had rescued the kittens and then littered the building with photocopied flyers offering them up for adoption.
Building maintenance kept taking the flyers down, but every morning there was a fresh batch taped to the mirrors in all the ladies’ rooms and on the stairwell sides of all the exit doors.
Lois had successfully staved off such appeals before—in the days before email it seemed like once a week every local newscast included a pet adoption segment and the critters on offer were always super cute.

Separated at Birth? Bette Davis and ... my mother!

My mother had Bette Davis eyes and in this picture, I think the resemblance to Ms. Davis is striking.  That's Bette in a still from Jezebel, the movie she made when she wasn't selected to play Scarlett in Gone with the Wind.  I think my mother had better eyebrows. (And she could raise just one of them--a talent I lack and envy.)

But what about Shakespeare and dogs?

Just in case you're wondering if I have something against dogs...there is some persuasive evidence that William Shakespeare really didn't like them very much. Here's a really interesting blogpost on the subject from Dr, Metablog back in 2006.

Shakespeare and Cats

Painting by Susan Herbert
On the website PandEcats (an online magazine devoted to Persian and exotic short-haired cats), I found this article about Shakespeare and cats. Seems he mentions cats 44 times in his plays. check out what PandEcats has to say here.
You might also be amused by the paintings of Susan Herbert, who re-imagined famous scenes from Shakespeare with cats. Check out her other work in a playful YouTube video or The Cat's Gallery of Western Art.

There's probably a story in here somewhere

The household has been unsettled for a few weeks now--earthquakes, illness in man and beast, and a singular slowness of cash flow.
Today it all came together in a sort of crescendo of misery.  I've been up since three this morning with the corpse of my cat, waiting for the local pet crematory to open. In the past my best friend has attended to the "arrangements" for me but he is sick as a dog and hasn't slept for two days, so this one is on me.
To distract myself, I caught up on the latest episode of Drop Dead Diva. The storyline was about a bereaved fiancee named Kathy fighting with her soon-to-be mother-in-law over her fiance's ashes. what were the chances?
And it's August 9, which would have been my mother's 84th birthday and I was already missing her.  (My mother loved cats and when I came home to take care of her in her final illness, I brought my gray tabby Kichi,who adopted her and spent hours on her bed, available for petting or just companionship.)
Life sucks sometimes.
At least my pet wasn't a horse. Cremating a horse costs $1200.... except for something called a "mini."  I'm not sure I want to know what that is, but I'm going to ask anyway.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Mark Twain filmed by Thomas Edison

This may be the best "found footage" movie ever.
A short clips has surfaced of Samuel Clemens/Mark Twain taken by Thomas Edison, who was a friend, in 1909.  (One of the places I saw this posted reminded me that Clemens was also friends with Nikola Tesla, which made me think of all sorts of Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter-style shenanigans that could be written.)
You can see the clip here.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Hamlet--the real story in Royal Deceit

Before he donned the Batman's black cape, Christian Bale sported a red cape as Amled, prince of Jutland (Denmark) in this movie based on a chronicle by Danish historian Saxo Grammaticus, which was also the source material for Shakespeare's epic drama Hamlet.
In Royal Deceit (a really terrible title), the set-up is much the same as Hamlet--the young prince of Denmark has seemingly gone mad following the murder of his father (and in this case, brother as well).
Although the murder is blamed on two "scouundrels," the real murderer is the king's jealous brother (Gabriel Byrne), who co-opts the queen (Helen Mirren, looking luminously ageless). From the moment the uncle "modestly" accepts the crown in Amled's place, the story begins to diverge from the one we know, although elements remains--like the characters who became Rosencrantz and Guildenstern and the girl who was the model for Ophelia, here called Ethel (long E, pronounced EEE-thul), and played by a very young Kate Beckinsale.  (She mostly wears shapeless costumes that make her look pudgy, which is unfortunate.)

