Monday Muse: The Side Effect of Mercutio

Hey, guys! Welcome to today’s Monday Muse. It’s going to be short because, once again, I am not prepared to write this.

Sorry, guys. I really am going to start writing down my ideas when I have them instead of assuming I’ll remember them. This is a cautionary tale for everyone, I think.

In answer to the questions I’ve been getting: no, I probably won’t be watching Still Star-Crossed. But lest anyone thinks that maybe I have a real problem with POC being cast in a Shakespeare-era show (which, if you know me at all… c’mon, people. Really?), it really has nothing to do with the show itself. Though, to be frank, it hinges on the part of Romeo and Juliet I always liked least: romance (or what passes for romance in R&J).

A and I will be the first to tell you that we’re not huge fans of Romeo and Juliet. Not the writing, of course, which is top notch Shakespeare, but the story. It’s full of idiotic kids being idiotic and the adults who should know better (looking at you, Friar Laurence) making it worse. If I want a great couple, I have Much Ado About Nothing‘s Beatrice and Benedick. If I want tragedy, well… Hamlet. Duh. But Romeo and Juliet has always been just sort of… not my favorite. And A, though maybe for different reasons, agrees. It’s the reason we wrote Killing Mercutio.

For those of you who don’t know, Killing Mercutio takes all the so-called romance out of the play and ages everyone up. Juliet, the youngest character, is eighteen. Benvolio and Mercutio are both in their thirties. At no point are Romeo and Juliet interested in one another except as compatriots in their shared cause. Really, their individual friendships with Mercutio and the way those relationships shaped them (Romeo and Juliet, I mean) is way more important than any connection between Montague and Capulet. Oh, and the rivalry between the families?  Dealt with by the Venetians, who have made Verona a vassal (which is historical). Some of it remains–you don’t just start being buds with your political enemies–but it certainly isn’t a driving force to the characters’ relationships. The Montagues don’t even play a big role in the politics of Verona anymore, having retired with their fortunes to the country.

Obviously, I don’t want to spill everything. And readers will still be able to see the play within our novel. But having lived with versions of the characters that are, shall we say, the truth behind the curtain, it’s a little hard to go back to versions of the story that keep the curtain firmly intact. I’m not interested in a Benvolio who may-or-may-not fall in love with Rosaline (I actually have a very small inkling what Still Star-Crossed is about, but with a name like that… some people better die. Y’all do know that star-crossed means doomed to tragedy, right? Not just falling in love with someone from the opposite side of the tracks.) because my Benvolio doesn’t give a damn about that sort of thing. Having thought about it a lot, I’m 99.9% convinced the Benvolio I wrote is aro/ace, so sex and romance are just out of the question. He is also, again, in his thirties. And Batman.

Did I mention he’s 15th century Veneto’s very own (not nearly as rich or techy) Batman?

Not to mention certain characters we left alive in our version are very much dead here.

So… no, I probably won’t be watching Still Star-Crossed. Which is just another of Shonda Rhimes’ shows I’ve never seen and I’m beginning to feel like a complete outsider to the realm of television phenomena (thank you, Game of Thrones, for giving me fandom street cred). But it has very little to do with being about Romeo and Juliet. It’s just that, when you’ve lived with a character in your head for as long as I have, seeing a different version of that character can feel… wrong. Especially the way Killing Mercutio works. Or maybe it’s just me. I’m well-versed in being a weirdo. I’ve never seen a single Shonda Rhimes show, remember?

C

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Shakespeare Saturday: An Anecdote

This is a true story. A can tell you.

It’s not a particularly important story, nor does it have a point. It just illustrates the Nerd Cactus relationship with Shakespeare so very well that I wanted to share it with you.

