Category Archives: Writing

The Man Who Invented Christmas Movie Review

A Christmas Carol is the progenitor of every Christmas story has been published since 1843.  The Charles Dickens novel has not only become synonymous with the holiday, but also with the idea of being kind to our fellow mortals.

The new film, The Man Who Invented Christmas, stars Dan Stevens as Charles Dickens. With the recent success of Oliver Twist,  Dickens is under pressure to write his next novel. But with the creative well running dry and his bank account running equally as dry, he has to do something. Soon the idea for his next novel will start flowing, but so will the tension with his wife, Kate  (Morfydd Clark) and his father, John (Jonathan Price). He must also contend with the characters that are talking to him, including the man who will soon be known to the world as Scrooge (Christopher Plummer) and face his own past.

 

As a writer, it is always fascinating to see how other writers go on their creative journey to create their work. As an audience member, for me at least, it is fascinating to watch how a screenwriter can expand not just upon the myth, but on the everyday human struggles of their characters, especially ones that are as well known as Charles Dickens.

I recommend it.

The Man Who Invented Christmas is presently in theaters. 

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Flashback Friday-In Love And War (1996)

It has been said that for a writer to create memorable narratives and characters, he or she has to truly live.

Ernest Hemingway was an ambulance driver during World War I. Injured in the line of duty, he fell in love with nurse Agnes Von Kurowsky, and she with him. While their relationship did not last, their story was chronicled in the 1996 film, In Love And War.

The film starred Chris O’Donnell as Ernest Hemingway and Sandra Bullock as Agnes Von Kurowsky.

 

I haven’t seen this movie in a long time, but I remember that while the narrative did not rise to the level of an unforgettable romance, it was not entirely bad either. What I do remember is that it was the story of young love and how it stays with us, even when that love is not meant to last forever.

Do I recommend it? Yes.

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Thoughts On The Anniversary Of The Publishing Of Little Women

Late last month was the 149th anniversary of the publishing of Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women.

Little Women for those unaware, is the story of the four March sisters growing up in Civil War era Massachusetts. Their father is away, fighting for the Union, leaving his wife, known as Marmee to her daughters, to be both mother and father.

Meg, the oldest, is level-headed and responsible. Jo (short for Josephine), is the tomboy, the son her father never had and the wannabe writer. Beth is the homebody who rarely socializes outside of her family circle. Amy, the baby of the family, is artistic, but spoiled and selfish. Living in genteel poverty, the girls, the mother and their longtime housekeeper, Hannah do the best they can under their circumstances.

What I love about this book is that it is so universal. While the sisters are archetypes, Alcott brilliantly fleshed them out so they are fully formed characters. She also allows her characters to grow in a very organic way, instead of forcing adulthood upon them. There is also, as there is often is with books by female writers before the modern era, an undercurrent of feminism.

It’s been 23 years since the last film adaptation of Little Women was released.

Next year, PBS will be airing their own adaptation of Little Women.

When I think of Little Women, I think of how much I understand these girls and their journey. I also think how much this book mean to me when I was growing up and how it led me to become the bookworm I am today.

Louisa May Alcott, thank you for this amazing, wonderful book that continues to last. May the book and your legacy live forever.

 

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The Genius of Jane Austen: Her Love of Theatre and Why She Works in Hollywood Book Review

A good writer has the ability to create narratives and characters that transcend the original format in which they were introduced to audiences. Jane Austen, is obviously one of those writers as her stories have been adapted time again over the last 200 years.

The Genius of Jane Austen: Her Love of Theatre and Why She Works in Hollywood, by Paula Byrne, traces the influences of Georgian era theater on Austen’s novels, the history of the numerous adaptations and why Austen continues to be an inspiration to modern-day filmmakers and screenwriters.

I wanted to like this book, I really did. I appreciated the research that Ms. Byrne put into the book, especially the theatrical narratives and characters that were popular in Austen’s Day. I just wish the book was less like a college textbook and more engaging. While I forced myself to finish the book, it was difficult at times to keep reading.

Do I recommend it? No.

 

 

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The Pitfalls Of Freelancing: Spec Articles, Radio Silence And The “Free” In Freelancing

A wise writer once said the following:

Easy reading is dam hard writing.

Whether it is a novel, an article or another document, writing, despite appearances, is hard work. It requires, time, skill, effort and talent. I’ve been a freelancer for nearly three years. While I still have my full-time job, I make time for on my writing. That doesn’t mean that it is easy. Below, are three pitfalls that don’t help freelancers.