Review of Luminarium by Alex Shakar

As his twin languishes in a coma, a man seeks spiritual enlightenment and meaning, aided by texts and emails that seem to be coming from his brother. Alex Shakar’s Luminarium is a beautifully written book that mashes up philosophy, pop culture, recent past, quantum mechanics and a story about a man whose twin brother is dying. 
It is the summer of 2006 and Fred Brounian is not in a good place. The video game company he and his brothers founded has been stolen by a military company that uses its game engine to run extremely realistic training scenarios for its wannabe warriors.  His fiancée Melanie has broken up with him and taken up with someone new (or so he’s heard). And despite being in a coma, his dying twin brother George has been sending him a series of enigmatic emails—Help Avatara—that mean nothing to him.
Fred joins a group studying spirituality, and finds the experience alternately liberating and frightening, made more complicated by his attraction to Mira, the woman facilitating it. He reatreats into the cranky comfort of his relationship with his father Vartan, a failed actor but decent musician who performs at kids’ birthday parties in an act that George conceived when he and Fred were in high school.
This nook is a dazzling, dizzying romp through pop culture, recent history, East Indian myth, quantum physics and a whole spectrum of other elements. It’s lovely to see a story in which the myth is not the same old Catholic and Celtic tropes that have been done to death, and the author does a graceful job of integrating the myth and the mundane. (He’s particularly good with the various game scenarios and the texts and messages Fred gets from … wherever he’s getting them from.)
Luminarium works on many levels. At its simplest, it’s the story of a man whose life is falling apart, making him ripe for the “faith without ignorance” spiritual awakening that Miri is offering. It’s the story of a man coping with the impending death of his twin, his other self. It’s a love story. It’s a tale of quantum revelation in which “real physics” coexists alongside things that could not possibly happen, and yet do.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Review: Serpents of Arakesh by V.M. Jones

Serpents of Arakesh by V. M. Jones

Appearances can be deceptive.  The four people around the table look like a businesswoman (Veronica Sherwood); a tramp (Quentin Quested); a bodybuilder (Shaw; and a bank manager (Withers).  You would neverguess that Quentin is actually one of the wealthiest men in the world, the world’s most wizardly computer genius and the man behind the best-selling Quest computer games. 

The most recent game—Quest for the Golden Goblet—is being marketed with a special promotion sweepstakes.  People who register the game get to enter a contest to win a complete computer system, a complete set of the Quest games and … a two-day gaming workshop with Q himself. Faster than you can say “golden ticket,” thousands of entries pour in, and salfes have jumped two hundred percent.

Q has a very personal agenda behind the contest, though. He wants to find five children who can enter the magical world of his creation and find a healing potion that will save the life of his daughter Hannah.

It’s clear the author has seen Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory  a few times, but that’s okay.  Jones has taken the basic “golden ticket” premise and given it an interesting Harry Potte-ish gloss.  (Like Harry, protagonist Adam is an orphan who has to deal with bullies.) 

Shakespeare Noir

I knew there had to be a website called Shakespeare Noir and there is. (Here.) I wasn't sure what I would find there--reimaginings of plays as short, hard-boiled stories? Deconstruction of the drama from a noir-ish lens?
It turns out to be a site celebrating all sorts of manipulations of words, including poetry. Here's ow it's described on the home page:
Spoken Word,
Lyrical expression.
Verbal manipulation
Of thoughts and words
Which create thoughts and images
Which takes you to another world
Which it creates, but doesn’t really exist
Except within the poets mind
Thus leaving you blind
To the truth of it all.
Definitely worth checking out if you're a word-lover.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

The Biggest Buffet Ever?

Courtesy of Caesar's Palace
When I was a kid I loved buffets. I thought it was great being able to pick and choose what I put on my plate. (My parents were children of the Depression and there was no such thing as accommodating a picky eater in my house. You ate what was in front of you and you liked it that way even if it had mayonnaise on it or olives in it.)
Nowadays, though, buffets seem more like a temptation to overeat. There are so many yummy treats on offer that you can't possibly put them all on one plate. So you must (!) go back for seconds. And thirds are not unheard of.
So now Caesar's Palace has come up with a new buffet extravaganza they call "Bacchanal," featuring 524 different menu items including Red Velvet pancakes with sweet cream cheese topping, and made to order chocolate and vanilla souffles. Read more about this over-the-top feast here

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Mark Satchwill has outdone himself

Illustration by Mark Satchwill
The new NoHo Noir story is up and I only hope I've done justice to Mark Satchwill's illustration. I think it's a stunning commentary.
He's in the middle of redoing his art site, but you can see more of his work here.  He's also participating in a "photo a day" and posting them on Facebook.
Here's a link to the story, "Perceived Value."

