Category Archives: Writing

Jane Austen, The Secret Radical Book Review

On the surface, Jane Austen seems to write typical romances. It had the same overall narrative as every story in the genre: the meet cute, the ups and downs, the will they or won’t they and finally, the happily ever after. But Jane Austen was writing far more than fluffy, predictable romances. She was writing about human folly and the injustices of the world around us.

Published last year, Jane Austen, The Secret Radical by Helena Kelly dives into the subtle and subversive that only a seasoned reader of Austen will understand and appreciate. Using her pen and her imagination, Austen deftly and quietly writes about the injustices of slavery, the treatment of women in her era, the anxieties of going to war, the power of the Church, etc.

This book is not for the newbie Austen fan or someone who has simply read one of her books because they’ve heard of it. This book is for the hardcore Janeite who has read her books many times and finds joy in discovering something new with every read. I really enjoyed this book because it points out things that even I didn’t know of. That above all, made this book a joy to read.

I absolutely recommend it.

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

The Real Jane Austen Book Review

When Jane Austen died in 1817, she ascended to the status of legend. While we talk about her in terms of her as a giant of literature, she was also a human being.

Published in 2013, The Real Jane Austen, by Paula Byrne, extend’s Austen’s legend while at the same time speaking of ordinary things that made her human. Ms. Byrne writes about the ordinary aspects of Austen’s life: a gold chain, a hat, a notebook, etc. Interweaving aspect of her life with her novels and her characters, the book speaks to Austen fans whom have cravings to learn about the minutiae of her life and only come to appreciate her more once they have read the book.

I’ve read a lot about Jane Austen (as anyone who knows me and/or follows this blog). She is one of my writing heroes and never fails to inspire me. What I truly appreciated about this book is that not only is the mostly non-linear narrative, but there is a life to this biography. By writing not just about the large accomplishments, but about the tiny details of Austen’s life, Ms. Byrne has only increased my appreciation for Jane Austen.

I absolutely recommend it.

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Character Review: Catherine 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.

The best love stories always have an obstacle to the potential happiness of the couple. The best stories sometimes have a character who is standing in the way of their own happiness. This, in a nutshell is Catherine Earnshaw, the heroine of Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights.

Catherine is the daughter of the local gentry. We first meet Catherine when her father brings home Heathcliff, her adopted brother/soulmate. Catherine and Heathcliff grow up together, joined at the hip until they reach early adulthood. Then reality sets in. Mr. Earnshaw dies and Catherine’s older brother, Hindley becomes master of Wuthering Heights. Hindley was never fond of Heathcliff when they were boys. Without anyone to stand in his way, Hindley openly and maliciously abuses Heathcliff.

While this is happening, the audience and Catherine are introduced to the brother and sister duo of Edgar and Isabella Linton. While it is obvious that there is a strong connection between Catherine and Heathcliff, there is also the pressure of the world of Victorian era England. It would be a disgrace for Catherine to marry Heathcliff, despite their deep love. Heathcliff has no money, no social standing and his origins are unknown. In short, it would cause quite the scandal if the lovers were to marry.

“I cannot express it; but surely you and everybody have a notion that there is or should be an existence of yours beyond you. What were the use of my creation, if I were entirely contained here? My great miseries in this world have been Heathcliff’s miseries, and I watched and felt each from the beginning: my great thought in living is himself. If all else perished, and he remained, I should still continue to be; and if all else remained, and he were annihilated, the universe would turn to a mighty stranger: I should not seem a part of it. 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 Heathcliff! 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.”

After Catherine marries Edgar and Heathcliff disappears, she appears for a time, to have put aside the wild child sensibility and become a proper lady. But when Heathcliff returns as a wealthy man and starts to not court Isabella, Catherine becomes jealous. Pitting her husband and her soulmate against one another, she becomes ill and dies just moments after her daughter in born.

To sum it up: There are always obstacles, whether on the page or in life. We have two choices, we can find a way to overcome the obstacles or we can take the easy way out.  Catherine unfortunately, takes the easy way out and pays for her choices. As writers, we don’t always have to lead our characters down the right path. Sometimes, we lead our characters go down the wrong path and let them pay for their choices.

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Filed under Books, Character Review, Emily Bronte, Writing, Wuthering Heights

When Does A Review Cross The Line?

The basic definition of a reviewer, regardless of whether they are reviewing a book, a film, etc, is to give the audience or the reader an overview of the narrative and tell them if it is worth their time to watch or read it.

But the question is, when does a reviewer cross the line?

Recently, I’ve started listening to the Brian Lehrer show on WNYC in the morning just to get a handle of what is going on in the world. One of the people interviewed yesterday was Vulture writer Kat Rosenfield about her recent article entitled “The Toxic Drama on YA Twitter“.

The book in question is The Black Witch by Laurie Forest. I’ve not read the book, but hearing the response on twitter to the book and the negative reviews brings up a few questions.

