Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Iterations of Frankenstein

When eighteen year old Mary Shelley had a bad dream that turned into a book, she couldn't have imagined the cultural phenomenon that would emerge from her pages. She created an entire genre: science fiction. The ripples that she started are still spinning out two hundred years later.

Frankenstein is one of those stories that everyone just *knows*, even if they've never read it. It's been adapted in hundreds of way, re-imagined, used in homage, served as inspiration for so many pieces of art of one kind or another. Clearly, we're not done with this story yet.

My first introduction to the story probably came through the celebration of Halloween and all the masks and television specials featuring some version of the monster. The version of the monster enacted by Boris Karloff was already imprinted on the world well before I was born: square head, visible black stitching, metal bolts on the neck, greenish flesh, stiff walk and all. I can't remember when I didn't know that iconic image.

I eventually saw all the old movie versions on cable television: Karloff's, Chaney's, Lugosi's, Lee's. I drank in Young Frankenstein and the monster's romp with Abbott and Costello. I loved Lurch, Herman Munster, and all the cartoon versions of the monster from Scooby Doo to the Groovieee Goolies. The monster has been played for horror, for pathos, and for laughs, and he's effective in all those roles. If a story is riffing on Frankenstein in some way, I'm sure to give it a try.

I was in college before I read the original book, and like many a reader, I was astonished at the difference between the monster Mary Shelley wrote and the one we know from popular culture. The more sensitive and articulate creature has been making a resurgence. I recently watched the Penny Dreadful television series and The Frankenstein Chronicles, both of which give the monster voice.

I've read it a couple of times since.

I'm still not sure what it is about this storyline that draws me in so. Is it the mad science elements? The abandonment pathos? The misunderstood nature of the creature itself? Maybe it's something deeper, something I feel at a more symbolic level, something about motherhood or the nature of creation or the boundary between life and death.

Any other fans out there? What's your favorite version of the story?

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

IWSG: Celebration Time

It's the first Wednesday again, which means it's time for the Insecure Writer's Support Group blog hop. The March 7 question - How do you celebrate when you achieve a writing goal/ finish a story?

Be sure to check out our awesome hosts after you see what I have to say:  Mary Aalgaard, Bish Denham,Jennifer Hawes, Diane Burton, and Gwen Gardner!

So, this is one I'm kind of bad at. 

My to-do list is always excessively long, and that can mean that I don't take time to celebrate what I've finished. Instead, I just turn left and pick up the next item on my list. 

But I do go back and reflect from time to time, and it can be a real boost to see what I've actually done, especially if I was too busy to appreciate it while it was happening. For example, I was feeling like I hadn't been productive as an author in 2017, until I wrote my end of year reflection and realized I'd done quite a lot, actually!

In fact, it's one of my goals for 2018 to celebrate more, to pat myself on the back for a job well done. That's part of what's so great about this blog hop. The commenters are always so supportive and kind, coming with a heart to help and encourage. There's not enough of that in the world, maybe especially in the writing world, where the work can be solitary. 

A few ideas for celebrating accomplishments: posting a happy dance video about the good thing, going out with someone you love for your favorite gastronomic treat, letting yourself write your play project as a rewarding for having the discipline to stick with and finish your other project, calling your sister (work for me, anyway), giving yourself a little non productive time to goof off completely. 

How about you? How do you celebrate the good things in your writing life or other creative endeavors? 

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Back Door Stories

I watched Into the Woods again last night. For anyone not familiar with it, Into the Woods is a stage musical written by Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine, which premiered in the late 80s. It intermixes several well known fairy tales (Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, Jack and the Beanstalk, and Rapunzel), turning each on its ear while still preserving what made us all love them in the first place. It's quite a piece of art, in my opinion at least, and this latest movie production is a delight.

I first loved the musical when I saw a stage production in the early 1990s, while I was an undergrad. In fact, it may be responsible for my abiding love for a whole genre of stories: side door or back door stories, I call them. I've seen other people call them metafictional or parallel literature. 

Whatever you call them, these are stories in which an author/artist/composer, etc. works with familiar material but makes it new by changing the perspective. (Some favorite examples: Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys, Wicked by Gregory Maguire, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Seth Grahame-Smith, "Dolan's Cadillac" by Stephen King, the television series Penny Dreadful). 

