Tuesday, February 20, 2018

I Guess It's That Time of Year

Yes, it's essay grading season, once again. All weekend long I have been keeping my nose to the proverbial grindstone, grading as many papers as my little brain can handle. But deep down, what i really want to do is this...




Wednesday, February 14, 2018

My Favorite Russian: Anton Chekhov


What I love most about the work of Anton Chekhov is that two people can read the same Chekhov story, and one reader may burst into tears while the other giggles uncontrollably. He mixes playfulness and sorrow so well, it's hard to tell how to interpret his plays and stories, and that's part of the fun.






Born in 1860, Anton Chekhov grew up in the Russian town of Taganrog. He spent much of his childhood quietly sitting in his father's fledgling grocery store. He watched the customers and listened to their gossip, their hopes, and their complaints. Early on, he learned to observe the everyday lives of humans. His ability to listen would become one of his most valuable skills as a storyteller.


(He was the third child out of six...) 

Despite economic hardship, Chekhov was a talented student. In 1879, he left Taganrog to attend medical school in Moscow. At this time, he felt the pressure of being the head of the household. His father was no longer earning a living. Chekhov needed a way to make money without abandoning school. Writing stories provided a solution.

Chekhov the Playwright: 



In 1896 The Seagull received a disastrous response on opening night. The audience actually booed during the first act. Fortunately, innovative directors Konstantin Stanislavski and Vladimir Nemirovich-Danechenko believed in Chekhov's work.



Their new approach to drama invigorated audiences. The Moscow Art Theatre restaged The Seagull and created a triumphant crowd-pleaser. Soon after, the Moscow Art Theatre, led by Stanislavski and Nemirovich-Danechenko, produced the rest of Chekhov's masterpieces: Uncle Vanya, Three Sisters, and The Cherry Orchard.


Happy Valentine's Day -- Love, Anton!



The Russian storyteller played with themes of romance and marriage, but throughout most of his life he did not take love seriously.


He had occasional affairs, but he did not fall in love until he met Olga Knipper, an up-and-coming Russian actress. They were very discreetly married in 1901.



Olga not only starred in Chekhov's plays, she also deeply understood them. More than anyone in Chekhov's circle, she interpreted the subtle meanings within the plays. For example, Stanislavski thought The Cherry Orchard was a "tragedy of Russian life." Olga instead knew that Chekhov intended it to be a "gay comedy," one that almost touched upon farce.






















Monday, February 12, 2018

Leo & Fyodor

Most portraits you see of Leo Tolstoy portray his "old man" phase...


But check him out when he was in his early twenties!!!




This is perhaps the most famous painting of Fyodor Dostoyevsky...


Here's a sketch depicting his younger days... 

 

Monday, February 5, 2018

A World Building Exercise

The world is exactly the same except... (insert your own difference and run with it...)


Here are some examples:


The world is exactly the same except 4th place and lower in the Olympics results in death.


The world is exactly the same except everyone is blind.


The world is exactly the same except Thomas the Tank engine is real and he's angry!


The world is exactly the same except the entire planet is a golf course.



The world is exactly the same except no clocks or calendars (or recorded time).


The world is exactly the same except every U.S. citizen must serve two years as a postal employee.


The world is exactly the same except fish can talk and they are as intelligent as human 4 year olds.


The world is exactly the same except aliens have arrived and they are obsessed with soccer.


The world is exactly the same except the older you get the less you can hear/understand music.


The world is exactly the same except single-celled organism will obey you if asked politely.


The world is exactly the same except nobody ever touches the ground.


The world is exactly the same except colleges accept students based upon physical appearance.


The world is exactly the same except your ghost inhabits the object nearest your corpse.


The world is exactly the same except humans are terribly afraid of flowers.


The world is exactly the same except mosquito bites give you temporary amnesia.


The world is exactly the same except you can only visit one place outside of your hometown -- once in your life on a two week free vacation.





Sunday, February 4, 2018

The Sensitive Side of Stephen King

Horrible, horrible things happen in the stories of Stephen King. His penchant for terror is renown. Whether within a tale of the supernatural...


