Sunday, May 31, 2009

Much Ado About Nothing - part 1

There's much to love about Much Ado About Nothing, but most of what I love is the relationship between Benedick and Beatrice, who are truly the main characters in this play.

Speaking of characters, let me list them. This is from memory, so if I miss someone, I beg your pardon:

The Messina Crowd
Leonato: a nobleman of Messina, father to Hero, uncle to Beatrice
Hero: Leonato's daughter, destined for misjudgment and marriage
    Margaret: Hero's lady maid, destined for shenanigans
    Ursula: Another of Hero's maids, there to move the plot along
Antonio, sometimes conflated with the role of Leonato's brother: a gentleman of Messina; there to have conversations with Leonato, mostly
Beatrice: Leonato's niece; she of the sparkling wit and occasionally sharp tongue, and the female lead of the play
The Watch:
Dogberry: The Master Constable, and quite possibly an ass
Verges: Assistant constable
Sexton: There to witness and write down the examination of the bad guys
Seacoal: A member of the watch who manages to catch the bad guys
The Friar: There to perform marriages, prevent infanticide, dispense advice and hatch plots

The Visiting/Returning Party
Don Pedro (aka the Prince): visiting Messina after trouncing his wayward half-brother in battle
Don John (aka John the Bastard): the wayward half-brother bad guy bent on thwarting the Prince and Claudio
Borachio: a gentleman friend of Don John's, a bounder and rogue
Conrade: a gentleman friend of Don John's, a rogue and a scoundrel
Claudio: a count (sometimes called a county) and the Prince's right-hand guy who helped in the trouncing, destined for marriage and misjudgment
Benedick: a gentleman who is friends with both Claudio and the Prince, esteemed for his wit, which he uses to joust with Beatrice; despite his lesser rank, he's the male lead of the play
Balthazar: there to sing in the middle of the play

And . . . ACTION!

At the start of the play, we find Beatrice concerned to know how Benedick fared in battle, while disclaiming any real interest in her. Benedick, who has evidently vowed never to marry, seems keen on sparring with Beatrice.

Here's an example of their wordplay (sexual tension much?):

Beat. I wonder that you will still be talking, Signior Benedick: nobody marks you.
Bene. What! my dear Lady Disdain, are you yet living?

Beat. Is it possible Disdain should die while she hath such meet food to feed it as Signior Benedick? Courtesy itself must convert to disdain, if you come in her presence.

Bene. Then is courtesy a turncoat. But it is certain I am loved of all ladies, only you excepted; and I would I could find in my heart that I had not a hard heart; for, truly, I love none.

Beat. A dear happiness to women: they would else have been troubled with a pernicious suitor. I thank God and my cold blood, I am of your humour for that: I had rather hear my dog bark at a crow than a man swear he loves me.

Bene. God keep your ladyship still in that mind; so some gentleman or other shall ’scape a predestinate scratched face.

Beat. Scratching could not make it worse, an ’twere such a face as yours were.

Bene. Well, you are a rare parrot-teacher.

Beat. A bird of my tongue is better than a beast of yours.

Bene. I would my horse had the speed of your tongue, and so good a continuer. But keep your way, i’ God’s name; I have done.

Beat. You always end with a jade’s trick: I know you of old.
  Act I, sc. 1

The above scene does more than establish the sexual tension between the two witty souls – it also makes mention of a past relationship between the two (in Beatrice's last line). The word "jade" has a double meaning: it is a reference to a wayward horse, and it also refers to a person who is jaded. And her final bit indicates that she's completely familiar with him (which is borne out later in the play, when she tells the Prince that Benedick lent her his heart for a while, and that she returned his affection, but he turned out to be false – Act II, sc. 1).

What truly sets the plot in motion is the decision of Benedick's friend, Claudio, to wed Beatrice's cousin, Hero, based (if one believes the text) largely on her appearance and fortune (although in later sections of the play Claudio claims to love her). In the 1993 movie version, it is implied through looks and actions that Hero and Claudio had a bit of a thing going on before he ever left for battle, which somewhat mitigates the text taken alone, not that (in that time) there would have been anything unusual about the equation "APPEARANCE + MONEY = WIN" when assessing a prospective spouse. But I digress.

In which the talk turns to noting

The word "nothing" was pronounced the same as the word "noting" in Elizabethan times. And the verb "to note" appears in various forms quite a few times in the course of the play. It has to do with observation of something, sometimes through spying or eavesdropping. The title of the play is therefore a pun based on the then-homonym, where the title would have been taken as both "nothing" and "noting".

Here's a short dialogue between Benedick and Claudio about the fair Hero, which includes early references to noting, and also does the following things all at once: 1) it establishes Benedick as both an observant and witty fellow, and one who is opposed to matrimony; 2) it tips us to his attraction to Beatrice; 3) it establishes that Claudio is well and truly smitten with Hero; and 4) it establishes that Benedick is a good friend to Claudio, and conveys the dynamic of that relationship – Claudio obviously trusts Benedick, and enjoys having him around because of his wit.

Claud. Benedick, didst thou note the daughter of Signior Leonato?

Bene. I noted her not, but I looked on her.

Claud. Is she not a modest young lady?

Bene. Do you question me as an honest man should do, for my simple true judgment? Or would you have me speak after my custom, as being a professed tyrant to their sex?

Claud. No, I pray thee, speak in sober judgment.

Bene. Why, i' faith, methinks she's too low for a high praise, too brown for a fair praise, and too little for a great praise. Only this commendation I can afford her, that were she other than she is, she were unhandsome, and being no other but as she is, I do not like her.

Claud. Thou thinkest I am in sport: I pray thee tell me truly how thou likest her.

Bene. Would you buy her, that you inquire after her?

Claud. Can the world buy such a jewel?

Bene. Yea, and a case to put it into. But speak you this with a sad brow? Or do you play the flouting jack, to tell us Cupid is a good hare-finder and Vulcan a rare carpenter? Come, in what key shall a man take you to go in the song?

Claud. In mine eye she is the sweetest lady that ever I looked on.

Bene. I can see yet without spectacles, and I see no such matter. There's her cousin, an she were not possessed with a fury, exceeds her as much in beauty as the first of May does the last of December. But I hope you have no intent to turn husband, have you?

Claud. I would scarce trust myself, though I had sworn the contrary, if Hero would be my wife.
  Act I, sc. 1

Benedick of course razzes Claudio for contemplating marriage. The Prince returns, asking what they've been up to, and Benedick (in best mocking fashion) brings the Prince up to speed, only to be stunned when the Prince seems to think it's a fine idea. You see, there supposed to be musketeer-like in their desire to avoid matrimony.

Prince Amen, if you love her, for the lady is very well worthy.

Claud. You speak this to fetch me in, my lord.

Prince By my troth, I speak my thought.

Claud. And in faith, my lord, I spoke mine.

Bene. And by my two faiths and troths, my lord, I spoke mine.

Claud. That I love her, I feel.

Prince That she is worthy, I know.

Bene. That I neither feel how she should be loved nor know how she should be worthy is the opinion that fire cannot melt out of me. I will die in it at the stake.
  Act I, sc. 1

* Take note of the last three assertions in particular: Claudio professes his love, the Prince declares her entirely worthy, and Benedick expresses nothing but scorn on both counts. This is an excellent set-up for what is to come in Act IV, scene 1 where Claudio renounces his love and the Prince and Benedick swap opinions during the marriage scene. Ah! sweet foreshadowing!

In which the plot thickens

But wait! That's not all! No, for Don Pedro's evil brother, Don John is up to no good. How does one brother have a Spanish name and another an English one when they are both supposed to be Italian? Well might you ask. I suspect that use of the name Don John was a reference to Don John of Austria, the Spanish governor of the Netherlands during the mid 1570s, who plotted to liberate Mary, Queen of Scots – use of the name of a person so antagonistic to England and Queen Elizabeth I would have immediately telegraphed to the audiences of the time that he was a bad guy, and not to be trusted.

As if that weren't enough, Don John himself tells us he's a bad guy: "[T]hough I cannot be said to be a flattering honest man, it must not be denied but I am a plain-dealing villain." Act I, sc. 3. Don John and his two lackeys decide to do what they can to mess up the relationship between Claudio and Hero, since thwarting Claudio is the same to Don John as thwarting the Prince. And Don John is all about the thwarting.

Having now been introduced to all the principal characters, I thought you might want to check out this 10 minute section of the 1993 movie version. I'm pretty sure you'll sort out who's who without my interference.

Beatrice stands up for womankind
In this play, as in many others, Shakespeare gives his lead female character a great deal of wit. And in some ways, Beatrice spouts words that sound very much like early feminism in discussing the notion of matrimony with her cousin, Hero:

Antonio [To HERO.] Well, niece, I trust you will be ruled by your father.

