Monday Muse: Four Betas to Rule Them All

Happy Monday, folks! It is I, A, forgetter of days and watcher of GoT. That’s right, in my attempt to catch up on Game of Thrones I didn’t write a Shakespeare Saturday. And still… I’m not caught up. SAY NOTHING INTERNET. Now, If I had written a Shakespeare Saturday I can guarantee that it would’ve been about the fact that Stratford is coming up fast and I’m mega excited and super ready to see Macbeth. Reviews have been streaming their way into my newsfeed and I think I can speak for both myself and C when I say that we’re ready to write our own reviews.

Anyway, our frequent readers will have surmised from the not-really-silly Silly Sunday post that both of your Nerd Cactus writers have important stuff on our minds. Killing Mercutio is now in the hands of four beta readers. True, these people are our friends, but they were also chosen because they are regular readers who won’t hold back if they see a glaring problem or a boring plot point. Seriously, the two betas I chose are opinionated and I love it. I know they’ll be honest and helpful if and when they find problems, but really I just want them to like it. If we can please our betas we get to move forward. If we don’t please our betas… well, I don’t really know what that entails, but it won’t be good.

So now we wait. We allotted our betas a month to read Killing Mercutio so there’s nothing more to say about it except that I hope it’s as good as we think it is. In the meantime I have to watch two more episodes of Game of Thrones. Granted, that’s not enough material to keep me distracted for the month, but for those two hours I won’t be restraining myself from messaging the betas for updates…

See you on Friday!

-A

Silly Sunday: And We’re Off!

Hello! Welcome! Greetings! Aloha! Ciao!

Sorry for missing yesterday. And for being a bit late today. We’re a bit verklempt over here at Nerd Cactus because…

WE DID IT!

colbert-kermit

Yes… that’s right…

Killing Mercutio is officially with the Beta Readers!

We’re officially done with phase two — tearing our novel apart and putting it back together again a la Humpty Dumpty — and into phase three: people are reading our novel! People who aren’t in charge of editing or critiquing and are just reading it to see if they like it. As if this is a final product. I mean, I know it isn’t — I know there’s more work to do yet — but this marks a really amazing step.

I am also (please excuse the language but it’s appropriate here) fucking terrified. I’ve spent the last two days doing everything in my power to not think about the fact that HOLY SHIT PEOPLE ARE READING MY NOVEL. WHAT IF THEY DON’T LIKE IT?! DID I DO ENOUGH EDITING? ARE MY BABIES LOVABLE? ARE THEY ABOUT TO GET HURT?! (Yes… I’m screaming this in my head. I’m a terribly anxious person.)

But… yeah. Wish us luck in our coming venture. This is probably the hardest thing a writer has to do. And it could lead to a great deal of hurt.

C

Boozy Books: Stiletto

Heyo, ladies, gentlemen, and non-gender-conforming readers! (Or, hell, non-human readers. We’re not speciesist. Speciesist? Specist? What would that be?)

I do that greeting both because I am fully supportive of everyone, but also because it kinda makes sense for the novel I’m pairing this weekend. After all, we’re dealing with people who have powers with no discernible scientific reasoning!

Oh yeah… y’all might not have read Monday’s blog, so you wouldn’t know that I promised to do a specific book this week. Yeah. I promised to do a specific book this week. After waiting FOREVER, the sequel to The Rook has finally come out, and I was not going to miss the opportunity to pair it! So I’m doing it before I lend it to A to read. (Yes, we trust one another enough to lend books. BFFs 4eva, y’all!) That way, she has no choice but to let me pair it.

Very often in storytelling… or anything, really, you get what’s called the sophomore slump. You’ve got a great first thing and you’re trying to live up to it, so you try too damn hard and end up making something awful. But that is NOT the case with Daniel O’Malley’s latest, Stiletto. I like it as much as the first. If I prefer Myfanwy as a character, it’s only because I have an irrational love for her and she’s one of my favorite characters ever. No one was going to live up to her, at least in this universe.

That being said, Rook Felicity Clements and Grafter Odette Leliefeld are definitely amazing and just as compelling as Myfanwy. Yeah, that’s right, Stiletto features female main characters again! Fantasy with bad ass female POVs is such a damn rarity in the world, and here’s Daniel O’Malley doing it back-to-back! Odette and Felicity’s relationship, characters, everything is used as the foundation of the entire story, serving as a reflection of the larger context of the novel: the Checquy/Grafter alliance, and all the trouble that goes along with it.