(The Shining

...or a more realistic psychological thriller...


 (Misery)  

Stephen King knows how to scare us. That's the fun part about his work. But there's something more meaningful to be discovered below the surface. Despite the pain and gore that permeates much of his plot-lines, Stephen King has a very moral center in almost all of his stories. You can tell he wants good to triumph over evil, even if that's not always what happens at the end. 

Lots of casual readers might not know that beyond the horror novels, and their hit-and-miss movie adaptations, Stephen King has created several works which are deeply personal and surprisingly inspirational. I wouldn't say they are exactly heart-warming or kid-friendly... but they are remarkably different from the horror stories which have made King a household name since the late 1970s. Here are a few examples of King's softer side:

Stand By Me (Based on King's novella The Body)



It's the quintessential coming-of-age story (or a Bildungsroman if you wanna get all German about it.) Four friends in a backwoods town go on a quest to find a dead body. Along the way, our protagonist, Gordy, contemplates his past (the loss of his brother), his present (emotionally detached parents), and his future (aspirations of becoming a writer mixed with fears of losing his best friend). 

The kids are often rude and crude, but they can also be sensitive, wise, and philosophical. This was released in the late 80s and my high school teacher complained that "12-year old boys aren't that emotionally complex." But my feeling is that 12-year old boys often do their best to hide their emotional complexity, and King taps into this beautifully. 

Now the film and the short novel have significant differences, and some aspects of the book offer more depth. However, I think this is one of those rare cases in which the film is equal in artistic merit. (To explain why, I would have to devote a whole post...) Both the book and the film have exquisite moments, including one of my favorite scenes: 

 



The Eyes of the Dragon:

This is a good old fashioned fantasy novel. Even though there are a few mature moments as well as some violent deaths, it's something that you could read to most kids, and they probably wouldn't have nightmares. In fact, I think the Stand By Me gang would be all over this book.



It seems that Stephen King was sending this book out into the world to see if his readers would appreciate books that didn't fall under the horror category. According to the internet, fans were disappointed. This was at the height of his popular when his readers were greedy for the next scare-fest novel, and many grumbled when they snatched up this delightful book.



Faithful (co-authored by Stewart O'Nan):

Stephen King is a die-hard Boston Red Sox Fan. Lots of his characters seem to share that sentiment.
The most apparent example of this is his novel The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon -- in which a young girl gets lost in the woods and tries to survive, all the while channeling her favorite Red Sox pitcher. But this story still fits in the typical world of thrills and chills. There's also a baseball novella called Blockade Billy. It's a good old fashioned yarn... but things get dark, so I'm not putting on this list either.  Here's the book I wanna talk about... 




Not a single zombie cat, serial killer, or clown-demon to be found.  Faithful falls into the non-fiction category as it is mainly comprised of King and O'Nan corresponding as their dream comes true and the Red Sox win the 2004 World Series, thus ending the long standing Curse of the Bambino.  




11/22/63

This is an epic time-travel drama, really one of his most vivid and satisfying novels. It's about a guy from the 2010s who is shown a portal into the past (which of course is in the pantry of a burger joint) and travels into the late 1950s. He journeys into the past with an enormous task: to stop the assassination of JFK.


Now, as the they plot suggests, there are splashes of violence in this book, but at its core is not a Doctor Who styled rescue mission. It's a love story. And out main character falls in love while he's in the middle of his five year mission. Will he choose love over duty?  Can he stop a national tragedy and get the girl? 

Oh, and there's lots of swing dancing. What's not to love about swing dancing? 





The Shawshank Redemption:


This is a prison drama, so there are plenty of grizzly details that almost prevent me from placing this in this blog post. However, the original novella is short and sweet and the terrible events (specifically Andy Dufresne being raped by fellow inmates) is mercifully vague. King doesn't usually go with vague, so ultimately I think Shawshank falls in this category of his more sensitive / dramatic works. 