When this is done well, it's half a love letter to the original material and half something entirely new. Homage and rebuttal, a kind of fan fic which goes down the paths the original piece left unexplored. What could be a better expression of love of a piece of art, than another piece of art inspired by it? I love the way these pieces grapple with the original material, and the interplay between the original and the new version can cast an interesting light on both. When the back door store truly gets to the heart of the original piece, reading (or viewing or listening to) it can feel like finding the original all over again and having the chance to fall in love with it once more.

I've got a few of these kinds of stories sitting on my own back-burners right now that I'm anxious to find the time to write. One riffing on Frankenstein and another on The Turn of the Screw

What do you think? Are these kinds of pieces derivative? Or just art grown in the garden of other art? Would love to hear your thoughts in the comments below. 

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Conventional Wisdom: Mysticon 2018

Can you feel it? There's a wave of excitement in the air, a mixture of anticipation and nostalgia which can only come from spending a weekend talking with new friends about old loves. In other words, it's convention time!

I'll be heading to Roanoke, Virginia this weekend as an author guest for Mysticon. It's my second time attending this convention, and I'm thrilled to have been invited back. I had a wonderful time last year. I'm taking my sister with me again, which always increases the fun, so I'm expecting to enjoy myself immensely. 

So, here's what I'll be up to. 

Author Reading: I'll kick things off with an author reading at 4:00 on Friday. I haven't chosen for certain what I'll read just yet, but you can expect some favorite scenes from The Menopausal Superhero series and maybe a sneak peak into my new project, a young adult dystopian romance, working title Thursday's Children. Either way, I'll probably be able to convince my sister to film it, so that my friends and readers who can't make it to the Virginia can catch it on my Facebook page or my YouTube channel

Here's a piece from a reading at ConGregate last summer to give you a taste: 

Writing Up Close and Personal: Panel Saturday at 10:00 a.m. Luckily, I'm not a party-girl, because my first panel on Saturday is early by convention standards. We'll be discussing point of view choices and the advantages and disadvantages of each one. My fellow panelists include Crymsyn Hart, Melissa McArthur, Pamela K. Kinney, Peter Prellwitz, and Travis Sivart.

Let's Take Flight: Panel Saturday at 11:00 a.m. Now this should be fun! Jim Gaines, Darin Kennedy, Erin Ashley, Jason T. GravesTravis Sivart, and me (of course) will spend some time waxing eloquent about the myriad methods of flight in fiction, from rocket packs to umbrellas, capes, and balloons.

Women Rocking Hollywood: Panel Saturday at 1:00 p.m. The success of Wonder Woman, a woman directed, woman-led blockbuster movie that got both critical acclaim and box office results, has us hungry for more. Along with Erin Ashley, Alex Matsuo, Ginger Snaps, Mariah Johnson, and Bob Flack, I'll be exploring what's on the horizon and what our hopes are for the field.

Signing Table: Signing Saturday, 4:00 p.m. Here's my chance to possibly sell a few books and talk with a few readers. I'll have all three of my novels and several of the anthologies including my work available, as well as the sign up for my author newsletter and some freebie bookmarks.

Broad Universe RFR: Reading Saturday, 8:00 p.m. Broad Universe is an
organization devoted to support the work of women in science fiction. I've been a member for a few years now and one of my favorite parts is participating in the RFR or Rapid-Fire-Readings at conventions. Any Broads who attend this con will be invited to read briefly from their work. It's a great opportunity to sample the work of several authors all at once.

The Last Racebenders/Genderbenders:  Panel Sunday 10:00 a.m. This panel discussion will explore the ways that changing the traditional gender or race of a character impacts and changes a story. Amanda J McGeeDarin Kennedy, Alex Matsuo, and Peter Prellwitz, will join me for what promises to be a lively discussion.

Other than all this paneling and reading and signing, I'll also be shopping, eating, gaming, and going to other people's events. Mysticon scored some pretty exciting guests this year, so maybe I'll even do a little fangirling myself.

Watch out Virginia! Here I come!

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Sick Day

I'm home sick today. And, yes, I'm actually sick.

I've been sicker, but I'm definitely not well enough to handle 150 middle school children today, so home for a day of rest it is.

Here's hoping it helps enough to give me the wherewithal to handle my very busy Friday-Saturday-Sunday.

Like many the modern woman, I demand a lot of myself. I work a demanding full time job, handle at least half of the business of the home, and still maintain a writing life.

So, what don't I do? Well, self-care. I don't rest enough. I don't always eat well or take proper care of my body.

So eventually my body is forced to give me a smack-down and make me slow down for a moment. And that's what she's doing today.