One of the things that pointed out during Ms. Rosenfield’s segment was that the writer was basically pandering to her potential readers. I get it, I’m also a writer. If your writing feels false and your only writing to make a buck, the reader will know it. One of the most common quotes associated with writing is “write what you know”. On one level that makes sense. But on another level, if every writer only wrote what they know, the science fiction and fantasy genres would never exist.

The reviewers job is to review the art without hurting the artist(s). The problem is that the line between a review and a personal attack is subjective. The other issue is that social media so pervasive in our daily lives that one review where the reviewer goes too far can potentially damage of the career of the artist.

I welcome your comments on this topic. Listen to the link (the interview with Ms. Rosenfield is the last 20 minutes of the show) and read the article. Where is the line and how far can a reviewer push it before it morphs into a personal attack and ruins careers?

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Character Review: Finn

*Warning: This post contains spoilers about the television show, The Lost World (which is loosely based the book of the same name). Read at your own risk if you are unfamiliar with the either the book or the television series.

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 The Lost World to explore how writers can create fully dimensional, human characters that audiences and readers can relate to.

Sometimes a new character is introduced in the middle of a story. They may not have been intrinsic to the narrative initially, but they become as important as the characters who were introduced in the beginning of the story.

Finn (Lara Cox) was introduced to the audience about halfway through the third season. When the Challenger Expedition travels (minus Malone, Veronica and Summerlee) through time, they land in on the plateau that they don’t recognize. Finn is living on a post-apocalyptic plateau where she is one of the few survivors. Smart, sarcastic, a little blunt and independent, Finn is a 21st century woman who returns to the 19th century plateau with the Challenger Expedition. Unfortunately, The Lost World was cancelled at the end of the 3rd season, leaving Finn as a character whose development and narrative was stopped before she could grow beyond the audience’s initial impression.

To sum it up: A character’s development and narrative is not strictly based upon when we meet them. Even if a character is introduced to the audience halfway through the story, the writer can still fully develop them to catch the audience’s attention and draw them in.

 

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Filed under Books, Character Review, Television, The Lost World, Writing

Thoughts On Fear

“The only thing we have to fear is fear itself”-Franklin Delano Roosevelt

“Stay afraid, but do it anyway. What’s important is the action. You don’t have to wait to be confident. Just do it and eventually the confidence will follow.”-Carrie Fisher

Fear is not a tangible thing. It’s not something we can physically pick up and hold in our hands. But yet feel it. We can smell it, we can taste it.

One of the podcasts I regularly listen to is Problogger (which I highly recommend for my fellow bloggers). One of the things that came up in this week’s podcast was fear. Fear of starting the blog, fear of not being good enough as a blogger, fear that no one will read the blog, etc.

Fear is not entirely bad thing. The fight or flight reflex has been built into our bodies and minds for a purpose. But the question is, when we are looking straight at what scares us, do we have the courage to walk past our fears or do we let our fears stop us?

I know this question is not easy to answer. When faced with the choice of facing our fears or running away, many of us will run.

But what would happen if we didn’t run away, if we faced our fears, not knowing the consequences?

In my own life, I’ve found that when I face my fears, no matter how difficult or scary it seems, I come just a little stronger and a little more confident.

Facing our fears is often the hardest thing we will ever do. But it’s the only way we will ever most past them.

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Character Review: Arthur Summerlee

*Warning: This post contains spoilers about the television show, The Lost World (which is loosely based the book of the same name). Read at your own risk if you are unfamiliar with the either the book or the television series.

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 The Lost World to explore how writers can create fully dimensional, human characters that audiences and readers can relate to.

In every life and every story, there are two perspectives: youth and old age. In The Lost World, the perspective on old age is represented Arthur Summerlee (Michael Sinelnikoff). Summerlee is not only the ying to Challenger’s yang, but he is also the peacemaker and the unofficial father figure to the younger members of the expedition. It was Summerlee who egged Challenger on during the pilot about his findings and it was Challenger, who in turn challenged (for lack of a better term) Summerlee to join him on the expedition.

Where Challenger is hotheaded, brash and sometimes full of it, Summerlee is calm, cool and collected (at least most of the time).  Summerlee is also the first member of the expedition to see past the hard shell of Marguerite to see a woman who is complicated and has had to make difficult decisions to survive. When he was killed off (or appeared to be killed off), an emotional void was left among the characters that could never truly be filled.

Despite all of that, Summerlee had his faults. He too, was prone to having a big head. His greatest regret was walking away from his wife as she lay dying, without so much as a goodbye.

To sum it up: The perspective that one can see from having lived a great many years is sometimes hard to see, but it is a perspective that deserves to be explored. We live in a culture that celebrates the young and the youthful. But we sometimes forget that those of a certain age deserve our respect and attention, especially in fiction. Summerlee represents both the wisdom and regret that comes with reaching the stage in our lives when we are no longer young. When we as writers speak of creating well-rounded characters, we should be speaking of older characters whose contributions, wisdom and advise should be paid attention to.  We never know when this character will teach both the reader and the writer a thing or two.

 

 

 

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Filed under Books, Character Review, Television, The Lost World, Writing

Indecent Play Review

Morality and art are often subjective.