A and I regularly go to bookstores together. If we near one when we’ve gotten together, you can bet we’ll end our day scouring the sale tables and laughing over the sometimes silly things people write. Or the funny titles. We don’t make fun of people. You know, except people who pass themselves off as historians and write things like “Why Obama is the Worst President Ever” when any historian worth their salt would never do something like that (not to mention it’s pretty commonly agreed upon that James Buchanan is the worst). We also look for comps pretty often because, you know, that sorta stuff is important.

I can’t remember what the book is called because I’ve put it out of mind, but this is the story of the time I threw a book back down on the table like it had burnt my fingers. It started well enough: Kit Marlowe’s death is faked. Yes! YES! I love stories like this, using the… not-quite-folklore, not-quite-mythic stories we’ve pulled out of history and writing novels as if they’re real. And we at Nerd Cactus plan to one day write a series of MG books following Kit Marlowe as he works for Walsingham as a spy.

I show the book to A. “This could be a comp!” I say, though it’d be only loosely comparable to Killing Mercutio. “We can look up who the writer’s agent is.” But then I read more closely…

This book is about how Kit Marlowe is really William Shakespeare!

AAAFHJFHDF}SFNVS”OAd!!!!!

“NOPE!” The book goes back on the table. “Now we’re bringing Kit Marlowe from the dead just to prove Shakespeare couldn’t have written his own plays!” A’s lip curls and she looks disgusted. We don’t want this to be a comp because… no. Anyone who’s willing to make money off Shakespeare should at least give him his legacy. We’re very pro-Shakespeare here at Nerd Cactus. And all I had to do is say “HE’S NOT SHAKESPEARE!” and A is right there with me.

We are truly made to be partners, I think.

Anyway. This story as no real purpose. I did warn you. It’s just a piece of color that’s very us.

We’ll be here tomorrow for the Silly. If not, technically it’s Sunday now.

C

Boozy Books: The Magic Strings of Frankie Presto

Heyo! It’s me, A! Apologies for missing my posts last week. Spamalot just opened and the weekend became quite a whirlwind as I settled into the new show schedule. But now I’m back! My reading this month has been slightly hindered by my demanding rehearsal schedule, but fear not I still managed to read the two books I required of myself. I’m in the process of reading another two, but seeing as neither is any good they may not count for the month of May at all (if I decide to actually finish them…).

Well, anyhoo, more on boring literature later… Perhaps I’ll spend a Monday Muse on it. I have some thoughts. Strong opinions, if you will.

Today I bring you Mitch Albom’s The Magic Strings of Frankie Presto. While the story is far from groundbreaking and relies on a 12th hour deus ex machina to tie up some of its loose strings (see what I did there), it’s a lovely little story that makes for some quick, light, summery reading. I’d especially recommend it if you’re a fan of rock n’ roll history as the main character, Frankie Presto, weaves in and out of historical events from touring with Elvis to playing at Woodstock. In its way it resembles Forrest Gump, taking the reader on a wild foray that explores Presto’s fictional influence on the music scene from his birth to his death. 

Narrated largely by the omniscient rendering of the personified character Music, The Magic Strings of Frankie Presto is an interesting blend of musicality and literature. You don’t need to know a lot about music to appreciate what Albom has done in his pacing of the story, but if you do there are plenty of nods to musical vocabulary that create an air of composition that is not typically associated with writing. It’s clever and sweet, and an examination of the importance of being true to yourself and the ones you love. 

As I mentioned, there’s a late introduction of a character I feel was unnecessary to the success of the story, but that’s really my only complaint. The charm of Frankie Presto’s absurd life up to that point is its fantastic impossibility. The very trait that Albom ultimately tries to explain away. I had no qualms with Frankie’s life being somehow touched by magic or by Music’s special favor and influence, and the character to whom I refer snatched away the elevated whimsy of his life and didn’t really feel like a character that needed to exist within the scope of the story. That being said, it’s a nice, fun read and I’m sure there are plenty who would disagree with me on this, so don’t let my opinion deter you from picking this one up.