Review: Railsea by China Mieville

Railsea by China Mieville is a coming-of-age tale that takes its inspiration from Moby Dick and Treasure island and a whole universe of elements that he’s mixed into a wildly imaginative story of a young man who has grown up in a world bounded by railroads who discovers there’s something beyond and goes looking for it to claim his destiny.
The hero of the book, a young man called Sham (Shamus Yes Ap Soorap) has gone “to rail’ to hunt the moldywarpes, beasts who inhabit the railsea and used for their fat and meat and fur. Apprenticed to the train’s doctor, Sham is eager to hear the stories the railsailors tell and fascinated by the train’s captain Abacat Naphi, a one-armed woman who lost her limb to a wily white moldywarpe and has been searching for it ever since.
He is less enthusiastic about the rough games the sailors entertain themselves with—games like beetle races and death matches with birds and beasts. One day Sham snaps, stealing a little day bat from the “arena” so it won’t end up killed. This action marks him out to the other crew members. The captain marks him out for reasons of her own, and he’s soon embroiled in feeding her obsession with developing one of his own.
As a proponent of “New Weird,” Mieville has always blended myth and pop culture and literature in his works (most gracefully in Kraken) and in this novel, readers will recognize Moby Dick, Dune (the modlywarpes explode out of the dirt like the “worms” that make spice), a bit of Treasure Island and also Tales of the Arabian Nights.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Secrets of Underground Paris

Secret Life of Paris?  I'm there.
Great CNN article on what they call "Paris' Empire of the Dead." See the article and pictures here.

Kickstarter and me...

Map illustration by Mark Satchwill
Does it seem like everybody and her brother suddenly has a Kickstarter campaign?  I know several people who have wildly successful ones and a couple who have had no luck at all.  I'm about to embark on one myself, to fund the publication of Starcaster, my entry in a "shared world" series of novels. I'm working with four novelists, Joseph Lewis, MeiLin Miranda, Charlotte English, and Coral Moore, and the name of the series is "The Drifting Isle Chronicles."  My story takes place on a floating island called "Risenton." Mark Satchwill provided an old-timey map for me.
I want to raise some money to pay "production costs" and I'm now putting together the whole plan. Anyone out there who's done a Kickstarter campaign?  I'd welcome any and all suggestions.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

There's a difference between Your and You're

I fix grammar for a living.
You have been warned.

French Lessons by Ellen Sussman--Review

French Lessons by Ellen Sussman

C’est l’amour
A single day in Paris changes the lives of three Americans as they each set off to explore the city with a different French tutor, learning about language, love, and loss as their lives intersect in surprising ways. Ellen Sussman’s novel French Lessons is a book for those who love movies like Love Actually and Valentine’s Day.
The three Americans traveling through their day are a diverse lot—there’s French teacher Josie with her secret sorrow, Riley, an unhappy expat who pines for home, and Hollywood husband Jeremy who has accompanied his film star wife to her Paris location and is now dealing with his stepdaughter, who’s acting out and with an unexpected attraction to the French teacher who’s been giving him lessons. 
It’s the Americans who have the focus but it’s the French tutors who are learning their own lessons. The ménage that exists among Nico, Chantal and Philippe interests us and we’re by no means certain how it’s all going to turn out.
The characters are not uniformly likeable—we adore Nico but are lukewarm about Josie; we like Riley but know way too many guys like Philippe—but we enjoy being a tag-along on their ramble through Paris.
The characters are deftly drawn, even the minor characters who just have walk-on parts. When Nico tells Josie about the raucous girl Philippe flirted with, we see that girl so completely she casts a shadow. Riley’s little boy Cole, who seems to spend a  lot of time patting his mother’s shoulder and telling her things will be okay, is a lovely kid.
Jeremy’s wife Dana—the movie star whose movie Nico comments does not “look as though it will last 100 years—has a strong presence too. We  know a lot about her even though her character is mostly filtered through his point of view.