Beat. Yes, faith; it is my cousin’s duty to make curtsy, and say, ‘Father, as it please you:’—but yet for all that, cousin, let him be a handsome fellow, or else make another curtsy, and say, ‘Father, as it please me.’

Leon. Well, niece, I hope to see you one day fitted with a husband.

Beat. Not till God make men of some other metal than earth. Would it not grieve a woman to be over-mastered with a piece of valiant dust? to make an account of her life to a clod of wayward marl? No, uncle, I’ll none: Adam’s sons are my brethren; and truly, I hold it a sin to match in my kindred.
  Act II, sc. 1

During a masquerade, the Prince manages to broker a marriage between Hero and Claudio, securing Leonato's blessing on the match despite Don John's efforts to poison the well by causing Claudio to mistrust the Prince. To my way of thinking, Claudio is a cad for not doing his own wooing in the first place, and it demonstrates moreover his ambivalence about the marriage. But you will say, perhaps, that I am cynical. I leave you to form your own conclusion on that point.

Leon. Count, take of me my daughter, and with her my fortunes: his Grace hath made the match, and all grace say Amen to it!

Beat. Speak, count, ’tis your cue.

Claud. Silence is the perfectest herald of joy: I were but little happy, if I could say how much. Lady, as you are mine, I am yours: I give away myself for you and dote upon the exchange.

Beat. Speak, cousin; or, if you cannot, stop his mouth with a kiss, and let not him speak neither.
  Act II, sc. 1.

Let's mess with Benedick and Beatrice!

Don Pedro, the Prince whom Claudio serves, conspires with Claudio, Hero and her father, Leonato, to trick Beatrice and Benedick into romance. Pretty much they're all just looking for something to bide their time while the wedding clothes and the banquet for Claudio and Hero are being made, in the way of idle nobles. Or something. But it brings us to one of my favorite bits of the play, architecturally.

Act II, scene 3, is brilliantly constructed. It opens and closes with Benedick alone in the garden, and both the start and finish of the scene contain lengthy soliloquies, which prove to contradict one another, thereby reflecting Benedick's change of heart roughly mid-scene.

In the first soliloquy, he expresses dismay and astonishment over Claudio's impending nuptials, and reasserts his complete disinterest in attaching himself to any one woman, and again repeats that he shall never marry.

Bene. . . . One woman is fair, yet I am well; another is wise, yet I am well; another virtuous, yet I am well; but till all graces be in one woman, one woman shall not come in my grace. Rich she shall be, that's certain; wise, or I'll none; virtuous or I'll never cheapen her; fair, or I'll never look on her; mild, or come not near me; noble, or not I for an angel; of good discourse, an excellent musician, and her hair shall be of what color it please God.

Just after that, the Prince, Claudio and Leonato turn up to ensure that Benedick overhears them discussing Beatrice's (then nonexistent) love for Benedick. They leave pleased with the snare they've set, intent on sending Beatrice out to summon Benedick in for dinner. Benedick then engages in an exceedingly amusing soliloquy, whereby he manages to convince himself that he must return Beatrice's alleged love, and also to try to rationally explain away his prior protestations against matrimony, and Beatrice turns up. And . . . action!

Bene. This can be no trick. The conference was sadly borne; they have the truth of this from Hero; they seem to pity the lady. It seems her affections have their full bent. Love me? Why, it must be requited! I hear how I am censured. They say I will bear myself proudly if I perceive the love come from her. They say, too, that she will rather die than give any sign of affection. I did never think to marry. I must not seem proud. Happy are they that hear their detractions and can put them to mending. They say the lady is fair; 'tis a truth, I can bear them witness. And virtuous; 'tis so, I cannot reprove it. And wise, but for loving me; by my troth, it is no addition to her wit, nor no great argument of her folly, for I will be horribly in love with her! I may chance have some odd quirks and remnants of wit broken on me because I have railed so long against marriage, but doth not the appetite alter? A man loves the meat in his youth that he cannot endure in his age. Shall quips and sentences and these paper bullets of the brain awe a man from the career of his humor? No! The world must be peopled. When I said I would die a bachelor, I did not think I would live till I were married. Here comes Beatrice. By this day, she's a fair lady. I do spy some marks of love in her.

[Enter Beatrice]

Beat. Against my will, I am sent to bid you come in to dinner.

Bene. Fair Beatrice, I thank you for your pains.

Beat. I took no more pains for those thanks than you take pains to thank me. If it had been painful, I would not have come.

Bene. You take pleasure then in the message?

Beat. Yea, just as much as you may take upon a knife's point and choke a daw withal. You have no stomach, signior. Fare you well. [She exits]

Bene. Ha! "Against my will I am sent to bid you come in to dinner." There's a double meaning in that. That's as much as to say "Any pains that I take for you is as easy as thanks." . . .

Within this single act, Benedick has moved from mocking the very notion of love and marriage to determining that he is (or will be) madly in love with Beatrice. Shortly thereafter, the women (Hero and Ursula) pull the same stunt with Beatrice. You can catch the discourse between the men in the garden, Benedick's responding soliloquy and conversation with Beatrice, and the conversation between Ursula and Hero here:

Now for some transitional scenes

Convinced that the other party is actually in love with them, Benedick and Beatrice curb their more hostile behaviors and determine individually that they are, in fact, in love with the other person, for which they are each abused by their friends. The Prince and Claudio taunt Benedick that he must be in love, and Benedick heads off with Leonato (most likely to discuss the possibility of courting Beatrice, who is Leonato's niece and ward).

Meanwhile, back at Don John's lair (okay – he doesn't actually have a lair, but he does have a nefarious plan to thwart Claudio's wedding): With the help of henchman Borachio (who will secure the unwitting assistance of his some-time girlfriend and Hero's lady's maid, Margaret), the evil Don John plans to con Claudio and the Prince into believing that Hero is doing the nasty with another man. *cue evil cackling*

Will Benedick and Beatrice confess their love? Will Claudio marry Hero, or will Don John's evil scheme of thwartage carry the day? Tune in tomorrow, and brush up your Shakespeare!

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Brush Up Your Shakespeare in June - Introduction

Back on May 11th, I asked whether anyone was interested in brushing up their Shakespeare, and quite a number of people said yes (19 on that post alone, plus more after I made the official announcement on May 17th that I was moving forward with it.

What to expect in the way of posts:

In my post on May 24th, I posted a list of twelve plays that I'll be talking about in June. In prepping the first one I'm going to talk about - which turns out to be Much Ado About Nothing, by the way - I realized that some, if not all, of the play-related posts are going to need to be split into two parts, because otherwise they will be overbearingly long. Today, I set up a schedule for myself, just so I'd know which posts to write and code next, etc. The first three plays will be Much Ado About Nothing, Romeo & Juliet, and Love's Labour's Lost, which takes us through next weekend.

What to know about these posts: some of them will be long, but none of them will be anywhere near as long as the actual play. They will include commentary as well as summary and quotes, and now and again they will include movie clips as well. There will be daily posts, and sometimes more than one post in a day, since in addition to the 12 plays, I'll be talking about Shakespeare's sonnets every Friday (at least), as well as other of his poems (sometimes contained within the plays, but easily split out), and about his life. To say nothing of mentioning some of the Shakespeare-related books I have in mind, which includes manga, graphic novels, adaptations, and books that happen to include a lot of Shakespearian references. And yes, Lisa Mantchev, I'm looking at you, among others.

Some background stuff about the Bard's writing:

Nobody alive today knows how many plays or poems Shakespeare actually wrote. Thirty-eight plays survive, as do 154 sonnets plus two longer poems, Venus and Adonis and Lucrece, but it is known that several of his plays (including Love's Labour's Won) have been lost, and it is entirely likely that additional poems were lost as well.

Shakespeare's plays include a mix of prose and poetry. Quite a lot of characters speak in verse of one sort or another. High-born characters (princes and kings, lords and ladies, nobles of all sort) tend to speak in blank verse (another name for unrhymed iambic pentameter, in which each line of dialogue contains five iambic feet: taDUM taDUM taDUM taDUM taDUM). That said, there are a number of times in the plays where people who are speaking in verse use other forms - rhymed couplets, perhaps (like some of the dialogue between Hermia and Helena in A Midsummer Night's Dream), or sonnets (like some of the early dialogue between Romeo and Juliet), or trochaic tetrameter (four trochaic feet, or trochees, per line: DUMta DUMta DUMta DUMta) like the witches in Macbeth. People who are mad often spout nonsense or sing songs, like Ophelia in Hamlet or Lear in King Lear. Smart people tend to have the most complicated sorts of lines (think Hamlet or Richard III), and dumb people and/or comical characters tend to speak in prose, sometimes with mistakes involved (think Dogberry in Much Ado About Nothing).