Basically… these two organizations are one another’s bogeyman. They are taught to fear and hate the opposite. The Checquy thinks of the Grafters as a group of evil mad scientists who once tried to take over England with their man-made monsters, and the Grafters think of the Checquy as unnatural… demons, basically, whose abilities cannot be explained scientifically and, thus, should not be trusted. And now the organizations are being merged… which, obviously, is going to cause problems. We’ve got old villains, new villains, politics, terror, friendship, adventure… everything.

The only thing I wish is that Myfanwy got more screen time, but that’s just because I love her so damn much. And, between you and me, I kinda ship her and Ernst… and I don’t do the shipping thing, which should tell you how invested I am in these characters.

Read this book. READ IT. READ IT NOW!

But also… have a drink. For funsies, I’m going to be recommending a drink based on the slime the Grafters use to promote healing. And, in order to play on a signature scent used throughout the novel (no spoilers, I swear!), there’s going to be some Grand Marnier involved! I’m recommending Ectoplasm, which is 3 parts vodka, 1.5 parts orange liqueur and Blue Curacao, and splash of OJ stirred together in an old-fashioned glass with some ice cubes. It’ll be a hideous color, but packs a huge punch and is surprisingly tasty! If you’re too much Team Checquy to drink such a Grafter-focused drink, go with a Pimm’s Cup! It is such a delightfully English drink, and quite refreshing.

Well… that’s it for me today! We’ll be back tomorrow with some Shakespeare!

C

Buy the Book:

Stiletto by Daniel O’Malley

Buy the Booze:

Here’s the Pimm’s! (I’m Team Myfanwy, so that makes me pro-Checquy, I guess.)

Monday Muse: Mercutio is Coming!

So… welcome to Cactus-landia, all you fine people of the Internet! And welcome, in particular, to the Monday Muse!

It’s getting to that time where A and I are going to be sending our baby, Killing Mercutio, out into the world for actual people to read. Granted, it’s just the beta phase and not publication, but it’s still a scary, scary prospect. I mean… other people. Reading our creation. Judging it. Maybe not liking it. Maybe hating a character we adore, or not thinking the plot is interesting enough.

The character one is the one I worry about the most, to be honest. Even if people think the plot is meh and the writing OK, so long as they think my babies are worth loving, I will be happy. I mean, I’d be a little unhappy that someone thought my writing was only OK, but I’d get over it. It’s like being a weird little word parent, I guess. Say what you want about me, but don’t you dare mess with my babies.

I think it’s the burden of writers everywhere to want to hold on to our creations. To protect them, keep them where they are adored, flaws and all. When we see something that needs improving, it’s OK because we’re just trying to make this wonderful creation the absolute best it can be. When other people point out flaws, it can feel like an attack even if it’s meant in the most constructive way.

But we can’t hold on to our babies. We have to let them out into the world. Because they deserve to be seen, read, loved, even not-so-loved, just like any flesh and blood child. And so A and I will be releasing, at least to a few trusted advisers, our baby into the world… most likely at the end of this week.

For now, though, I think it’s time for an excerpt. We haven’t given you one in a while. Just a brief piece of Benvolio’s introduction. No spoilers, I promise.

“Then what brings you here this most cheerful morn?” Launce, a servant to Proteus, another of Verona’s disparate youths, was a clown, but at least a useful one. Easy to emulate and easier to manipulate.

“Why, the people, of course! All the hounds come sniffing for favor, baying at the feet of our Prince for the scraps of his most august majesty. He tosses out a morsel and oh how they snarl for the taste of it. See how they preen, their bottoms wagging for the pure pleasure of his presence.”

Launce laughed. “But you won’t be seeing them from out here, will you?”

“Quite correct. I prefer to see them arrive in all their vainglorious pride and run away with their tails tucked between their legs.” Benvolio gestured toward the gate by which petitioners and courtiers alike would enter the Prince’s abode. After a moment, a magnificently clothed man came forth, his muscles squeezed tight with anger. “See now. One has been rebuked for piddling where he oughtn’t.”