This whole me-body-mind divide concept is kind of funny, because it's all me, of course. But I do
tend to feel like there are warring forces vying for control of my time, and that they're all within me. My body wants me to fuel it properly with rest, food, and exercise. My mind wants to explore pursuits that absorb it. My metaphorical heart wants "quality time" with those I love.

It's all balance, and when it skews too far in one direction or another, sickness can be the re-set button.

So today, I am taking it slow. Drinking tea, lying still in the dark, reading, and remembering to breathe.

Next time, I'll try to do that BEFORE it makes me sick.

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

IWSG: Genre Love

It's the first Wednesday of the month, which means it's time for IWSG (Insecure Writer's Support Group). This month's question is- What do you love about the genre you write in most often?

The co-hosts for the February 7 posting of the IWSG are Stephen Tremp, Pat Garcia, Angela Wooldridge, Victoria Marie Lees, and Madeline Mora-Summonte! 

Be sure to check them out after you see what I have to say.

Mostly, I write superhero fiction. My series is the Menopausal Superhero series, which folds in some women's fiction and comedy, but is still, in many ways, a traditional superhero story.

I get so much joy out of writing these books that it's difficult to pick a favorite part, but I'll give it a go.

First there's the imagination. All writing requires imagination, but there's a special kind of freedom when the limits of reality are removed and you can imagine people doing things that aren't actually possible, like flying, or throwing fire, or transforming into a lizard creature. It can be a very omnipotent feeling, knowing that the only limits your characters have are the ones you have created for them.

Second, I enjoy the exaggeration and drama. There are quiet, personal character interactions in my stories, but there are also scenery chewing monologues by maniacal villains and the occasional opportunity to throw a bus at someone.

I live my life with a good amount of restraint (you have to keep your filters on when you teach middle school), so it's great fun to cut loose and explode on the page through my characters. After all, part of the fun of writing (at least for me) is getting to experience things you don't get to do in real life through your creations.

So, that's the pull of superhero fiction for me. How about you? For whatever you prefer to read or write, what's about it pulls at you?

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

The Dangers of Sticking Your Neck Out: Reluctant Heroes

The DIYMFA book club question #8 asks about what kinds of stories you're drawn to. What kind of conflict or power play is at work in your current work-in-progress? Do you see certain types of narratives come up again and again in your writing?

Earlier in my writing life, I might have denied that I tended to dwell on any particular types of stories or themes, but I've come to realize that coming back to a certain kind of narrative doesn't mean that I'm a poor or unimaginative writer, but rather that I am not done processing that yet.

Christopher Booker, author of The Seven Basic Plots, lists them thusly:
  • “overcoming the monster” plot (Beowulf, War of the Worlds)
  • “rags to riches” (Cinderella, Jane Eyre)
  • “the quest” (Illiad, The Lord of the Rings
  • “voyage and return” (Odyssey, Alice in Wonderland)
  • “rebirth” (Sleeping Beauty, A Christmas Carol)
  • “comedy” (ends in marriage)
  • “tragedy” (ends in death)
Those aren't a bad place to start, though I might name some of them differently and love stories that combine two or three of these. But choosing a favorite, hmmmm… 

One of my favorite types of characters, both to read and to write, is the reluctant hero, especially if they are a battle-weary sort, determined not to care this time because it's just a recipe for pain. Characters like Logan aka Wolverine or Rick of Casablanca

She's harder to find in female characters. We've got some badass women out there, but they are usually either angry and vengeful or long-suffering and stubborn. 

Of the seven plots above, I think my reluctant hero stories tend to fall into rebirth in that our hero is made to care again (which might involve a quest, or a rags-to-riches change of circumstances, or a a voyage, or overcoming a monster--internal or external).  

My own reluctant hero is Patricia O'Neill of the Menopausal Superhero series. When she first got her powers, she said, "I’m not Peter Parker. I don’t buy the whole ‘great power comes with great responsibility’ racket. I didn’t ask for this, and I don’t owe anyone anything.”

But who was the first of my heroes to actually save someone? You guessed it.

So, what does it mean that I'm drawn to these reluctant hero types? Maybe I am one myself, or maybe I'm the BFF who inspires others to greatness (not a bad thing, given that my day job is teaching). Maybe sometimes, when the going gets rough, I also want to just withdraw and let the world blow itself up without me, but I still care too much to actually walk away. Obviously, my subconscious hasn't worked this one out yet, so I guess I'll be writing a few more reluctant heroes before I'm done. 

Luckily, that's a lot of fun!