Shakespeare wrote using an inordinate amount of puns, sexual innuendo, and double (and in some cases, triple) meanings. Words that today have only one meaning (e.g., "nunnery" = convent, "lap" (n.) = lap) in his day often had two (e.g., "nunnery" = convent OR whorehouse, lap (n.) = lap OR vagina). Some of them are easier to see than others - references to swords, for instance, are in many contexts clearly references to penises as well. Some of the scenes that are today seen as tedious are so only because we've lost the second meanings that Shakespeare's audiences would have known. I learned this while reading Filthy Shakespeare: Shakespeare's Most Outrageous Sexual Puns by Pauline Kiernan, as well as reading other commentaries (including but not limited to those in the Folger Shakespeare Library editions of the plays and poems I'll be discussing). I'll be sure to mention some of that as I move through the plays.

Even though Shakespeare consciously included so many double and triple entendres, knowledge of them is not required in order to understand and appreciate his plays (although in some cases, it certainly enhances the understanding of the subtext of the scenes, which is often as important as what's being said). If all you have at hand is the original text of a play, reference to a dictionary is advisable when an unfamiliar term comes up, or a word that is familiar on its face seems to be used in an usual way. The Folger Shakespeare Library editions include unfamiliar terms and phrases on the facing page, and the No Fear Shakespeare editions put all of the lines into English that can be understood by contemporary audiences on the facing page, although in many cases double (and triple) meanings are completely lost that way; still, if Elizabethan English is too hard for you to parse, they can be a godsend.

My hope for these posts:

Besides taking up a lot of my time in the reading and typing and coding (which I can assure you, given my husband's health situation, is an entirely welcome diversion and a large part of why I set the task for myself in the first place), I was hoping to improve my own understanding and appreciation of Shakespeare's writing, as well as increasing my familiarity with some of his work. I confess to a nerdy desire to be able to quote him a bit more often. This nerdiness is not mine alone; I say that not just because of the authors I know who invoke the Bard in their own writing, but also based on my telephone conversation with my brother, in which I told him what I was up to for June. He immediately launched into the St. Crispian's day speech from Henry V. I really ought to challenge him to a nerd-off some time. But I digress.

One of my other hopes was that the posts would spark some serious discussion in the comments. So I hope that if you take the time to read some of the posts, you'll consider dropping a comment or two. Talk amongst yourselves, even. Because I know for a fact that there are folks out there who know this stuff way better than I do, even if they aren't the ones initiating the posts. And I know there are folks out there who have questions about meanings and contexts and subtexts and character development and more. And probably even a few nerds like myself, who'd like to find a few killer lines to spout now and again.

Later on today, the first play-related post of the month: Much Ado About Nothing, part 1. I hope you'll stop back for it.

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Monday, May 25, 2009

In Flanders Fields - a Memorial Day poem

I know I've posted this poem twice before (most recently as part of my "Building a Poetry Collection" series for National Poetry Month), but it seemed appropriate for Memorial Day. If you're interested in the biography of the poet and more information about this poem, I hope you'll read my prior post.

In Flanders Fields
by John McCrae

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved, and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Quoteskimming - the SBBT edition

This week I had the privilege opportunity great fun to be able to participate in the Summer Blog Blast Tour again, for which I interviewed three authors who I consider rock stars, basically. Here are some quotes from those three interviews, plus a couple from other interviews that took place this week

From my interview with Carrie Jones, author of NEED (and several other wonderful books) on Monday:

A lot of contemporary fantasy novels for adults have incredibly confident, butt-kicking heroines but that dominance hasn’t completely taken over the young adult genre. There are still a lot of damsels in distress, which is okay, but I wanted some variety, some female leads who become tough and still are girls, who have bravery and empathy. Zara’s development is like those adult protagonists for a reason. Girls deserve stories where the butt-kicking and the saving isn’t ALWAYS done by the guys. They deserve stories where the female isn’t always the damsel in distress. She can be in distress sometimes, but not all the time.

There are teens out there who are smart, athletic, socially conscious, and whose lives aren’t defined by their boyfriends. They deserve stories where the main character is like them.

From my interview with Maggie Stiefvater, author of LAMENT and several forthcoming novels, on Wednesday:

[I]n a lot of urban fantasy, the female lead has to become a super kick-butt leather-bodice-wearing chick in order to have the same level of coolness as her supernatural hero. I didn’t want Grace to be that girl. I wanted her to be a strong, level-headed character who was cool without leather and rivets and Taekwondo. So Grace became this extremely practical, loyal girl capable of great things in a very ordinary way . . . and she also has fun backstory which I will NOT TELL YOU.

From my interview with Ryan Mecum, author of ZOMBIE HAIKU and the forthcoming VAMPIRE HAIKU, on Friday:

2. How did you come up with the idea to write ZOMBIE HAIKU?

The idea came from my wanting to write haiku in the voice of a broken and gross narrator. Zombie films have a special place in my heart, and giving a zombie a poetic (yet jarring) voice seemed like a wonderful pairing.

I love the novelty and gimmick of the 5-, 7-, 5-syllable structured haiku. Haiku has become the Las Vegas of the poetry landscape, where it is mostly cheap and clichéd. However, through that you can also find beauty that shines a bit brighter due to its limitations. A great haiku is like finding a circus freak with a wonderful singing voice. A great zombie haiku is like that, too, but the circus freak wants to eat you.

From Colleen's interview with Jenny Davidson over at Chasing Ray:

I find biography a particularly evocative genre - a well-written biography offers a whole slice of social and cultural history as well...

From Vivian's interview with Kristin Cashore over at Hip Writer Mama:

Writing is all about listening to the voices that tell you you can’t do it, you’ll never do it, what you’re trying to do is impossible, particularly for a talentless bonehead like you; saying to the voices, “Well, aren’t you sad and pathetic, the way you’ll do anything to stop me? You’re wrong, you know. I can do it. Here, have a hug”; accepting that the voices will never go away and that a part of you will always believe them; and writing anyway.

You can see the full schedule of Summer Blog Blast Tour interviews over at Chasing Ray. Colleen Mondor, organizer extraordinaire, has even annotated them for you, so you can see a bit of what's going on at each of the "stops" on the tour.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Interview with Ryan Mecum

In March, I reviewed ZOMBIE HAIKU by Ryan Mecum, a string of several hundred haiku that details two men's transitions from able-bodied mortal to brain-seeking zombie. I also posted a separate review at Guys Lit Wire. I found the book mildly nauseating and thoroughly, brilliantly entertaining. Come this summer, Ryan's second book, VAMPIRE HAIKU is set to hit the shelves. If you like haiku and/or the undead, these books are for you.

Today, a Poetry Friday interview with a poet, who just happens to be a stop on today's Summer Blog Blast Tour. Without further ado, the interview with Ryan:

1. Your first book, ZOMBIE HAIKU, is vastly entertaining (sometimes in a funny way, sometimes in a disgusting manner, sometimes in a disgustingly funny manner). If forced under imminent threat of zombie mutilation to categorize it, would you describe it as a collection of poetry that happens to tell a story, or as a story that happens to utilize poems? Or, if you prefer, do you consider yourself first to be a novelist or a poet?

If for some truly bizarre reason a zombie mutilation forced me to categorize Zombie Haiku, which oddly enough happened about a month ago (swine flu situation, it mostly all worked out [lost a few cats]), I would say that the book is a collection of small poems that are like photographs from a terrible vacation. Although many of the photographs stand well on their own, it is best to view them in order from a photo album. Zombie Haiku is a collection of gross little poems that tell the larger story of a zombie holocaust. I hope was to share lots of intimate moments that combine to create something epic.

2. How did you come up with the idea to write ZOMBIE HAIKU?

The idea came from my wanting to write haiku in the voice of a broken and gross narrator. Zombie films have a special place in my heart, and giving a zombie a poetic (yet jarring) voice seemed like a wonderful pairing.

I love the novelty and gimmick of the 5-, 7-, 5-syllable structured haiku. Haiku has become the Las Vegas of the poetry landscape, where it is mostly cheap and clichéd. However, through that you can also find beauty that shines a bit brighter due to its limitations. A great haiku is like finding a circus freak with a wonderful singing voice. A great zombie haiku is like that, too, but the circus freak wants to eat you.

3. Which came first, the idea to write a book about zombies, the idea of telling a story through a series of haiku, or the idea of a multimedia sort of format (including photos and drawings as well as words)?

I write as a creative outlet, and in my writing folder on my computer, I kept adding poems to a word document of zombie haiku. The original intent wasn’t to tell a large story of a zombie plague, nor was it to write an entire book of them. My original idea was not to have all the haiku intertwine to tell a larger story, and that concept came later. I had hundreds of gross little zombie poems, which I then re-arranged like a puzzle to tell one story.

Lisa Kuhn, the book designer and packager, is a friend of mine. She once asked me if I would be interested in working on some highly designed books together. I looked in my writing folder, and there was my zombie haiku smiling back at me. She threw something together, and we sold a book.