“Oh, yes…’tis most amusing, sure, for our betters to be reminded of their follies. But I would so much prefer to see the dance.”

So… there you have it. I let a little bit of my baby go out into the world. Wish us luck as we reach the next phase of our great endeavor. And wish our babies luck, too.

I’ll be back on Friday with a pairing for Stiletto, the sequel to The Rook that I’ve been talking about so much of late. Until then!

C

Silly Sunday (on Monday): Chickens

I forgot yesterday was Sunday! I was partaking in father’s day brunch and totally went into a food coma!!! Aaaahhhh!!!

I apologize. Here’s a quick silly post to make it to you. This video made me laugh hysterically. Watch it to the end.

C will be back later today with your regularly scheduled muse!

-A

Shakespeare Saturday: Ben Jonson

Heyo! Welcome to today’s Shakespeare Saturday!

You may have noticed that today’s entry isn’t about Shakespeare.

*gasp*

I know! This is supposed to be about William Shakespeare, not some guy most of you have never heard of. (Seriously, when A told one of her friends about Bill and Ben’s Excellent Adventure, their response was to say they’d never heard of Ben before. *sad/angry face*) But Ben Jonson is important, too, and I want to talk about him since he’s, you know, the Ben in ‘Bill and Ben’.

In our version, Ben Jonson is the sort-of Salieri to Shakespeare’s Mozart, but not in the ‘insanely jealous and trying to sabotage’ him sort of way, just in the ‘why doesn’t that ASSHOLE appreciate his gifts’ sort of way. He is serious, studious, and devoted to the craft as a craft, necessitating hard work and agonizing hours. The play is a discussion of the merits of theater vs film, and, where Shakespeare takes the side of film, Jonson is steadfast in his defense of theater. He’s a bit pedantic, has a tendency to be a bit judge-y, and takes himself too seriously, but he is also loyal, hard-working, and surprisingly able to admit to the greatness of others. Straight up Ravenpuff, y’all.

(For the record, I think Shakespeare is probably a Slytherdor.)

As I believe I’ve mentioned before, the real Ben Jonson was a contemporary of Shakespeare, but out-lived him by about twenty years and went on to become, arguably, the first Poet Laureate of England. He was very popular during the reign of James I and kept his position in the early years of Charles I, as well. Unlike Shakespeare, he was a master of the boys choirs and Court Masques that became popular in the Jacobite years. (And, even though our Ben complains about Shakespeare being all about spectacle, was rather known for spectacle himself. The disappearing stage mentioned in The Tempest is probably a reference to one of Jonson’s Masques.) He hasn’t become The Bard, obviously, but he has been consistently performed (minus the shut-down of the theaters) for the past 400 years.

And he makes a hell of a straight man to Shakespeare’s ridiculous shenanigans.

Bill and Ben’s Excellent Adventure is still in the works, but we’re almost ready to send it out into the world! Stay tuned!

Tomorrow, we silly!

C

Boozy Books: The Sex Lives of Cannibals

Hey there, hi there, ho there, fabulous readers! Welcome to Boozy Books Friday, official home of Nerd Cactus’ literary wine/alcohol pairings. I don’t know about you, but I’ve had a pretty long week and am sorely in need of said booze. Dealing with hordes of small children is EXHAUSTING. Yup, that’s right, during the summer months this performer teaches dance at (what else?) a performing arts summer camp. Happily, the schedule is simple and straightforward, so now I (mostly) know what day of the week it is! This is because I now look forward to my “weekends”. So this is what it’s like outside of theatre life…

With all that being said, let’s get to the main event, the reason we’re all here, the start of our collective weekend! We’ve previously expressed that coming up with new Boozy Book pairings has become harder as we run down the list of our obvious choices. Today, I looked through my shelves of books and was completely uninspired. But then my super cool mom suggested that I think about what DRINKS I haven’t paired yet. I’ve never worked backwards like this, but it totally worked. I settled on the fruity, rum-filled, weather-inspired, island-favorite drink known simply as a hurricane. So now that you know what you’ll be drinking… what are you reading? Drumroll please!

….