  1. Spec Writing: A spec is a sample article. It is typically written when either the writer or the publisher is unsure if the potential article would be a good fit for the publication. As a sample article, it’s fine because if it the editor does not feel like it would be a good fit, it’s no big deal. The problem starts when the article is accepted, but the editor thinks that the writer will work for free.  If it is understood (and preferably written down) that there is no payment and the writer will only be getting a byline and another article to add to their portfolio, that’s fine. But when the writer is looking for payment and the editor is looking for a free article, that is another story.
  2. Radio Silence: I get it that publications receive a large number of submissions. Not every publication has the time to respond to every writer who submitted. Some publications may even send a form letter via email. I’ve gotten a fair amount of those. The problem is what I call “radio silence”. It’s when a writer submits an article and hears nothing back. It’s disheartening, to be honest. I would rather hear a hard no rather than radio silence.
  3. The “Free” In Freelance: There is no such thing as “free” in freelance writing. Payment is often on a sliding scale, depending on the publication and the article. Some publications, as I have stated above, can only afford to pay via a byline. I have no problem with that, as long as it is stated beforehand. The problem is when some publications pay next to nothing for a long form piece or a piece that maybe more detail oriented because of research. I’ve stopped counting the number of freelance jobs that want a thousand word article, but the payment is pitiful. Respect me as a writer, respect my work and understand that I deserve to be paid a fair wage for my work, even as a freelancer.

Despite all of this, I still love writing and I still love freelancing. It’s just that some publications and editors make freelancing more difficult than it needs to be.

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Wuthering Heights Character Review: Hareton Earnshaw

*Warning: This post contains spoilers about Emily Bronte’s classic novel, Wuthering Heights. Read at your own risk if you are unfamiliar with the either book or the various adaptations.

There is something to be said about a well written, human character. They leap off the page and speak to us as if they were right in front us, as flesh and blood human beings, instead of fictional creations.

In this series of weekly blog posts, I will examine character using the characters from Wuthering Heights to explore how writers can create fully dimensional, human characters that audiences and readers can relate to.

When we are children, the only environment we know is our family and our small world. The problem is that sometimes, when we grow up, we don’t grow out of the scars that we receive either consciously or unconsciously from our families and the world of our childhoods.

Hareton Earnshaw is the only child and heir to the Earnshaw name and estate. The problem is his father, Hindley Earnshaw drank and gambled away the family fortune after the death of his wife. After his father passes, Hareton is taken in (if you want to call it that) by Heathcliff to be used as a means of revenge.

As an adult, Hareton is treated as a servant in his ancestral home and treated poorly by Heathcliff. His only solace is his cousin, Catherine Linton, who is as imprisoned by Heathcliff as Hareton is.

To sum it up: The thing that always strikes me about Hareton is that despite the fact that is being degraded day after day by Heathcliff, he has a sense of pride. He takes pride in being an Earnshaw, and is not willing to completely bow to his captor. He is also sees an opportunity when Catherine also imprisoned in Wuthering Heights. She teaches him to read and they eventually get together, healing the wounds of the previous generation. When a character has enough pride and enough sense of self, despite a crappy childhood, to find peace within themselves, readers remember that. If a reader can finish a book, feel satisfied and feel like they have learned something about themselves because of a particular character’s journey, then the writer has done his or her job.

 

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Character Review: Isabella Linton

*Warning: This post contains spoilers about Emily Bronte’s classic novel, Wuthering Heights. Read at your own risk if you are unfamiliar with the either book or the various adaptations.

There is something to be said about a well written, human character. They leap off the page and speak to us as if they were right in front us, as flesh and blood human beings, instead of fictional creations.

In this series of weekly blog posts, I will examine character using the characters from Wuthering Heights to explore how writers can create fully dimensional, human characters that audiences and readers can relate to.

Not everyone can have their happy ending. Some of us, no matter how much we try, will never be able to walk into the proverbial sunset. In Wuthering Heights, Isabella Healthcliff (nee Linton) is Catherine Linton’s (nee Earnshaw) sister-in-law. When Heathcliff comes back into Catherine’s life a couple of years after she has married Edgar, Isabella develops a crush on Heathcliff. Why shouldn’t she? He is handsome, wealthy and in every sense of the word, eligible. Isabella is single, of age to marry and ready to marry.

The problem is that neither Catherine or Heathcliff have gotten over each other. Isabella becomes a pawn in their relationship. Running away with Heathcliff, they elope and Isabella is cut off from her brother. She will soon learn about the darker side of her husband. When she can no longer live with Heathcliff, she leaves hims and takes their young son, Linton to London.  She dies young,  hoping to leave her son in her brother’s care. But her husband wants his son back.