The design was originally rather minimal, but as the story grew, so did the blood splatter. Lisa went through great lengths to make sure the dead spiders and maggots all made it into the book. I think she did a wonderful job, and her design on the book has even won the How Design Award.

4. I particularly enjoyed some of the early haiku in ZOMBIE HAIKU that borrow from poems written by others. For example:

The woods are lovely.
They are dark and they are deep.
How I love the woods.

How did you envision the owner of the journal at the start of the book? What age was he? Why was he keeping a haiku journal?

I didn’t give much description to the owner of the journal on purpose. I didn’t want the reader to get too attached to him because I didn’t want the reader frustrated when he died. The early haiku are playfully cheesy with hopes to paint the narrator as a dorky hopeless romantic everyman. As far as how old he was, your guess is as good as mine, but I like to picture him in his late 20’s.

5. Did you yourself keep a haiku journal as a teen?

I did indeed keep haiku journals while in college. I simply cannot not write haiku. I’ve been writing them for about 15 years now. I twitter in haiku. It’s a sickness.

6. The Fake Poet Zombie Haiku at your website cracks me up, as do some of the Neat Writers Write Zombie Haiku entries. How did you manage to score zombie haiku from writers such as Billy Collins, Michael Ian Black and Christopher Moore (to name but a few)?

I wrote them and asked. Almost every person I wrote asking for a zombie haiku sent one back my way. I was surprised and thankful. It really meant a lot to me. The zombie haiku from Billy Collins actually arrived by mail, and when I opened the letter I almost cried. I love so many of him poems, and get a poem from him written to me was something special. I met him a few months ago, and he told me he has a copy of Zombie Haiku in his bathroom. I can think of no better compliment for a book of poetry.

[KRF: I heart Billy Collins as well. (I have almost all of his books, and all of them signed as well.) But hearing your story made me love him still more. And I definitely would've cried, had I been in your shoes.]

7. Do you write other poetry as well as haiku?

I do. None are published, but I would like to change that one day. I have dozens of circus poems that I think would make a wonderful book. They're free verse and they are more adult Water For Elephants-toned.

8. What can you tell us about your forthcoming book, VAMPIRE HAIKU?

It’s similar in style and structure to Zombie Haiku, but I think it’s a much more fun story. The larger story of Zombie Haiku is a personalized account of a stereotypical zombie apocalypse scenario. Vampire Haiku is more of its own original story. Surprisingly, it’s also very American. Because vampires can live for centuries, the story takes place throughout the entirety of American history. With that changing yet constant setting as the backbone of the story, the book became a sort of twisted love letter to the USA. That being said, it is basically lots of silly haiku about a vampire drinking lots of blood from lots of necks. It comes out in August and I’m excited for people to read it. The haiku are written by a man on the Mayflower, who is turned into a vampire on the boat. The story follows him as he intertwines and causes lots of American history.

[KRF: You can read the first few pages of William Butten's haiku journal using the "Search Inside" feature at Amazon. If you do, you'll see what the pages look like at the start of the journal (I suspect additional blood and whatnot as the book progresses), as well as getting a feel for the artwork and haiku. Like these:

While loading the boat,
I notice some packed coffins.
Pessimistic bunch.


Katherine Carver,
gorgeous wife of John Carver,
drank blood from my neck.]

9. How did a nice youth minister like yourself end up writing verse novels about the undead anyhow?

Who said I was nice? Just kidding… maybe.

I question Christians who have little interest in creepy things. The Bible is almost nothing but creepy stories tied together with a string of hope. Some people point to Stephen King books, maybe Edgar Allen Poe books, but no book is more terrifying than the Bible. Plagues, demons, murder, the walking dead, a God that creates floods with the purpose of drowning most of humanity, fish that swallow people whole… the Bible had a large effect on my love for stories that creep me out.

10. What's next?

I’m currently waist deep into my first novel.

Speed Round:

Cheese or chocolate?
People is pick cheese are wrong.
Coffee or tea? Mountain Dew.
Cats or dogs? Dogs, but only if they don’t live in my house.
Favorite color? Cauliflower Green.
Favorite snack food? Green Cauliflower.
Favorite ice cream? Any that come with little gum chiclets in the mix.
Water or soda? Show me a pool filled with Mountain Dew, and I will cry.
What's in your CD player/on iTunes right now? Titus Andronicus [You can listen to some of their tunes at their MySpace]
What's the last movie you memorized lines from? In Bruges:
"I saw your midget today."
"You completely promise to jump into the canal?"

The other stops on the Summer Blog Blast Tour today:
Jenny Davidson at Chasing Ray
Rebecca Stead at Fuse Number 8
Lauren Myracle at Bildungsroman
Kristin Cashore at Hip Writer Mama
Rachel Caine at The Ya Ya Yas

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

400th Anniversary of Shakespeare's Sonnets

Today is the 400th anniversary of the publication of Shakespeare's sonnets by Thomas Thorpe, who may or may not have had Shakespeare's permission to publish the 154 sonnets in the collection.

As many of you already know, June is going to be (almost) all Shakespeare all the time here at Writing and Ruminating. But it seemed to me that the anniversary of such an auspicious day as this, the quad-centennial of the first publication of Shakespeare's sonnets, deserves some marking. And so, in addition to the announcement, here's Shakespeare's Sonnet 38:

Sonnet 38
by William Shakespeare

How can my muse want subject to invent,
While thou dost breathe, that pour'st into my verse
Thine own sweet argument, too excellent
For every vulgar paper to rehearse?
O, give thyself the thanks, if aught in me
Worthy perusal stand against thy sight,
For who's so dumb that cannot write to thee
When thou thyself dost give invention light?
Be thou the tenth muse, ten times more in worth
Than those old nine which rhymers invocate;
And he that calls on thee, let him bring forth
Eternal numbers to outlive long date.
  If my slight muse do please these curious days,
  The pain be mine, but thine shall be the praise.

This poem is one of the "Fair Youth" poems. In it, Shakespeare claims that his own muse cannot lack inspiration so long as the fair youth lives, and claims that if the youth finds anything in the poems that is praiseworthy, he ought to thank himself for being such excellent inspiration. The form of the poem is the Shakespearian sonnet, written in iambic pentameter, and rhyming ABABCDCDEFEFGG, with the turn (or volta) occurring in the start of the ninth line, where he says "Be thou the tenth muse, ten times more in worth/than those old nine which rhymers invocate". Earlier references to a muse are more in the nature of the spirit of creativity; in line nine, he returns to the more classical conception of the Greek muses of poetry, music and literature (think Erato, Calliope, Polyhymnia and the rest), and says that the fair youth is fit to be immortalized as the tenth muse, ten times more powerful than the old Greek muses combined.

Whoever the fair youth was (and my money's on Henry Wriothesley, third Earl of Southampton, patron of Shakespeare's and owner of the portrait, left, recently discovered and believed to be Shakespeare painted during his lifetime), he made quite a muse. The majority of Shakespeare's sonnets are written for him, and they are pretty wonderful poems.

I hope you'll all come back in June for Shakespeare month. (Meanwhile, I'll be working on a name and logo for it. Because I like to waste time that way.)

Interview with Maggie Stiefvater

Today, I've got an interview with Maggie Stiefvater, author of LAMENT and of the forthcoming novels BALLAD and SHIVER. Despite her fondness for one-word titles, Maggie is actually quite chatty, and has given answers using more than one word. LAMENT actually just got itself a gorgeous, eye-catching new cover. As a result, I've seen it faced at local Barnes and Noble stores that didn't used to have the book in stock. But enough fangirling over the new cover – let's get to the interview, shall we?

So, this interview is trickier than some as I've only been able to read your first novel, LAMENT, and the short fiction you've posted at Merry Sisters of Fate. (Ordinarily I read as much as I can possibly get my hands on, but alas, no ARCs for SHIVER or BALLAD, so I'm flying in the dark, I'm afraid.) Nevertheless, I shall soldier on.

1. Your first novel, published by Flux, was LAMENT: The Faerie Queen's Deception. In it, we follow Deirdre Monaghan, a talented 16-year old harpist who finds that she's a "cloverhand" – a person who can see faeries – and her developing awareness of her "gift", as well as her relationship with Luke, a soulless faerie assassin, and with her best friend James, who has gifts of his own. LAMENT includes references to Irish folk songs, Celtic folk and fairy tales, Alexander the Great, Thomas the Rhymer (a Scots prophet), Shakespeare and Spenser.

Why the interest in Celtic and English legend? Did the initial drafts of the manuscript include all of these elements, or was that something that evolved over time?

Oh man. The initial drafts were even geekier. I’m a folklore magpie, and I love finding similar threads in different tales and myths and poking them into plot holes. I’m afraid this only continues unabated in BALLAD.

Actually, it’s interesting, because one of the big challenges for me when writing SHIVER, which deals with a quasi-scientific (I’ve always wanted to use “quasi”) explanation for werewolves, was that I couldn’t fall back on fun legend for my plot twists or character backgrounds. I had to – gasp – rely on real life.