Enter: The Sex Lives of Cannibals by J. Maarten Troost. This laugh-out-loud travelogue is the perfect summer read. The book documents the adventures of the author and his girlfriend during the two years they spent living on the Tarawa atoll in the Pacific island nation of Kiribati. The book is absurd and eye-opening and utterly hysterical from start to finish. The author relates difficulties with electric and water shortages, the story of the “Great Beer Shortage”, and the time he witnessed a local shitting in the ocean as he was taking a swim. The book provides some educational aspects and you’ll find yourself fascinated by this tiny strip of land that’s so far removed from civilization that getting a subscription to the New Yorker is practically impossible. Give it a read, I guarantee you’ll be entertained!

Until next time,

-A

https://www.amazon.com/Sex-Lives-Cannibals-Equatorial-Pacific/dp/0767915305

Monday Muse: Let’s Get Real For A Minute

Heyo! Welcome to today’s Monday Muse.

I’m going to break the rule about politics today. Fair warning. If that’s not why you’re here, don’t read today’s post.

A and I live in Florida. We’re far enough from Orlando that neither of us was in danger, but we’re close enough that we have friends in the area. Friends who very well MIGHT have been in danger. Friends whose funerals we are very, very fortunate not to be making plans to attend in the next few days.

Our friends are alive. But, for fifty people now and perhaps more in the next few days, that is no longer the case.

They are gone. They are gone and they are never coming back.

And it’s because they were at a gay club.

But I don’t want to talk about the shooting itself or the latest scar on my heart. I can’t or I’ll start crying again. I don’t know if it’s because, for the first time, people I know and love could have been hurt, which hits my heart just that much harder, or because it literally happened so close to home. I don’t know if it’s because I’ve been an LGBT ally for so long, it’s like people of my own community were attacked on what feels like my doorstep. I don’t know. But this one… this one hurts more than the others. I’m actually having a hard time doing my usual compartmentalizing thing, which is what I usually do to protect myself from overwhelming feelings. People always tell me I seem cold in these situations… but it’s only because all of my faculties are going to staving off the hurt.

It’s so I can function. Because I need to function. Not functioning isn’t an option.

No. I want to talk about the response. Which has infuriated me to no end. Both because it’s a battle over blame when we know who’s to blame, and because fighting over who to blame takes the focus off of what really matters: the victims, and the heroes who stepped up to do what they could, and more, in the aftermath. The people who stood for hours on line in Florida summers (it’s summer here, no matter what the calendar says) to donate blood, who came together to show the world that we will keep fighting against this hate, who helped save lives the night of, and, yes, the emergency services who just did their jobs.

But what, funnily enough, has really stuck with me in my weird cocoon of distance and intellectualism (the product of the aforementioned compartmentalizing thing) is the idea that this is EITHER a gun problem OR a terror one… as if the two are mutually exclusive. As if terrorists of all stripes can’t and don’t take advantage of our lax gun laws to procure their weapons of terror. As if, if we focus on those brown people, we’ll eliminate all the death in this country AND get to keep our egregious number of high-speed projectile machines. As if, so long as Islam is the problem (and, of course, there is only one kind of terrorism and it’s ALL THEIR FAULT), we can shift the blame from and absolve ourselves of our place in this.

This is a confluence of several things. The world is not either/or. We can’t look at this asshole and his asshole act of hate and terror and destruction and blame it all on one thing. We can’t say that the President talking about our gun problem is politicizing and shifting the blame when the “it’s all the Muslims’ fault!” crowd is at least AS guilty if not more so. That putrescent pile of maggots feeding on diarrhea should never have been able to get a gun. Period. His attempts to do so should have gotten him a good, hard look and a denial. That much is true. And, yes, he is a terrorist. I don’t think he did this at the behest of ISIS no matter that those melanomas on the Earth’s surface took credit, but I don’t deny he was influenced by them. But that’s NOT WHAT MATTERS. He is a terrorist because he committed an act of terror for what is undoubtedly a political reason. It just so happens that his reason was homophobia and not that perversion of Islam that is the so-called Islamic State. (And boy am I tempted to take advantage of this “breaking the rules” thing to talk about the double standard applied to Islam. When Muslims ignore the troubling aspects of their religious texts, they’re “not real Muslims”, but when Christians do the same damn thing, it’s because “that part of the text isn’t relevant anymore”. Which is… ugh.)

