In Juicy Writing, we considered why we write. Why are we motivated; what drives us toward that accomplishment. That way, if we’re tired of writing, we can look at our list and remember why we cared enough to go the distance. So here’s what I’m passionate about:
I’m passionate about making something that wasn’t there before.
I’m passionate about giving people something to think about.
I’m passionate about giving people an escape from anything that worries them.
I’m passionate about the people in my books. They’re real to me, and I want to give them expression.
I’m passionate about having something to do.
I’m passionate about doing something no one else has done before. Like snowflakes or fingerprints, no one else is going to write my stories, even if they were given the plot points and character profiles and assigned to do it.
I’m passionate about leaving something behind when I’m gone.
I’m passionate about taking chances.
I’m passionate about disappearing into a fantasy.
I’m passionate about finding out what happens next.
I’m passionate about the human race, and the fragility, beauty, nobility, and triumph of their existence.
I am about halfway through the very entertaining Northanger Abbey and Angels and Dragons. The book was written and illustrated by Vera Nazarian as a paranormal parody of Jane Austen’s book Northanger Abbey (which was Jane Austen’s parody of the dark fantasy novels so popular in her day). Nazarian gives equal credit for writing Northanger Abbey and Angels and Dragons to Jane Austen, which was a smart and fair thing to do. I haven’t read Northanger Abbey, but what prose I have seen suggests that the angels and dragons are Nazarian’s literary contribution to the parody; Austen’s prose is still there. I watched Masterpiece Theatre’s adaptation of Northanger Abbey, and Nazarian’s parody does not alter this likable heroine or the charming flow of the story.
I am enjoying Northanger Abbey and Angels and Dragons. It’s light, witty, and fun to read. The premise is that Austen’s heroine, Catherine Morland can see angels, as well as demons and dragons. Nazarian’s descriptions of the angels is particularly pleasing. Her style is very visual, and I can really ‘see’ the little angels and their firefly glow illuminating cravats, bonnets, puffy sleeves, and Georgian interiors. The demons masquerade as members of society, but the fact that Catherine can see and hear them as they really are makes for very amusing characterizations. The dragon is cool — I gather it plays a larger role in the 2nd half of the novel and look forward to its reappearance. There’s another creature that’s appears unexpectedly to vex people in the extreme — I won’t tell you what it is, but it will make you smile.
I haven’t read other paranormal parodies of Jane Austen novels, so I can’t say how Northanger Abbey and Angels and Dragons stacks up against them. I can only tell you that I find this novel very easy to read. The structure of the paranormal world is neatly drawn and makes sense. The dialogue and description just sort of roll you through the paragraphs (props to Ms. Austen for this, but Nazarian’s additions blend without any glitch in style). Nazarian’s contributions make me chuckle. You will probably like this if you like Jane Austen and classic chick lit of the 19th century, if you like fantasy novels, and if you like lighthearted horror elements. I like the dark, horrific stuff too, but that’s another type of book. For my lighter side, Northanger Abbey and Angels and Dragons does quite nicely.
Sharon always opens Juicy Writing class with that date’s reading from The Awe-Manac: A Daily Dose of Wonder by Jill Badonsky. Tonight, according to The Awe-Manac, it was National Sandwich Day and also a day to consider the worth and wonder of clichés. Sharon surprised us with a treat of tea sandwiches. As we munched on little white triangles filled with cream cheese-pineapple sprinkled with cinnamon, we wrote about our favorite sandwiches. I wrote a poem praising Day-After-Thanksgiving turkey sandwiches. Then Sharon went to the seventh page of Mary Balogh’s novel, Seducing an Angel, traced down seven lines and picked the seventh sentence after that: “It is the season, Alice.” Using that as a starting point, we could write using sandwich references or deliberately use clichés. I decided to do both and had a lot of fun. Here’s the scrap of story I wrote:
It is the season, Alice …, He immediately began scribbling, …when a young man’s fancy turns to love. Mortimer took a bite of his Monte Cristo sandwich and contemplated his next line as he chewed. Powdered sugar fell onto his Garfield stationary, but such was his concentration that he didn’t notice. “Ah,” he said, hit with sudden inspiration. He anchored the page with an elbow and wrote the next line of purple passion. Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn if your eyes are like moonbeams and your lovely hair like thistledown. It is the milky smoothness of your voice, the hammy fullness of your communicative style, the sweetness and softness of your smile that I crave. To consume you would be heaven. “Heaven,” he mumbled, popping the last big bite into his welcoming mouth. He closed his eyes and thought, ‘Others’ love is like a red, red rose, but you, my dear, are as sumptuous as my favorite sandwich.’ “I’ll write that down!” Mortimer exclaimed, powdered sugar and Texas toast crumbs flying on his exhaled breath to scatter across his letter. Mortimer was not handsome, but he had a way with words and an appetite he was sure Alice could not resist. He would marry her in April — April was the loneliest month, after all — and he resolved to be lonely no longer. He would teach her to cook on their honeymoon. They would never go hungry and they would live long and prosper.