2. The follow-up to LAMENT is BALLAD: A Gathering of Faerie (due out on October 1st), which is set at an exclusive school for humans possessing other-worldly gifts. From reading your blog and website, I know that the main character in BALLAD is not Dee/Deirdre, but rather James, and that it involves James's entanglement with a faerie muse named Nuala. Nuala feeds off the souls of creative young men just like James, trading her inspiration for pieces of the men, but finds herself so intrigued by James (a talented piper who has refused her "gift") that she begins to offer James inspiration at no cost to himself. Meanwhile, James is trying to work out the precise nature of Dee's role in a deadly faerie game, including a need to choose one girl to save.

How much do the elements that were in LAMENT come into play in BALLAD? Is there further Celtic myth and music? What other influences can we expect to see?

There is much, much Celtic myth and old stuff in BALLAD, of a generally darker variety than in LAMENT. Readers will spot references to Herne/Cernunnos, Leda & the Swan, Hamlet, phoenix (the mythical creature, not the sunny vacation spot for snowbirds), and more, much more! BALLAD: now with 20% more folklore and 0 grams of fat!

Also, the reader can definitely expect to see Dee in an entirely different light. She’s still very much the center of the faerie conundrum, and so even without a point of view, she’s a huge player. However, I do love me some evil Nuala.

3. Having read your blog and website, I know that you yourself play the Celtic harp (like Deirdre) and the bagpipes (like James). How long have you been playing each of the instruments? What's your favorite tune to play on the harp? On the pipes? When (as in LAMENT) you craft an original work, do you set it to music in real life?

I am sort of a multi-instrumental person. I think of myself as a musician in general rather than just a player of one particular thing (although I think the pipes are my best instrument). I’ve been playing both the pipes and the harp since I was about 16; since a car crash, I’ve had to put the pipes down though, much to my sadness. I still play a bunch of other things, but the pipes really were me.

Favorite tune on the harp changes depending on my mood! I have a lovely bong-y low minor air that I’ve completely forgotten the name of. And “The South Wind” is a crowd favorite. I love all jigs. When I die, put “she loved jigs” on my gravestone, please.

And yep, most of the original music you see mentioned in my books has a real tune that originated in my living room or my shower. Sam in SHIVER constantly crafts lyrics, and many of those have tunes that go with them. Not that you’ll ever hear me sing. In public.

Will there be a further book (or books) involving Deirdre and/or James?

I am actually in the planning stages of one right now, called FUGUE. For the moment. It’s all very nebulous at the moment, but it will of course involve homicidal faeries and kissing, as all the books in the series do. Also, water, I think. BALLAD was all about FIRE and BURNING which was very entertaining, but I’m in the mood for another element now.

5. In August comes the release from Scholastic of SHIVER, the first book in the SHIVER series, which follows the relationship of Grace, a teenaged girl, with a pack of wolves who live in the forest near her house during the winter, and with Sam, a teenaged boy with extremely familiar-looking yellow eyes. In your guest-appearance at Lori Devoti's blog in April, you mentioned that your werewolves aren't particularly "were-" in nature, but are more shape-shifters – either all human (for a few brief months) or all wolf. Knowing how you came to figure out more about the wolves of Mercy Falls, I'm wondering more about Grace. What can you tell us about where she came from?

Actually, Grace’s character is a response to Sam’s coolness: namely, he turns into a wolf! Whoo! That is cool! However, in a lot of urban fantasy, the female lead has to become a super kick-butt leather-bodice-wearing chick in order to have the same level of coolness as her supernatural hero. I didn’t want Grace to be that girl. I wanted her to be a strong, level-headed character who was cool without leather and rivets and Taekwondo. So Grace became this extremely practical, loyal girl capable of great things in a very ordinary way . . . and she also has fun backstory which I will NOT TELL YOU.

6. Based on your use of the term "werewolf nookie" to describe SHIVER, am I right in categorizing the book as paranormal romance (as opposed to urban fantasy, which is, I believe, the proper label for LAMENT & BALLAD)? In your opinion, how do you differentiate between the categories of paranormal romance and urban fantasy? (I ask because this is often a Burning Question in the minds of both readers and writers of fantasy.)

I’m pretty sure that SHIVER is definitely a paranormal romance, because the point of the book is the love story (I like to call it a love story instead of a romance, as romance implies a happily-ever-after). I think an urban fantasy is a novel that can have significant romantic elements, but the resolution of the romance is not the point of the novel. So I agree with you. LAMENT & BALLAD are not about whether or not the characters end up together, but rather whether or not they end up in one piece. So no amount of nookie will change that.

7. I know that SHIVER was part of a two-book deal with Scholastic, and that you've recently completed revisions for the sequel, LINGER, which is due out in 2010. LINGER is described as a continuation of "the story of the wolves of Mercy Falls". Will we be seeing Grace again in LINGER? Will additional books follow in this series?

I can’t tell you anything about LINGER. I could, but I’d have to transform you into a wolf so you couldn’t speak. Pretty much everything I have to say about LINGER’s plot would be spoilery, which is quite entertaining and maddening, but I can say that it follows the story of the wolves of Mercy Falls and uses at least one of the same narrators (there are two) from SHIVER. And it will be a trilogy, barring alien invasions. The final book is tentatively titledFOREVER right now and I can’t. stop. thinking. about. it.

8. In addition to both the Faerie and Shiver series, you've written a great deal of short fiction over at the Merry Sisters of Fate. I'd have to assume, given your commitment there and the amount of short fiction you've written, that short stories and retellings of fairy tales are of particular interest to you. Why is that, do you think? What's the payoff?

Woof. You ask good questions! Last year at Merry Sisters of Fate, I posted a short story just about every Friday, for a total of 45 short stories. I learned an incredible amount about establishing character in a very short period of time and about writing voice and making every word count. It was amazing. I highly recommend it to the more masochistic writers out there. This year, we’re changing it to two stories a month from each of us, to make it more manageable to readers and us alike, but I wouldn’t have given up last year for anything.

9. What's next?

What’s not? I’m working on a love story that is 90% realistic and 10% paranormal, cooking up FUGUE, working on ideas for FOREVER, doing sketches for a graphic novel called THE OCTOBER COAT, and generally making trouble.

Speed round:

Cheese or chocolate?
Chocolate. Dark as hell, please.
Coffee or tea? Tea. 4 cups a day. Much sugar in it.
Cats or dogs? Dogs. And cats who think they’re dogs.
Favorite color? Black. Is that a color? I’m making it a color.
Favorite snack food? Cookie dough. And tea.
Favorite ice cream? Ben & Jerry’s Chocolate Fudge Brownie. Directly out of the container. Whilst sitting on the couch watching The Princess Bride or Hot Fuzz, preferably.
Water or soda? Water. I’m allergic to preservatives, so soda would make me do twitchy, dying, drooling things.
What's in your CD player/on iTunes right now? A wishy-washy Celtic mix of Loreena McKennitt, Cape Breton music, Cran, John Doyle, and other things that I was using to write the synopsis for FUGUE.
What's the last movie you memorized lines from? Kung Fu Panda.:
“You are free to eat.”
AM I?”

Other stops on the SBBT today:
Barbara O'Connor at Mother Reader
James Kennedy at Fuse Number 8
Rosemary Clement-Moore at Bildungsroman
Jo Knowles at lectitans
Melissa Wyatt at Chasing Ray

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Her Voice and My Voice by Oscar Wilde

Immediately following "Her Voice" in published collections comes "My Voice". I believe that Wilde intended for the poems to be a dialogue, most likely between either his wife or his former girlfriend, noted beauty Florence Balcombe Stoker (she dumped Wilde and married Bram Stoker) and himself. Whether the conversation is based on something that occurred in actuality or is merely played out in his mind, I think it apparent that "Her Voice" was intended by Wilde to be the words of the woman in a failing relationship, and "My Voice" to be his version of events. First the poems, then the analysis. As always, I hope you can read these aloud wherever you are - they are so much better that way, and the first poem in particular is magnificent.

Her Voice
by Oscar Wilde

The wild bee reels from bough to bough
  With his furry coat and his gauzy wing.
Now in a lily-cup, and now
  Setting a jacinth bell a-swing,
    In his wandering;
Sit closer love: it was here I trow
    I made that vow,

Swore that two lives should be like one
  As long as the sea-gull loved the sea,
As long as the sunflower sought the sun,—
  It shall be, I said, for eternity
    ’Twixt you and me!
Dear friend, those times are over and done,
    Love’s web is spun.

Look upward where the poplar trees
  Sway and sway in the summer air,
Here in the valley never a breeze
  Scatters the thistledown, but there
    Great winds blow fair
From the mighty murmuring mystical seas,
    And the wave-lashed leas.