And don’t even get me STARTED on the onslaught of anti-LGBT speech, legislation, and feeling in this country? You spend so much time and effort dehumanizing, othering, and lessening your fellow human beings because they’re not “legitimate” in your eyes, and shit like this happens. But maybe that’s why it’s so important that the bogeyman is to blame. Why it’s Islam that’s the problem and not us and our laws and our misplaced priorities. Because we’re America. We can’t be wrong. We can’t be the problem. Our nation can’t have problems stemming from the fact that it was created by human beings with all the faults attendant on that humanity? No. It has to be someone else.

I guess the point of the matter is, can we stop treating these things like they’re black and white? People are complex and actions are always a result of context. Now, for the asswipe who murdered 50 people and injured as many more, it’s pretty black and white: the dude was a terrorist, a murderer, and a stain on the human race. But to bandy about “it’s guns” or “it’s Muslims” is to do a disrespect not only to the people who were affected by this horrible act of cowardice, but to the complexity of the world and its many problems.

Hate was the problem here. Hate, and the idea that we’re allowed to act on that hate. But it sure as shit wasn’t helped by our lax gun laws or the assholes across the ocean who decided that their way was the only way to live.

Problem is… there’s assholes like that here, too. And we’ve really got to do something about that. Or else we’re going to continue seeing death everywhere we look. And, eventually, no one is going to be able to say “my friends are OK”.

C

Silly Sunday: My Silly Brain

OK. I’m going to tell you a story. It is a TRULY silly one, too, so perfect for today.

In the span of approximately three minutes, I created a hit television show and got it canceled. Yeah, that’s right, tonight is a strange journey into the mind of C. A mind that’s pretty much an orchestra where every single person is playing a different measure of the same symphony.

See, there’s a band called Banks and Steelz, made up of Interpol’s Paul Banks and Wu -Tang’s RZA, who’re dropping their album this year. (From what I’ve heard, it’s going to be pretty damn amazing.)

Well, my brain being what it is, I decided that Banks and Steel (minus the Z) sounded like a cop duo where one is the straight-laced, by-the-books cop and the other is, of course, the rule-bending, results-oriented, from-the-streets maverick. We’ll have a Banks, a fresh-off-the-farm transfer from the Midwest into *insert tough city’s* vice division, and Steel, the local bad boy made good (but who still holds on to his roots, yo).

Hit TV show, right? Maybe not an award winner, but definitely a solid hit that’ll get a few seasons out of it because it’s so damned generic.

But then my brain was like, “But that’s boring. Of course Steel is the tough minority and Banks is the paler’n milk honky from Tiny Town, U.S.A.! We need NEW television! Exciting television.”

So… what if Steel is actually a minority from privilege, forced to contend with the prejudices of his own community, and Banks is the kid forced to make good after dealing with the system? What if we play with perception and deal with more insidious brands of prejudice, othering, and sense of self?

Aaaand I’ve just gotten my hit TV show canceled. Look at that. Three minutes from hit to trash heap, just like that.

It’s probably funnier/sillier when added to my mile-a-minute ramble.

Anyway… a brief insight into how my brain works. (And a sad look into the state of American television.) We’ll be back tomorrow with a Muse.

C

Shakespeare Saturday: Shakespeare Goes to Jail

Hey there, lovely readers! It’s me, A! I know it’s been a while since I posted, but I’m back with a vengeance. Hair has closed, I have indulged in my post-show blues, and I’m so glad to be back for Shakespeare Saturday! I’m particularly excited about this week’s offering as I’m about to share with you a wonderful article that is deeply interesting and (I think) inspirational.

Shakespeare has a way of reaching the masses, even hundreds of years after his death… We’ve said it before and I’ll keep on saying it. Shakespeare is for everyone. Here’s further proof… the Rehabilitation Through the Arts program. This program aims to rehabilitate inmates by exposing them to theatre. The following article focuses on a production of Twelfth Night performed by inmates at New York’s Sing Sing state penitentiary.

The interviews with the actor/inmates are really great and truly show how spending a little time with Shakespeare is all it takes to be affected. It’s incredible to see how Shakespeare can touch people who otherwise might not have any interest or exposure. Please read the article and the accompanying interviews because it’s really just wonderful.

http://www.themarshallproject.org/2016/05/03/what-it-s-like-to-perform-shakespeare-in-prison#.a2jrigeso

-A