The film is EVEN BETTER than the book -- a rare thing indeed! Screenwriter / director Frank Darabont masterfully takes the best aspects of the novella and expands on them in wonderful ways. The characters are more developed, the multiple wardens are condensed into a single villainous warden, and the subplot of Brooks leaving his prison home is both heartbreaking and beautiful. Also, the film solidifies Morgan Freeman's place in history as the best narrator of the 20th Century. 


Just watch this scene as a reminder of humanity's capacity for hope and transcendence. 




On Writing -- A Memoir of the Craft:

This is part autobiographical reflection and part masterclass on the art of telling stories. It's concise, profound, funny, and perhaps best of all inspiring to anyone who dreams of becoming an author of any genre.



I remember this book was released not long after King had been severely injured. He got hit by a van while walking down a country road. In the painful aftermath, he wondered if he would ever be able to write again. Thank the Gods of Fiction, it wasn't long until King worked through his injuries and his writer's block and began creating some of his most ambitious works of his career -- not the least of which was the conclusion of the Dark Tower series.

The finale of On Writing gives us a first person account of the accident, as well as the road back to recover, and the return to creativity. If you want to learn from someone who loves & lives the art of storytelling, read this book.


Other Useful Blog Links for Creative Writing Students:

Sailing Through the So-What Factor

Wade's Poetic Terms

Guide to Poetic Devices (AKA Actual Poetic Terms)

Join "Word Count Wednesday" -- Here's a Sample













Calm the Frick Down, Charles Baudelaire!

I was doing a Google image search to find a friendly portrait of French poet Charles Baudelaire, and here's what I found...


Dear Lord! Intense gaze! Grim expression! Poetic ennui levels off the charts! Maybe
if we pull back, things will look a bit more cheerful... 


Nope... still pretty bleak... Maybe another photographer can mellow this poet the frick out... 


Nope... still profoundly intense. He's staring into my very soul!

Of course, I would expect any less from the man who brought us the poem collection The Flowers of Evil. 


Not to be confused with the evil flowers from Little Shop of Horrors.


The reaction to Baudelaire's 1857 publication of Flowers of Evil? Critics and the public were shocked and appalled. (Which meant that everyone wanted to read it.

Here's his lover... Jeanne Duval...


Baudelaire's Number One American influence: 

Edgar Allan Poe: Another Master of the Hard Stare
He also seems to be influenced by this romantic poet... 

Isn't it Byronic? 







Ghalib and Ghazals

If your notion of poetry has been restricted to Robert Frost, Emily Dickinson, and maybe a couple of Shakespearean sonnets, there's a distinct possibility that you've never heard of Ghalib before. And perhaps you have no idea what a ghazal is...

But if your lyrical knowledge extends beyond American and British soils, and into the realm of India, Pakistan, and beyond, then you probably already know that a ghazal represents one of the most celebrated poetic forms of Urdu, Hindi, and Persian cultures, and the Ghalib is the man who many say is the master of the ghazal.

So... What the heck is a ghazal

It's a poetic form with several key components:


  • The length is usually 6 to 14 lines (organized by couplets)
  • Meter can vary, but each line in a single couplet has the same number of syllables.
  • Refrain (radif) is an important aspect in most ghazals.
  • The poet usually includes his name at the end of the poem, almost as if conversing with him/herself. 
  • Many ghazals have been set to music... and it's still popular today!

Common Themes: 

All the ghazals that I have read explore the topic of love in its many facets. Some of this can be read as romantic love, but very often the ghazal is a meditation of love between the poet and God (or a higher power, often called "beloved"). Other forms of love can be explored in a ghazal... friendship, family, nature, the universe... although I don't think I've ever read a ghazal about the love between humans and pets. 

UPDATE: Just did a google search and found a ghazal about a dog and his owner. 


Origins and Early Ghazals: 

According to extensive research (or a slight glance at Wikipedia), ghazals were written as early as the 12th century, and they became incredibly prominent within Urdu culture in the 18th and 19th century. 

The cosmic/spiritual nature of ghazals can be traced back to Sufism. (Which we touched upon when discussing the Book of Travels.)  



Here's a quick video that gets you up to speed about some of the defining qualities of Sufism, a mystical avenue of belief and practice within Islam:




In the 13th century, Rumi became the most prominent of the Sufi poets. 