To sum it up: While we all wish for a happy ending, both on page with our characters and in our lives as human beings, we  may not get that happy ending. Isabella is unfortunately a character whose happy ending is not what she envisioned. But she does one thing that makes her ending stand out: instead of staying with her abusive husband, she leaves him and takes their son with him.

In 19th century Victorian England, this was a brave choice that is a small, but pivotal change in the way happy endings are portrayed. So in a way, Isabella got her happy ending, but it was on her own terms. In that sense, Bronte flipped the standard happy ending narrative on its ear, creating a new happy ending. If a writer is looking to clear up the loose ends of their story with a happy ending, why not change that ending? Flip that happy ending on it’s ear, make the story even more memorable and leave the reader wanting more.

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Happy Birthday Roald Dahl

An unforgettable children’s book lasts generations. With every new generation, new readers discover the joy of the same book that their forebears read as children.

The late Roald Dahl’s birthday was last week. He is among one of the giants of children’s literature. From his pen and his imagination came Charlie and The Chocolate Factory, Matilda, Boy, James And The Giant Peach, etc.

I remember reading Boy more than twenty years ago. Dahl has such a unique perspective on childhood that it feels like through his characters, he is speaking directly to his young readers. When a writer is able to speak directly to his or her readers, they have a gift that many wish they had.

Wherever you are Mr. Dahl, thank you for inspiring multiple generations of children. Your name and work will never be forgotten.

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Jane Austen at Home: A Biography Book Review

The womb to tomb narrative is the standard format for a biography. While it’s fine for a standard format, it can, depending on the person writing the biography, be as dull as a college text-book or as alive as if the reader was watching a film of the biography’s subject.

Earlier this year, historian Lucy Worsley released Jane Austen at Home: A Biography. While Ms. Worsley goes over the basic facts of Austen’s life that any Janeite would be familiar with, she focuses on the places that the Ms. Austen lived throughout her 41 years and the possessions in those houses colored her world.

I’ve been fan of the author for a short time, and I really enjoyed this book. I enjoyed it because there is life, color and vibrancy to what could be a very dull narrative. There are also Easter eggs, connections between Austen’s life and her novels that a newbie Janeite might miss, but a Janeite who is well steeped in Austen lore would understand.

I recommend it.

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Filed under Book Review, Books, Emma, Jane Austen, Mansfield Park, Persuasion, Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility, Writing

Wuthering Heights Character Review: Edgar Linton

*Warning: This post contains spoilers about Emily Bronte’s classic novel, Wuthering Heights. Read at your own risk if you are unfamiliar with the either book or the various adaptations.

There is something to be said about a well written, human character. They leap off the page and speak to us as if they were right in front us, as flesh and blood human beings, instead of fictional creations.

In this series of weekly blog posts, I will examine character using the characters from Wuthering Heights to explore how writers can create fully dimensional, human characters that audiences and readers can relate to.

One of the more common narratives in the romance genre is the love triangle and the question of whom the hero or heroine will choose as their partner.  In Wuthering Heights, the love triangle consists of Catherine Earnshaw at the top of the triangle with Heathcliff and Edgar Linton on the bottom of the triangle.

Edgar Linton is everything Heathcliff is not. He is the son and heir of a respectable landowning family who acts as a gentleman of his class and time is expected to act. His lineage is defined and traceable. His status, income and property mark him as a catch. In modern terms, he is the boy next door that many parents would be thrilled to see their child dating.

Even for all of that, he is not Heathcliff. Even after Catherine has accepted Edgar’s marriage proposal, she admits that the man she loves is not Edgar. While the reader knows that Catherine is marrying Edgar for what could appear to be less than honorable reasons, Edgar will only discover this fact later in the novel.

“My love for Linton is like the foliage in the woods: time will change it, I’m well aware, as winter changes the trees. My love for Heathcliff resembles the eternal rocks beneath: a source of little visible delight, but necessary. Nelly, I am Healthcliff! He’s always, always in my mind: not as a pleasure, any more than I am always a pleasure to myself, but as my own being.”

To sum it up: For all of his good qualities, Edgar Linton is the loser in the love triangle that is part of the Wuthering Heights narrative. He is the nice guy who may have been in love with the heroine, but she in turn was in love with the bad boy and ultimately chose the bad boy over the nice guy. As a writer, Emily Bronte could have used this very predictable narrative and chose the safe route. Instead she forged her own narrative path and told the story of the conflict between light and dark and how that affects the choices that characters make.

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