Monday, July 29, 2013

Joss Whedon's Much Ado About Nothing

Joss Whedon is to Shakespeare as Russell Crowe is to musical villainy.  They’re both good. The latter does Javert with brute force, and he can sing. The former plays Much Ado About Nothing with agility and slapstick and only a little bit of song.
I think Wm. S. would be pleased with Whedon’s take on Much Ado. He used the bard’s original language. Albeit almost an hour short of using all the words. Probably a nod to saving money and not over-taxing our modern audience’s ubiquitous short attention span. Little is lost in this condensed version. You do have to adjust to listening as well as looking. We have become so used to being assaulted by the sights and sounds of so many of our movies that we automatically tune out the overload. In this film you do not want to tune anything out. Much of the humor and the sorrow is in the dialogue and you don’t want to miss it.
The best part about that original language is that Whedon had them speak the words sensibly and normally as though they would be understandable to our modern ears rather than to pontificate because they were written by the great and glorious Bard of Avon. And by so doing, our modern ear had no trouble understanding them. There aren't even any British accents.
Doing the film in black and white was a surprise. Surely the play was originally done live and in full-color.
In fact, Shakespeare was originally pop culture in an age when they had bull-baiting and bear-baiting in the same theater on the off-nights. For the play nights they just put sand and sawdust over the blood and gore and sold tickets to all and sundry, the great unwashed as well as the landed gentry. Actually, in old Bill’s time, pretty much everyone was unwashed. So it was probably produced live, in color, and full-scented.
I am pleased to say that I enjoyed Whedon’s film production amid the scent of popcorn.
Although this Much Ado is set in today’s world with today’s fashions and conveniences, it retains the mores of turn of the century England. That’s the 17th Century.
Don Pedro, Prince of Aragon, sets out to orchestrate the lives of his subjects. He will arrange the marriage of young adherent Claudio to ingĂ©nue Hero. And hook-up his old friend Benedict, a dedicated misogynist, with Benedict’s long-time antagonist Beatrice.
Although the young couple are ostensibly the lead roles, it is the wit wielded now like cudgels and then like rapiers by Beatrice and Benedict that make this play my favorite of Shakespeare’s comedies.
The prince’s evil brother Don John nearly destroys the young people’s lives. It is here that the serious intolerance of Shakespeare’s time comes to the fore.

But Don John is only a very small part. Shakespeare was a master of making the dark, darker by flashing a beam of light in the form of broad humor. Here he uses Don John’s henchmen to set in motion what is my favorite scene in the movie. They are interrogated by the prince’s security team lead by that bumbling-cop character Dogberry played to perfection by Nathan Fillian.
Put away the dusty teachings of that old high school English teacher and go see this production. Shakespeare’s plays were never intended to be read piece-meal and badly in high school classrooms. They were not intended to be read at all. Who reads Harold Pinter or Neil Simon? Plays are for watching. On the screen or on the stage.

Thursday, July 25, 2013


Prompt:  Begin a story describing only two hands. Use the physical characteristics of the hands, as well as any relevant activity or movement, gesture, fidgeting, and so on, to reveal who the hands belong to.

“I don’t know what’s wrong.” She held her hands palms up, helpless.
“When did it start?” His right hand hesitated over the keyboard.
She touched her slender index finger to her pursed lips, thinking. Her fingernails, well-tended and cut short, shone the palest pink in the florescent light. “It’s worse now.”
He keyed her answer into the computer, the nail on his ring finger chipped and discolored.
She covered her eyes with her left hand. “I can’t keep going like this.” No wedding band, no adornment at all. The skin smooth, well past the dimples of childhood but not yet bereft of the tissue that precludes wrinkles.
He rested his hand on the counter. His sun-browned skin as free of jewelry as hers. He made notes. “Can you describe the sound you heard?”
“A terrible screeching noise.” She clenched both fists and drew her shoulders toward her ears remembering.
“Could you tell where it was coming from?” He touched the keys, his delicate movements at odds with his beefy hands, the broad pads of his fingers.
“No. It was dark and . . . .” Her hand fluttered above the counter, fingers gracefully curved. “I was alone and . . . .”
He covered her hand with his own for the briefest of moments, reassuring her.

“Not to worry. It’s probably the fan belt.”