What About Ghalib?

Flash Forward to the 1800s... 

That's when this guy is writing ghazals... 


Mirza Asadullah Khan -- Pen Name: Ghalib

He lived during the time of the Mughal Empire...


And he wrote ghazals that would inspire millions of people throughout the world. 





What is Urdu? 

It's an Asian language noted for its literature and lyrics. This little Youtube film can explain it better than I can... 












Thursday, February 1, 2018

Resolution Check-In - February 2018 Edition


Welcome back, to another edition of Resolution Check-In, the game in which Wade charts all of his goals, keeping track of them as they remain entirely out of reach.

Actually, last year I had the good fortune of fulfilling all of my New Year's Resolutions during 2017. Hopefully, 2018 will be just as productive. I must be optimistic because I gave myself a much more ambitious list. The month of January has come and gone, so let's see how I've done in the first 31 Days.

1) Finish Writing a New Novel

My current work-in-progress is a middle grade time travel comedy. I was making excellent progress before spring semester began. However, during the last two or three weeks, the writing has come to a screeching halt. Still, I'm six chapters in... Not bad. Twenty four more chapters to go.

ACHIEVEMENT: 20% Complete

2) Sell a New Picture Book

My dragon-themed book is currently at a dozen publishing houses. I'm hoping the responses will be coming in soon. My agent is also prepping a new submission that will be paired with an illustrator from Red Fox Literary. (This one is a dog-themed story.)

ACHIEVEMENT: Zero Percent

3) Write / Sell a New Play

I've been co-writing the "All Inclusive" comedy with Christopher Flowers, but this particular resolution is going to be a solo project. I have no idea what it will be yet. I'm guessing this will be a summer time project.

ACHIEVEMENT: Zero Percent

4) Complete 200 Days of Writing ( 30 Minute Sessions)

I gave myself this task so that I wouldn't just write during the weekends and vacations. As I mentioned in my novel progress report, I have been procrastinating more as we get deeper into the semester. Still, I've logged in twenty days.

ACHIEVEMENT: 10% Complete

5) Participate in 10 Book Events / Signings

I attended a Friends of the Library / Local Author Celebration. Met up with some fellow Santa Clarita children's book writers. Oh, and a lot of good friends stopped by to say hello and buy my book, Around the World in a Bathtub. Nine more events to go!

ACHIEVEMENT: 10% Complete

6) Complete 100 five minute work-out sessions

My five-minute routine is a cycle of sit-ups, push-ups, mountain climbers, and some kinda lift (forgot the name, but it is supposed to help with arm and chest muscles). So far, I'm not seeing much of a physical change. But at least I'm keeping a consistent work-out.

Surprisingly, this may be my most successful category. I have worked out nearly everyday this January. Of course, lots of people exercise at the very beginning of the new year. Let's see what happens by mid-March.

ACHIEVEMENT: 27% Complete



7) Practice Drawing / Coloring for 100 hours

I haven't worked on anything terribly cohesive. In fact, one session I just sketched a whole bunch of strangely shaped lamps. I've been trying to get back into doodling the Duck Town characters. I'm very rusty, and like my writing, my drawing sessions have waned with the new semester.

ACHIEVEMENT: 16% Complete

8) Develop a Stronger Marketing Platform

I have this big long list of all the stuff I should be doing to promote myself, and I have done very, very little of it. Better get on it in February!

ACHIEVEMENT: 1% Complete

9) Create a portfolio with at least 12 awesome photos (make a calendar)
     Bonus: Organize family Videos / Scrapbooking Stuff


Hmm... I have been taking casual and crude photos, but I haven't taken a picture worthy of a Calendar.

ACHIEVEMENT: Zero Percent

10) Learn the whole melody of Ashokan Farewell on the piano.

This is the one resolution that might require more talent than I have. I've never been able to play well when using both hands is required. But I'm gonna give it an honest effort... Starting in February!

ACHIEVEMENT: Zero Percent

Well, that's my progress (or lack thereof) so far! I better get into gear or I fear this year will disappear!