Look upward where the white gull screams,
  What does it see that we do not see?
Is that a star? or the lamp that gleams
  On some outward voyaging argosy,—
    Ah! can it be
We have lived our lives in a land of dreams!
    How sad it seems.

Sweet, there is nothing left to say
  But this, that love is never lost,
Keen winter stabs the breasts of May
  Whose crimson roses burst his frost,
    Ships tempest-tossed
Will find a harbour in some bay,
    And so we may.

And there is nothing left to do
  But to kiss once again, and part,
Nay, there is nothing we should rue,
  I have my beauty,—you your Art,
    Nay, do not start,
One world was not enough for two
    Like me and you.

My Voice
by Oscar Wilde

Within this restless, hurried, modern world
  We took our hearts’ full pleasure—You and I,
And now the white sails of our ship are furled,
  And spent the lading of our argosy.

Wherefore my cheeks before their time are wan,
  For very weeping is my gladness fled,
Sorrow hath paled my lip’s vermilion,
  And Ruin draws the curtains of my bed.

But all this crowded life has been to thee
  No more than lyre, or lute, or subtle spell
Of viols, or the music of the sea
  That sleeps, a mimic echo, in the shell.

Both poems talk about the end of a relationship, but the voices are very different. Completely intentional, of course - that's why he's made clear that he's presenting things in different voices. He doesn't just mean that he's conveying the words of two different people; he's writing from completely different points of view. In "Her Voice", he's not saying, "look, this is what I heard her say," he's saying "as an author, I am stepping into her shoes, and this is how it is from her point of view."

It's not just the structure of the poems, but the word choices and the viewpoint as well. Both parties speak with regret, but it's clear that their points of regret differ. The woman that Wilde channels in "Her Voice" uses far more words and a more embellished way of making her point (as women are often wont to do); the man's version is shorter, and assumes far more of the weight of responsibility for the relationship's failure. The woman seems to indicate that she loves the man, but just can't stay in the relationship anymore; the man seems to feel crushing sorrow, and may be sickly; further, he notes that "Ruin draws the curtains of my bed". All of this comports with the facts of Wilde's life: Having been sent to jail for "gross indecency", he emerged a sickly, ruined man. His wife, who never divorced him, changed her and their sons' last name to Holland, and terminated Wilde's parental rights. Bram Stoker (husband to Florence) remained friendly with Wilde and visited him on the Continent after he left England.

Discussion of form:
In "Her Voice", the first four lines and the sixth line each have four stressed (or accented syllables), and the fifth and seventh line of each stanza has two stressed syllables. The short lines are mostly iambs (taDUM), but not always. Each of the six stanzas uses the following end-rhyme scheme within it: ABABBAA. The fluidity of the form (with the two shorter lines and the way the end-rhymes mix about) gives the poem a lightness, as well as a more emotional feel due to the ebb and flux of the lines.

In "My Voice", there are only three stanzas (half as many as in "Her Voice"), and they are written in quatrains (four-line stanzas) using a very traditional rhyme and metre: ABAB rhyme in iambic pentameter (five iambic feet per line, taDUM taDUM taDUM taDUM taDUM). "His" poem sounds more regimented and less emotional as a result of its rigid metre scheme.

In addition to discussing parting and loss, both poems make reference to dreams. In "Her Voice," the speaker talks about how she promised forever (and oh the swoony goodness of those declarations about sunflowers and seagulls!), but now feels that they were living inside a dream. The real world has turned up to burst the bubble: "Ah! can it be/We have lived our lives in a land of dreams! How sad it seems." Now that she's living in reality, she's come to take her leave. "Sweet, there is nothing left to say/But this, that love is never lost". She adds references to nature's cycles (May's roses and winter's frost) and to the idea of ships finding safe harbor, both of which are references to life going on. The final stanza, "And there is nothing left to do/But to kiss once again, and part,/Nay, there is nothing we should rue/I have my beauty,—you your Art" invokes for me echoes of Byron's "When We Two Parted", particularly when I read the two poems together and put together the ideas of ruin and paleness and the sense of wasting that is in "My Voice". (That's just my association, by the way - there's no evidence that Wilde went there himself.)

As a final point, I want to look at the final stanza of "My Voice", where the male speaker (who I will assume is actually Wilde) observes that while he is left wasted and in ruin, the woman is free to move on with her life. The problems that have brought them to the point of parting are a dream-like sort of noise, that she can set aside and move away from. One can, after all, hear the ocean inside a shell, but one can also put the shell down and walk away from it.

But all this crowded life has been to thee
  No more than lyre, or lute, or subtle spell
Of viols, or the music of the sea
  That sleeps, a mimic echo, in the shell.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Interview with Carrie Jones

I first interviewed you for The Edge of the Forest e-zine back in 2007, a month or so before Tips on Having a Gay (ex)Boyfriend came out. At that time, Girl, Hero and Love (and Other Uses for Duct Tape) were still in production with Flux. What a difference two years makes – in that time, Tips was released (and won the 2008 Maine Literary Award and Independent Booksellers Award), Girl, Hero and Love were released as well, and in December of 2008, your first fantasy novel, Need, was released by Bloomsbury. Rather than go over anything about Tips and Love and Girl, Hero, I thought we'd talk about fantasy today, and about what's next. This is not quite as easy as it sounds, since Jeri Smith-Ready did such a kickass interview with you back in December and the folks over at My Favorite Author did a great Need-based interview earlier in May, but here goes.

1. The main character in Need, Zara, is a pretty self-actualized, proactive girl. She's smart, she's athletic, she's socially conscious, and she really doesn't take a lot of crap from anyone, and I have to confess to loving her for rushing out into the world to threaten that if anything happened to Nick, she would kick somebody's ass. What were your considerations when creating a female main character for your fantasy novel?

A lot of contemporary fantasy novels for adults have incredibly confident, butt-kicking heroines but that dominance hasn’t completely taken over the young adult genre. There are still a lot of damsels in distress, which is okay, but I wanted some variety, some female leads who become tough and still are girls, who have bravery and empathy. Zara’s development is like those adult protagonists for a reason. Girls deserve stories where the butt-kicking and the saving isn’t ALWAYS done by the guys. They deserve stories where the female isn’t always the damsel in distress. She can be in distress sometimes, but not all the time.

There are teens out there who are smart, athletic, socially conscious, and whose lives aren’t defined by their boyfriends. They deserve stories where the main character is like them.

Plus, Zara would’ve kicked my butt if I had written her any other way.

2. My M is fond of saying that you write "the very best boyfriends ever". She fell in love with Tom in Tips and Love, with Paolo in Girl, Hero, and most definitely with Nick (and a little bit with Devyn as well) in Need. Care to tell us how you do that? Also, any chance you'll be writing a no-good boyfriend any time soon?

Sigh! She is so nice. She makes me want to happy dance when I hear that.

I don’t make cool guys consciously. I think I approach them like all my characters – I think of them as real. I try to make them three-dimensional, not just narrow shells, or play things. I really like men. I have a lot of guy friends. (I have a lot of female friends, too! Don’t worry! I am not a girl hater). All my guy characters are influenced by REAL LIFE guys I know. I think my love for my friends is part of what comes through when I’m writing those male characters. Plus, I think good guys deserve to be represented. It’s too easy to fall into the ‘one dimensional’ boyfriend trap. So, I fight against it.

And honestly? I fall in love with all of my guy characters, too. I am easy. I swoon when Nick does nice things. It’s a bit pathetic actually.

One of the works-in-progress that I’m doing is told in the voice of a guy who is a bit off. He’s basically a stalker. I’m in love with him, too. That’s how easy I am. Anyway, he’s the closest thing I have to a yucky boyfriend, even though he isn’t technically a boyfriend.

3. This is a spoilery sort of question, people, so if you haven't read Need and want to avoid all mention of its plot, avert your eyes! One of my favorite characters in Need is Zara's friend, Issie, who appears not to have any fantastical or magical properties. I confess to kind of wishing that she were a were-bunny, because that concept made me laugh aloud. Can you tell us if Issie turns out to have some sort of other heredity (i.e., is another form of Shining One), or is she merely mortal? Or must we wait for Captivate to come out this December?

Were bunnies would be super cool, wouldn’t they?

I can’t believe you’re asking! That is sooooooo spoilery.

Bad Kelly. Bad.

Carrie signing books at NESCBWI Conference in 2008

4. If you had to categorize Need, would you call it paranormal romance based on the relationship between Nick and Zara, or urban fantasy because it's set a fantasy set in the contemporary world, and one of the key story lines is Zara's quest to learn the truth/not get dead (even though it's set in rural Maine, and not in a city)? As a further question, do those categories matter to you as a writer when you're in the process of developing or writing a book, or are they just important after the fact and/or for certain categories of readers?