As for this week’s pairing: I’m leaning toward a Spanish white wine. Try something from the Rias Baixas region. This region is known for its flavorful and sweet, white wine, the perfect light, crisp partner for a light read.
Enjoy!

A

Monday Muse: Uh… A Thing!

Hey, guys! I’m sorry we’re late. And that you’re stuck dealing with me again. A’s posts are always so much more succinct and less rambling than mine, and now you’re forced to sit through another ridiculous C day.

I also don’t have anything to say. I think. I had something I wanted to say, but then I forgot what it was. What was it? I don’t know.

Well, I guess instead of having something substantive to say, I guess I’ll go ahead and shoot myself in the foot by announcing that Nerd Cactus is going to be writing another book in the world of Killing Mercutio. And it’s going to focus on Horatio!

Yes. The guy who manages to survive Hamlet is the main character of this story. He’ll end up meeting with the crew from Killing Mercutio (the ones who survive, obviously, though there are some another spin-off tails involving Tybalt after he is brought back to life by Puck to serve Oberon) and things will happen! Also… he is mourning Hamlet’s death more than just as his prince, but as the man he loved. And I am thisclose to pairing him off with Cassio (who appears in Mercutio, as well).

We’re not sure what exactly the plot will be, but we know we’re going to use the Dano-Hanseatic War and the conflict between the Kalmar Union and Holstein as the backdrop of the story. This does mean we’ll have to strip Elinsore of its actual crown, but we figure you’ll forgive us for the sake of a good story. Plus, the novel begins with everyone except Horatio and Fortinbras dead, anyway, so… whatever.

As to why Benvolio et al would get involved. Turns out the King of Denmark of the time was married to Philippa, the sister of Henry IV of England. And Benvolio has connections in England, after all.

I admit this one is my baby more than it is A’s. I’m kinda dragging her along for the ride because Horatio is one of my favorite characters and I wanted to write about him. But this involves a lot more historical research on my part than Mercutio ever did, so I’m excited to make this work not only in historical context but also within the world we’ve created. Shakespeare first, history second really dominated Killing Mercutio (though if you’re wondering why Michael Cassio appears in a Romeo and Juliet novel when Othello takes place a century-and-a-half later, I have an explanation); I’m looking forward to doing something like that again.

This will obviously happen after Talentless. But I am enjoying reading into a part of the world and history I never really studied before. Obviously, this will involve less re-working of Shakespeare’s actual plays (taking place after Hamlet), but it means I get to write for Benvolio again. And explore things I didn’t get to go into with him the first time around. Like the fact that he’s very probably aro/ace because I can’t even begin to imagine him in either a romantic or sexual relationship. The most important person in the world to him is Romeo and that’s definitely NOT sexual or romantic.

Also, Horatio and Benvolio on the same page as one another makes me the happiest. The absolute happiest.

So. News! Super happy-making!

C

Silly Sunday: Writing Funnies

Heylos! Welcome to today’s Silly Sunday. I seem to have been correct about the new show getting in the way of A writing yesterday, but I also didn’t want to write anything. Laziness, how thou art wonderful sometimes. To be fair, I was exhausted. I hadn’t slept the night before, so it wasn’t just laziness.

So. In Killing Mercutio news, we’re at 14 rejections/no-replies (which mean rejections). There’s three more approaching the “if you haven’t heard from us by this time, it’s a no” stage, so… pretty much seventeen. Our next batch is full of projects like ours (and Gregory Maguire’s agent), so we’re hoping third time’s the charm. Honestly, seventeen isn’t that many. If we get up into the 50-60 range, I’ll start getting concerned, but for now? No. Seventeen is nothing.

For today, writing funnies!

Okay, so I always have this idea for a really epic fight but whenever I try to write it, it just come out extremely badly written.:

 

I do this aaaaallll the tiiiimmmmeee. I just  enjoy reading my writing so much that I need it. Also, I forget what I wrote 20 minutes ago, so refresh:

 

Oh but what is right often feels like betrayal.:

 

I think we've all had a moment like this...:

 

And… a not-so-funny because inspiration:

writing images | How a dead dude helped me rediscover my drive to write | Going For ...:

OK. We’ll be back tomorrow with a Muse!