In 1923, the play God Of Vengeance hit Broadway. It closed in one night. It closed not because of poor reviews, but because it was considered immoral. It is the love story of two women against a backdrop of false piety, false modesty and the worship of the almighty dollar. Written in the first decade of the 20th century by Sholem Asch, it has been compared to Romeo and Juliet for its portrayal of love against all odds.

The Broadway play Indecent, is about not only the production of this play, but the reaction to the play over the years. Written by playwright Paula Vogel and directed by Rebecca Taichman, the play starts in the early 20th century in Warsaw. Sholem Asch (Max Gordon Moore), a newlywed and a budding writer, has written a play called God Of Vengeance. Young and enthusiastic, he is eager to see his play on stage. It becomes a success in Europe, but in America, it is a different story. The years pass, the culture changes and the question of what is art and how morality plays into the question comes into the forefront of the battle to see the play on stage again.

The thing that struck me about this play is how relevant it feels in 2017. It asks questions about politics, immigration, morality, diversity, etc. It also has a love story with two women, which was unheard of in the early 20th century and only now is slowly becoming more acceptable.

I absolutely recommend it. Indecent is only open until this Sunday, August 6th. See it if you can. I guarantee that you will walk out of the theater blown away.

Indecent is at 138 West 48th Street in New York City. You can find more information at http://www.indecentbroadway.com.

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Filed under Broadway Play Review, History, New York City, Writing

Character Review: Veronica Layton

*Warning: This post contains spoilers about the television show, The Lost World (which is loosely based the book of the same name). Read at your own risk if you are unfamiliar with the either the book or the television series.

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 The Lost World to explore how writers can create fully dimensional, human characters that audiences and readers can relate to.

The perspective of youth is often one of hope, light and opportunity. Sometimes that perspective fades as we get older.

Veronica Layton (Jennifer O’Dell) was the youngest member of the Challenger Expedition for most of the three years that the show was on the air.  Veronica is Arthur Conan Doyle’s answer to Tarzan. Her parents, who disappeared when Veronica was a young girl, were part of an earlier expedition. Growing up in the jungle, she learned independence and survival skills early on. But that does not mean that she has lost the innocence and light of youth.

Veronica grows from a young girl to a woman over the course of the three seasons. She has a sort of will they or won’t they relationship with Ned Malone (David Orth), falls briefly in love with a mad musician from the 19th century and begins to understand that life is sometimes hard. But her main goal is to find her parents.  In one of the last episodes of the third series, Veronica and the audience learn of her parent’s fate. Her father is dead and her mother descends from a long line of women who have ruled over the plateau for centuries. Veronica has been kept unaware of her lineage for her own safety.

To sum it up: Growing up is hard. Realizing that the life is not all sunshine and roses can be a difficult pill to swallow. Veronica is example of a great character because on one hand, she is independent and has no problem taking care of herself. But on other hand, she is still young and will be learning (sometimes the hard way) that life is complicated.  When a writer is creating a young character who over the course of the narrative grows up, the key is to make the journey of growing up universal. We all have to grow up at some point. Illustrating that journey properly through the narrative means speaking to the reader, regardless of the time and place that they are living. If the reader feels like the character is not speaking to them, then it is highly unlikely they will want to see the character through to the end of their journey.

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Filed under Books, Character Review, Feminism, Television, The Lost World, Writing

The World Within: A Novel of Emily Brontë Book Review

Among the three Bronte sisters, Emily, the second to youngest was the most introspective and private. Her social circle was limited to her family, her close friends and her animals. She rarely traveled outside of her hometown of Haworth, England. She was not concerned with being fashionable or climbing the social ladder. Her sole completed novel, Wuthering Heights is one of the most respected and admired novels in the English language.

Jane Eagland’s 2015 novel, The World Within: A Novel of Emily Brontë, takes place when Emily is a teenager. Her widowed father, Patrick is doing his best to raise his children with the help of his sister-in-law. The Bronte children have created stories over the years about vast and imaginative lands with colorful characters. But life is beginning to change, as it must.

Patrick gets sick and there is a concern about what will happen if he does not survive. The sisters realize that they must learn to fend for themselves. But the question is, how will they learn to fend themselves with no dowry, no connections, no income and limited professional opportunities that does not include marriage?

Among the Bronte sisters, Emily is the most fascinating. She was passionate, opinionated and fiery. And yet under the mask of the quiet Parson’s daughter, few knew who she really was. As a reader, a writer and a fan of the Brontes, it’s always interesting to learn what events and experiences shaped them into the women we know them to be today. The question is then, can a modern writer truly find their way into Emily’s life and psyche to write a novel about Emily Bronte before she became the giant of literature that we know her to be today?

On a scale of 1-10, 10 meaning the book was superb and 1 being that the book is horrible, I would give the book a rating of 5. It was ok, but it was a bit slow in the beginning and I struggled to stay focused on the story during parts of the narrative.

Do I recommend it? Maybe.

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Filed under Anne Bronte, Book Review, Books, Charlotte Bronte, Emily Bronte, Feminism, History, Writing, Wuthering Heights