Urck. I am no good at the categories or at labeling things. It always feels so confining, like if you call NEED a PARANORMAL ROMANCE you must now have every book of the series fall into that PARANORMAL ROMANCE format. I think this story could go either way. It’s about multiple things (finding yourself, finding love, solving a bit of a mystery, not getting dead). If I had put some strudel in there I could have said it was a STRUDEL-BASED, SUSPENSEFUL, COMING-OF-AGE, LOVE STORY. But, I totally screwed that up. Next time there will be strudel.

I don’t think about categories at all when I write, which is probably a bad thing, marketing-wise. When I write a first draft I just get swept in by the story. When I’m revising is when I think more about the readers, or when my editor, Michelle Nagler, tells me things like, “You can NOT have this happen. This makes the book R-rated. Believe me! No, seriously, Carrie. You can’t. Are you listening, Carrie?”

5. What, if anything, can you tell us about Captivate, the sequel to Need?

Well, I’m still revising it, but I can tell you that:

1. What happens in it surprises me a lot.
2. Zara becomes even more of a butt kicker.
3. Bad stuff happens.
4. Someone dies.
5. She deals with some interesting pixies.

6. Do you foresee yourself writing any future fantasy novels? If so, do you have an interest in world-building? Why or why not?

I think I’d be horrible at the high fantasy that requires a lot of world building. I might try it sometime as a big experiment, but when I even try to make up names for totally different worlds I start cracking up. They all sound really Tolkien-y or just start sounding silly. I like the aspects of world-building that are like a puzzle but I am such an inpatient writer and I always want to get to the character changes and action that I don’t know if I can take the appropriate time to do that.

That said, all novels require world building, even the realistic ones.

That said, I still think I’d stink at it, which is why I’d only try it sometime (when I have time) as an experiment.

NEED was a big experiment, too, actually. I wanted to see if I could write something that wasn’t contemporary and realistic. I wrote it on a bit of a whim. I have written a couple other fantasy novels on whims, too, but they haven’t been submitted to editors yet. My poor agent (Edward Necarsulmer IV of McIntosh and Otis) probably screams inside when he sees another manuscript of mine come across his desk. There’s a bit of a backlog.

I guess the answer to your question is that I love writing fantasy and I hope to publish more. I just wrote an essay for HUNGER MOUNTAIN (the Vermont College Journal of Arts & Letters) about why I like to write it.

7. In addition to Captivate, am I correct that you've got a few other books in the works? What can we expect to see next?

I do. None are under contract though. There’s one story similar to NEED in structure but it’s actually science fiction. There’s a mystery. There’s some contemporary realism. There’s a book I co-wrote with the super cool Steve Wedel [(), author of The Werewolf Saga]. My agent is about to shop one around. Basically:

1. I have no idea if any editor will actually buy any of them.
2.I have no idea if I’ll ever get anything published again.
3.I have no self confidence about getting books published. I’m just so super psyched that I have ANY out there at all. Seriously. It seems so crazy and lucky.
4. I hope I get more published though.

Man, I sure hope you get more books published, too, and I'm not just saying that as a friend, but also as a fan of your work. Plus I don't want to hear M moaning about her favorite author's failure to publish more books. (And yes, you are her favorite living author. Probably her favorite author. Period.)

8. Last year, you campaigned for public office in the State of Maine. Did your experience on the campaign trail strengthen or weaken your political viewpoints? Will any of that experience make it into a future YA novel?

I spent a lot of time knocking on people’s doors. You learn a lot of things about people when you knock on over 2,500 doors. You learn that:

1. There are a lot of good people out there.
2. There is a lot of poverty, people who work but just can’t afford things like gas or oil. (I live in a rural district in Northern Maine. It is cold here and you have to drive everywhere).
3. Some people will hate for no reason.
4. Some people will love for no reason.

I also learned that a lot of people come to the door naked and occasionally you will meet a psycho killer.

What I learned about myself is that I am not meant to be a politician. I wanted to help people by working through the legislative system; I wanted to make their lives better, but I wasn’t willing to create the tougher, outer persona that people need to win elections here. I wanted to just be me and win. I didn’t want to run a negative campaign. I didn’t want to cheat or do anything slimy. For me, the entire campaign was an exercise in self realization. No. I am not a tailor-made politician. But, yes, I am a person who is passionate and goofy and who cares. That’s okay.

It made my core political beliefs stronger. I believe that government has a role in helping people’s lives. It also made me a big fan in compromise and respect for all political beliefs and ideals from all political parties. I did really well in a political district that doesn’t ever vote for my political party. I gathered more votes than anyone had before. That means a lot to me.

9. What's next?

Right now I’m revising CAPTIVATE, trying to write a novel in short stories, and trying to find time to sleep. I really like sleep. Sleep is my friend but we haven’t been hanging out much lately.

Speed round. We played this before, but let's play again, in case any answers have changed.

My answers ALWAYS change

Cheese or chocolate? I am currently a fan of American cheese. It hides culinary sins quite well because it is one.
Coffee or tea? Sadly neither. Caffeine gives me seizures.
Cats or dogs? Do you want to start a war in my house?
Favorite color? Purple ‘cause I like that book, The Color Purople.
Favorite snack food? Yogurt, Breyers Yo Crunch 100 calorie kind
Favorite ice cream? Skinny Cow
Water or soda? Water. Wow! I sound so healthy! Ha!
What's in your CD player/on iTunes right now? Glue (Carrie is friends with lead rapper, Adeem (pronounced A D M), who says on their MySpace page that he writes music for "people with panic attacks and women who like the pixies and vote for Barack Obama" – hey! that sounds like me and Carrie! No wonder I like what I hear over there.)
What's the last movie you memorized lines from? Well, I just saw Star Trek last night and I have these lines in my head because they really apply to Zara:
Spock’s dad says:
You will always be a child of two worlds, and fully capable of deciding your own destiny. The question you face is: which path will you choose?

And then the Capt Pike guy says to Kirk:
You've always had a hard time finding your place in this world, haven't you? Never knowing your true worth. You can settle for less in ordinary life, or do you feel like you were meant for something better? Something special.

Many thanks to Carrie for coming by for this interview. To my way of thinking, she's something special indeed.

Other stops on the Summer Blog Blast Tour today:

Andrew Mueller at Chasing Ray
Kekla Magoon at Fuse Number 8
Amber Benson at Bildungsroman
Greg van Eekhout () at Shaken & Stirred

And don't forget the Guys Lit Wire Book Fair for Boys benefiting the male teens incarcerated in LA County's juvenile justice system. The fair continues to run all week.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Homework on the Bard

Last Monday, I asked whether folks (besides me) were interested in brushing up their Shakespeare in the merry month of June. Nineteen readers said "yes" and none said "no". I shall, therefore, proceed with my nascent plans to declare June 2009 "Shakespeare Month" here at Writing and Ruminating, in preparation of which I have begun brushing up on my own Shakespeare.

I pulled out my copies of The Complete Works of William Shakespeare: All the Plays, All the Poems, which used to belong to my father, I believe. (My copies look like the ones you see to the right, except that Volume II is missing its dust jacket these days, and were put out by Nelson Doubleday in the 1960s, quite possibly as part of a book club.) All of his plays and poems are stuffed into 1140 pages, with each book containing fewer than 600 pages inside. Each work is prefaced with commentary from the Shakespeare Primer by Professor Edward Dowden; otherwise, the book lacks any notes or commentary at all, which is both a blessing and a curse. It's wonderful to have such a concise text available to me, and nothing gets in the way of reading quickly through a play. On the other hand, reading Shakespeare's plays silently leaves much to be desired - too much is lost that way, since one can't appreciate the wordplay quite as well when it's processed in-head rather than aloud. After all, "the play's the thing." Still, I've started to re-read (and in a few cases, read for the first time) some of the plays about which I may blather come June.

I also went out and obtained a few new books to assist me in my ramblings. With a gift card (thanks Jenn!), I purchased the Folger Shakespeare Library edition of Shakespeare's Sonnets and Poems and Filthy Shakespeare: Shakespeare's Most Outrageous Sexual Puns by Pauline Kiernan. The Folger edition of the Sonnets and Poems prints the poem on the right-hand page, with handy-dandy explanatory notes on the facing (left-hand) page, explaining archaic, forgotten, or double meanings, etc. In addition, the book includes lots of information on Shakespeare's life, work, and source material, including translations of Ovid's Metamorphosis, and essays by modern scholars on interpretation of the poems in the book. Filthy Shakespeare is a scholarly work dressed up in tart's clothing: it appears to be a vulgar reduction of some of Shakespeare's writings, but it is making valid points about double meanings and subtext. Not only was the Bard writing High Art, but he was also writing lowbrow comedy. And no, not just by including lowbrow comedy in the speeches of his minor comic characters - once one knows that there were over 200 words that were references to the female and male genitalia (that's at least 200 each, mind you), one can more readily appreciate the double meanings of an awful lot of speeches that one might otherwise have thought Serious, Dry and/or Tedious.