To see my daughter's response to this prompt cllick

Monday, July 22, 2013

Fantasy Series

Cover Art from Robert Jordan's The Eye of the World

I remember where I was and what I was doing when I heard about the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962, President Kennedy’s murder in 1963, Senator Kennedy’s murder in 1968, the Edmond Post Office murders in 1986, the Murrah Federal Building Bombing in 1995, and 9/11 in 2001. Having grown up and lived most of my life in the Oklahoma City area, the Edmond Post Office and Murrah Building were parts of my daily life. I passed the post office on my way to work each morning and our credit union was in the Murrah Building. Each of these events shook my world, shifted my world view.
And then one day in September 2007, I was driving north on I-35 with my daughter, then a Freshman at Oklahoma University. The car radio was tuned to KGOU our Public Radio Station. Suddenly my daughter started screaming and beating on the dashboard. When she told me why, it made no sense. Some writer named Robert Jordan died. I had no idea who Robert Jordan was. She explained about his epic fantasy series. His unfinished epic fantasy series, eleven volumes of which she had read and loved and reread in anticipation of the final installment.
Being naturally commitment-averse, I made it a rule never to read serialized novels. Nonfiction in multiple volumes I’ve always been comfortable with. Who can cover the Civil War in a single volume?
Fantasy? Also, not happening. I don’t easily suspend disbelief, so the minute something supernatural comes on the scene, my mind begins to wander and the book languishes beside my bed or under it.
And I never reread works of fiction. There are too many good books out there and I don’t have enough time to read them all as it is.
There were noteworthy exceptions to my policies of no fantasy series and single read-throughs. Tolkien’s Trilogy of the Rings, which I read to please a husband. I still have the books, but not that husband. And Rowling’s seven-book Harry Potter series which I read to please my daughter. Happily I still have both the books and the daughter.
Jordan, however, was not a blip on any radar as far as I was concerned. And as of the day of his death, never would be.
Today I am one-third of the way through Eye of the World, the first in what was to become Jordan’s fourteen-book series The Wheel of Time. The final three volumes were written by Brandon Sanderson. And this will be my third time through the series from beginning to end. Plus rereads of the later volumes in anticipation of each new release.
Why The Wheel of Time? To be honest, I thought I’d never enjoy another fantasy after The Lord of the Rings. I tried a couple and was not impressed.
I believed Tolkien’s world, complete with his Orcs and Ents. Then I came to believe Rowling’s world and Jordan’s, with their Hogwarts and Quiddich and Aes Sedai and Tarmon Gai'don. In each and every one of these books, characters from unremarkable backgrounds lead their people against the forces of darkness and win. Characters I got to know and care about, thrown into intolerable situations, attempting impossible goals, and succeeding.
Some days, my real world feels threatened by darkness on an epic scale and I need to believe there are real people from whatever backgrounds who can and will stand up when we need them.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Writing Prompt: My favorite song

Last year my daughter Grace and I each got a copy of this book. A wonderful way to practice writing. We choose a prompt, write, then read them aloud. There's a link at the end of this post to Grace's story. See how she responded to the prompt.

Prompt:  Write a story based on the title of your favorite song.

I’ve missed you. It’s been a long time. Probably seems longer than it’s really been, but long enough.
When you left, it was supposed to be just for a while. A week. Two at the most. But then things happened. There was a baby and your grandfather died. I understand all that.
But then it seemed you might not want to come home.
I got called away, too. Then I was busy and didn’t think about the separation. That’s what I’ve started calling it—the separation.
When I get home now, the house seems empty. Like it’s been empty a long time. It doesn’t smell like you anymore. Your minty Altoids, fresh brewed coffee, a hint of tobacco smoke. Your deodorant.
Today I went in to the office at the regular time, but couldn’t face coming home again. Worked over. Stopped for a drink. Went to the movies. Late. Very late.
I came home to a dark living room. Lights flickered toward the back of the house. In the kitchen.
And flowers.
And you singing, “Happy birthday to you. Happy birthday to you. Happy birthday dear…”