I was halfway through the 1933 Academy Award winner, Grand Hotel, and ready to give up on it when all the character development and plot lines soared upward into a great story. The art deco sets and cinematography probably kept me hooked up till then. The characters are a broke baron/cat burgler (John Barrymore), a sexy, hard-shelled stenographer (Joan Crawford), a high-strung prima ballerina (Greta Garbo), a dying nobody (Lionel Barrymore), and a German industrialist (Wallace Beery). The hearts of these vulnerable people are laid bare in the second half of the film. The importance of money to their safety and self-respect became painful to acknowledge, due to history and the present times validating the underlying truth of it. GH was shot during the Great Depression and as I watched it in 2011 when our economy is sliding into an abyss and our cities are Occupied by the 99 percent, I realized nothing much has changed, except our behavior is perhaps lower in standard and our architectural styles a lot uglier. Grand Hotel has a lot to say and a beautiful, visual means of expressing itself. Plus there’s a shock in the last half (I did not see coming), which made the ending all the more powerful. I recommend you Netflix this one.
My brother and I attended the 7PM Saturday performance of Dracula, performed by Ballet Pensacola. It was a fresh take on the story and beautifully choreographed by the Ballet’s Artistic Director, Richard Steinert. It began with a trap door opening in the stage floor. From this void, two “creatures” (Dustin Simmons and Kristopher Williams) extended limbs that appeared to be multi-jointed and literally coming to life from some long-dormant state. The effect of Lance Brannon’s lighting on their musculature was dramatic in contrast to an otherwise dark stage. Their dance was strong and masculine, but graceful and modern. Throughout the production — as if the creatures’ evolution never progressed beyond the demon realm, their movements were always weirdly contorted. This was a wonderful counterpoint to the delicate, classical ballet danced by Kristen Springer and Kayla Bartlett in their roles as Lucy and Mina.
Following the creatures’ emergence, “bats” crawled out of the open space in the floor until thirteen filled the stage. The bats, Ballet Pensacola’s corps, were ingeniously costumed by Christine Duhon. Their sleek hair was parted in the middle; their leotards were patterned in an op-art check like something from an Escher drawing and had sleeves that were puffed above the elbow. They wore large pointed black belts and slim black trousers that flared from the knees. According to the choreography, the bats movements looked mechanical or flowing a la classical ballet and the full sleeves or the fluid hems helped create that impression. Ranks of bats dove in and out of each other, filling the stage. It was wonderful.
Dracula’s brides were Goth chicks with cherry red hair and black skirts that hung in funereal strips over black leggings. Tyler Day’s Dracula was lithe, dominant, and seductive. I loved the pas de trois where Samuel Joseph Mounce’s Harker danced to save Mina from Dracula. Dracula’s pas de deux with Lucy, culminating with his bite was sensual and romantic. Later, the creatures’ attack on Lucy was an altogether different dance, a choreographed act of brutality. This was a very interesting ballet, by turns sensual or perverse, romantic or violent.
A dominant feature of Lance Brannon’s set design was a steampunk conglomeration of cogs and wheels. The trapdoor led to an underground mausoleum with coffins and oven-style cypts like you see in New Orleans’ multi-tombs. The storyline broke from Stoker’s novel, but I won’t tell you how — just in case they perform it next year. I hope Ballet Pensacola will repeat Dracula as a Halloween tradition, just as The Nutcracker is for Christmas. If so, don’t miss it.
I had such a good time with my friend DeAnna at a dinner for the Friends of the West Florida Public Library, Friday night. The speaker was novelist Alex Kava, whose thrillers have been New York Times bestsellers. Neither DeAnna nor I had ever read Alex Kava. In preparation, we read her latest, Hotwire. Well, now we’re fans. Kava has a neat economical style that I can’t quite pin down. You know all about a character’s personality very quickly without having been aware of reading a description. She writes short chapters with cliff hangers. Her protagonist, FBI agent Maggie O’Dell, is easy to relate to on a personal level; she’s kickass but also someone you might know. Hotwire’s plot revolves around a possible government conspiracy and weird shenanigans with the nation’s food supply. DeAnna and I would text each other, saying, “Man, I’m never eating out again!” or “I’m giving up meat!”
As a speaker, Alex Kava was wonderful. She was funny, self-deprecating, and warm. She talked a lot about what it was like starting out. How subjective the feedback was; one rejection letter saying, “it needs more detail” and the next rejection letter saying, “it needs less detail”. And how there’s a double standard for crime-fighting protagonists such that Maggie O’Dell really can’t develop a drinking habit or swear a lot or cat around. She spoke movingly of her respect for the contribution that libraries and librarians make to community life. She encouraged aspiring writers to stay true to their vision and believe in themselves. She talked about her friends who live in Pensacola and who were in attendance. She spoke of her friends’ mother having been a lifelong supporter of our library and of their father, on whom she based one of the characters in the Maggie O’Dell novel, Damaged. It turns out, she bought a house here in Spring 2004. This made the audience laugh ruefully. It was Fall 2004 when Hurricane Ivan made landfall at just under Cat 4 strength and devastated our region. Alex buckled down under the storm with her two friends and used the experience to write the plot for Damaged set against a hurricane.