My desire to prep for Shakespeare Month (which is in want of a better name, methinks) extended to my desire to brush up on my knowledge of Shakespeare's life. So in addition to perusing my copy of Shakespeare: The World As Stage by Bill Bryson (which hubby got me for the holidays in 2007), I purchased Soul of the Age: A Biography of the Mind of William Shakespeare by Jonathan Bate (with thanks to Sara Lewis Holmes for directing my attention to its existence). And from the library, I brought home Will in the World: How Shakespeare Became Shakespeare by Stephen Greenblatt and Shakespeare Unbound: Decoding a Hidden Life by Rene Weis. I will likely not finish all 4 biographies by the end of May (or even by the end of June, for that matter), but I'm enjoying having them to skim through and to compare/contrast.

Oh. And there will be movies as well. In fact, once writing time this morning is finished, I'm off to locate a copy of Much Ado About Nothing, which I read the other evening. I so enjoyed reading the play that I'm quite eager to watch a performance of it. Lacking the ability to conjure live theatre to suit my whims, decent movie versions will have to suffice. When it comes to Shakespeare, I think stage versions are to be preferred to movies because the audience was very much a part of the plan when Shakespeare wrote, and the actors were expected to play to the crowd in a more interactive way than that to which we are accustomed, not to subvert themselves so far in their characters that the audience was confined to watching from behind a wall. But I digress.

As I continue to prep for next month's post, I am thinking that some lines Shakespeare wrote about Cleopatra apply, with the appropriate gender change, to the Bard: Age cannot wither him, nor custom stale his infinite variety.

Friday, May 15, 2009

A Word From the Troll by Kelly Fineman

Today, an original poem. Some of you may have seen it back on April 5th when it appeared over at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast along with the work of some other poets and artists. But I got to thinking about my little troll poem yesterday afternoon, and decided I'd post it here for Poetry Friday.

A Word from the Troll
by Kelly R. Fineman

Trip-trapping hooves
clatter above;
My head throbs – it’s ready to burst.

The first goat was bad.
The second? Just awful.
The third billy goat was the worst.

I climbed on the bridge
to ask them to stop
all their racing and running around.

The biggest goat butted me
hard, with his head,
And I landed here on the ground.

For those interested in the form, it's written in a form of accentual verse. I rearranged the stanzas here (yet again) to make it a bit clearer. The first two lines in each stanza have two stressed syllables per line; the third line has a total of three stressed syllables.

So: TRIP-trapping HOOVES
my HEAD throbs - it's READy to BURST.

the FIRST goat was BAD.
the SECond? just AWful.
the THIRD billy GOAT was the WORST.

And there's a rhyme scheme at play here too: the last words of the first and second stanza rhyme, as do the last words of the third and fourth.

And there you have it: a retelling, in metred rhyme, of the story of the Three Billy Goats Gruff, from the point of view of the troll.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

May in the Green-Wood

Today, a short selection from a much longer minstrel ballad, Robin Hood and the Monk, which exists in a manuscript dating from around 1450. The first three stanzas of the longer work are often entitled "May in the Green-Wood". I'm presenting it in the original Middle English, and in an updated translation that, I am sorry to say, loses the music inherent in the original, but at least makes clear what some of the less familiar terms and iterations are about.

May in the Green-Wode
15th c., author unknown

In somer when the shawes be sheyne,
And leves be large and long,
Hit is full merry in feyre foreste
To here the foulys song.

To se the dere draw to the dale
And leve the hilles hee,
And shadow him in the leves grene
Under the green-wode tree.

Hit befell on Whitsontide
Early in a May mornyng,
The Sonne up faire can shyne,
And the briddis mery can syng.

My attempt at a modern-day translation (of sorts - I'd do it verbatim, but it would sound really stilted and awkward, so it's more like an interpretation in some places, for which I beg your pardon):

May in the Green-Wood

In summer when the shaws are light,
and leaves are large and long,
The forest is beautiful, and it's a pleasure
to hear the birds sing.

To see the deer come to the dale
And leave the high hills,
And rest in the green leaves
Under the greenwood tree.

It came to be Whitsuntide
Early in a May morning,
The sun shining on a beautiful day,
And the merry birds singing.

This year, Whitsuntide (or Whitsunday, or Pentecost) is on May 31st (for Western Christian religions; it's on June 7th for Eastern Christian religions). Despite it not being Whitsuntide yet, this morning was a sun-shiny, beautiful sort of day full of birdsong, so it seemed appropriate.

Sunday, May 10, 2009


I don't have many quotes today, but I like the two that I've got:

Back in April, British author Sir Clement Freud died. And Neil Gaiman posted about his death and his obituary, but it was what he said about his own work and its main character (Coraline, a book of which I am particularly fond) that spoke to me:

I never met him. I loved corresponding with him -- he was funny and dry, and he loved Coraline, although he didn't like the bit where she cried in the night in the empty bed. He thought that, as hero and a brave girl, she should not have cried. And I thought that she was a hero and a brave girl because she cried in the night and kept going anyway.

And a quote from motivational speaker and self-help guru Frank Tibolt, which I think argues quite cogently for the butt-in-chair method of writing, even though his comment is not limited to writing alone, but to any activity, really:

"We should be taught not to wait for inspiration to start a thing. Action always generates inspiration. Inspiration seldom generates action."

Ooh - reminds me of one of my favorite quotes from Emma, the novel by Jane Austen, and this line spoken by Mr. Weston: "What is right to be done cannot be done too soon."

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Friday, May 08, 2009

Break of Day by John Donne - a Poetry Friday post

Today, a love poem in rhymed couplets from John Donne, who lived in the late 16th and early 17th century. About two hundred years after his birth, Dr. Samuel Johnson dubbed him a "Metaphysical Poet", part of (and in truth, founder of) a loosely associated group of poets who used art, history and religion as extended metaphor (known as a conceit, a word which here has absolutely nothing to do with being stuck-up. The Metaphysical Poets delighted in using what was considered unusual imagery and syntax in their poems. Expediency caused him to convert from Catholicism to the Anglican church; Donne was eventually forced by King James I to become an Anglican clergyman (by royal decree preventing him from occupying any other job, no less).

Many of Donne's poems dwell on issues of death and mortality, including one of my favorites of his works, "Death Be Not Proud". Today, however, I'm featuring one of his love poems that was, as it turns out, actually written as a song and set to music by three different contemporary composers: John Dowland, Orlando Gibbons and William Corkine.

Break of Day
by John Donne

Tis true, 'tis day; what though it be?
O wilt thou therefore rise from me?
Why should we rise, because 'tis light?
Did we lie down, because 'twas night?
Love, which in spite of darkness brought us hither,
Should in despite of light keep us together.

Light hath no tongue, but is all eye;
If it could speak as well as spy,
This were the worst that it could say,
That being well, I fain* would stay,
And that I loved my heart and honor so,
That I would not from him, that had them, go.

Must business thee from hence remove?
O, that's the worst disease of love.
The poor, the foul, the false, love can
Admit, but not the busied man.
He which hath business, and makes love, doth do
Such wrong, as when a married man doth woo.

*fain: happily

Discussion and analysis

As mentioned earlier, the poem is written in rhymed couplets using iambic feet. That said, in each stanza Donne follows two couplets (four lines) of iambic tetrameter (four iambic feet per line, taDUM taDUM taDUM taDUM) with a single couplet (two lines) of iambic pentameter (five iambic feet per line). The incorporation of an additional foot, or two syllables, in the final lines of each stanza adds weight to those closing lines as well as slowing those lines down a bit (after all, it takes a bit longer to get through those lines).

The poem is sometimes considered an aubade, a poem or song about lovers separating at dawn (like his poem, "The Sun Rising"), although as the poem progresses, it becomes clear that this is not truly a love song, but is instead a complaint about the man's priorities. John Donne writes the poem from a female point of view, something that becomes apparent for the first time in the second stanza. The first stanza asks whether the man must get up and go just because it's now daylight, making the point that their decision to lie down together was not based on it being dark. "If we found each other despite it being dark, should we not remain together despite it being daylight?" is a slightly update variant of the final question of the first stanza.

The second stanza features a personification of "light", which is characterized as being all-seeing, but incapable of speech. If light could speak, however, (says the female speaker) the worst it would be able to say is that the speaker would happily stay with her man, based on her own principles of love and honor, both of which are qualities that she attributes to the man as well.

The final stanza makes clear that the people involved in the poem are not nobility, and at leisure, but are working folk: The man must rise in order to attend to his business concerns, and is not at leisure to love. "Love can permit the poor (meaning those who aren't good at it), the foul (those who are unpleasant) and the false (those who are impure of heart), but a busy man doesn't have time for it" is what those middle lines are getting at. Like the commonplace phrase that "the law is a jealous mistress", the notion expressed in the final stanza is that business is so consuming that a man who is dedicated to his work treats his loved ones in the same way that a married man treats his mistress (presumably with less than full and ardent attention).