To see what Grace wrote using this same prompt go to

The Lone Ranger--a movie review

What has this new Lone Ranger movie got? Flash and dash and a laugh or twenty-three. 
And Johnny Depp.
With a bit of computer magic there are more cliff-hanging, hair-raising, heart-stopping, spine-tingling sequences than I’ve ever seen. And so tongue-in-cheek that you’re bound to leave the theater laughing.
Don’t get me wrong. There’s more than enough graphic violence to earn it its PG-13 rating. In fact, it’s my opinion that the visual and auditory intensity of the movie should be quite enough to make it PG-13. That said, I had plenty of warning so I could close my eyes when I didn’t want to see what was coming. (I do that regularly in the movies, to the point that my daughter has punched me in the ribs thinking I’d fallen asleep. Well, to be fair, I’ve done that, too, but not in The Lone Ranger.)
I may be old, but not old enough to remember the radio Lone Ranger. I do remember the TV Lone Ranger. I loved it as a kid. This is not my father’s Lone Ranger, nor my generation’s Lone Ranger, but if you remember those Lone Rangers, you’ll get more of the jokes.
Johnny Depp has brought us The Pirates of the Caribbean Goes West. They play fast and loose with geography, history, physics, and probability theory. But the bad guys are ugly and mean. The whore has a heart of gold and a leg of another precious material. The school marm doesn’t teach school but she’s lovely, sweet, and vulnerable. And the hero wears a white hat.
What more could you want?
A side-kick, of course. Who, in this movie, is really the main character. Johnny Depp as the wise and wonderful wizard of odd. He’s Tonto wearing a dead crow on his head and leading the wrong brother by the nose into hero-hood.
And the score is grand. I swear I heard bits of Carmina Burana in there. Well, maybe not, but they finally did get around to The William Tell Overture and Silver reared up and The Lone Ranger shouted “Hiyo, Silver! Away!”

To which Tonto responded… Well, that would be giving it away. Go see the movie and don’t be afraid to laugh. 

Saturday, July 13, 2013


How is it that I, as a writer, build the heroes in my stories? Do I snatch them whole from the ether? Invent them new from my own imagination? Choose a favorite from writers past and change the name to protect me, the guilty? The answer is ‘yes’ and more.
And the ‘more’ is people watching.
I recently flew into Denver. Those of you familiar with our area know that the airport is out-of-town. My way home includes I-70 which during rush hour resembles a parking lot. To avoid driving in that mess I ride a city bus into downtown and transfer to the light rail. Public transport is a treasure trove for people watchers.
At the airport the bus driver stowed my suitcase along with that of a young woman, probably not more than early twenties and possibly younger than that. I was prepared with correct money for my fare. She was not. The bus driver does not give change. He waited patiently while we passengers got together the right change for the young woman. 
I carried my laptop bag and the tiny young woman carried a guitar case. She was well and truly tattooed and had found-art materials woven into her multi-colored hair. She asked the driver if there were hotels near downtown where she could stay the night. The bus driver suggested that she probably would be better off staying in a hotel away from the center of town because those downtown tend to be pricey. (I’m not the only one who makes up stories about people I don’t know.) I watched and listened as the driver and my fellow riders gave her advice about where to stay .
And my mind was off and racing with stories for this potential heroine who would survive great difficulties.
Then we parted ways, I to my train into the ‘burbs and she to another bus to become a rock star or a super spy.
But, like one of my favorite songs, ‘That’s not what I come here to talk about.’
The train was not very full when I got on. In my car there was a forty-ish woman dressed for office, a middle-aged couple with their bicycles, and me. At various stops more people got on and the bicyclists got off. A man also dressed for office work carried his briefcase. Some young people probably not old enough to drive—the boys in baggy shorts and the girls dressed for the sun. A college-age young man, dressed nicely, stood near the door too cool to hold the pole for balance.
Then a group of men fresh from a day of physical labor boarded and one of them sat across from me. He carried a back pack with a plastic tyrannosaurus rex sticking out its front pocket. He was missing some teeth (the man not the dinosaur,) his hair was unkempt, and he smelled..
The college-aged young man derisively commented about the man being ‘pungent.’ The man acknowledged his odoriferous state but credited his day at hard labor and took no offense. He talked about working in building demolition and how dangerous it was. He said his brother died doing the same work.
At the next stop a young father got on with his toddler, leaving her to stand in the aisle while he parked the stroller. The train started and the child fell. The office lady, the snaggle-toothed man, and I all tried to catch her. Our efforts served only to frighten the little girl who cried to break your heart.
She sat sobbing in her daddy’s lap until the man across from me asked if she liked dinosaurs. She quieted, tears pooling in her big blue eyes. He offered her his T-Rex. And she smiled. She accepted the toy and listened while he explained what kind of dinosaur it was and gave her a short natural history lesson.
When the clean, well-dressed, college-aged man left the train, the little girl paid no attention. She had eyes only for the ‘pungent’ man. When he left the train, she waved to him and watched out the window as he walked away.

And I had material for a hero.