-C

Boozy Books: Staying Sober Today

Hey, guys! Welcome to today’s Boozy Books.

I’m going to make a confession. After reading Jane EyreWuthering Heights, and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall over the course of a month, I have nothing new for you today. I decided to return to the joys of my favorites to take a break from the whole business. That being said, I don’t want to leave you guys hanging… I just read things I’d already paired. So I’m going to give you a chance to explore some of the older posts, especially those of you who are new to Cactus-landia! (HI!!!)

First up, The RookI let A pair this because I am an amazing friend, but this book was literally the last time I was completely blown away by an author I’d never read before. I just walked into the bookstore, picked a book that looked good, and it actually went well for me! I am a hard person to please. It’s gotten to the point I pretty much only read new authors on the personal recommendation of a person whose taste I trust. But The Rook is a new obsession of mine. After I finished The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, I immediately picked it up for a re-read because I love it so much. We also paired its sequel, Stiletto, and I definitely didn’t let A have that one.

I know you know this, but I am literally always reading Middlemarch. It can take a year to finish it because I’ll read a little, put it aside while I read something else, and then pick it up again. It never leaves my bedside table (i.e. my dresser because I am not enough of an adult to have a bedside table) and I can go weeks without reading it and pick it up without missing a beat. It’s to the point I’ve actually paired it twice.

Now, for a new book. Well, it’s not actually new, but I decided I might as well get over my high school distaste for Dickens and give him another chance. So what did I do? Delve into Bleak House, which is only one of his longest novels (by page count, it’s often THE longest, but Copperfield has a couple more thousand words). I figured I might as well jump right into the deep end. I’ll definitely pair it, though. Do I want to have it all end in disappointment and nothing, or do I focus on Esther’s story and have it end up bright? Wait. Does this mean I can recommend one of those cotton candy drinks for Dickens? God, I hope so.

So, yes. I’m taking a break this week from new pairings. I apologize. But, also, I think I kinda deserve it. The Brontë sisters aren’t exactly light summer reading by modern standards. Especially three in a single month.

I’ll be back on Sunday! (Or maybe tomorrow if A forgets it’s Saturday. Her new show just opened.)

C

Monday Muse: The Thrilling Conclusion!

Hey, guys! Welcome to today’s Monday Muse! And welcome to the conclusion of my month-and-a-half long Brontë-off! Three sisters, three books, one winner!

Now, I really did come up with a points system for this. I even stuck to it! So, let me briefly explain that before I go forward and discuss my likes and dislikes and reveal the prize-winner.

Oh, shit. I didn’t create a prize. Well… I guess the prize will just have to be a re-read in the not-too-distant future. Or tracking down an adaptation and watching it because it can actually be difficult to find them for at least one of the books.

So, I basically created a system of points from 1-5 in the following categories: Characters, Plot, Writing Style, and overall Readability. That’s kind of vague, I know, but those are the kind of things I consider when I read books. Unless it’s fantasy, in which case there’s the “Holy Shit, That’s Awesome!” effect. But these aren’t fantasy (except the idea that Byronic heroes make good lovers), so that category isn’t all that important. In the end, I added up the points and, well… I think this part’s obvious.

Let’s start with Jane Eyre. You’ll be surprised to see how little my dislike of Charlotte Brontë has affected my opinion of her book. Or maybe you won’t be because you know I’m a historian and being disinterested is kind’ve our thing. I don’t have to like someone to acknowledge they’re good at what they do. And Jane Eyre is a great book. Jane is a wonderful character. She’s the kind of heroine we want our daughters to look up to: strong, passionate, self-possessed, and self-aware. She knows who she is and lives her life according to that knowledge. We seethe for her when she faces injustice and feel sorry for her when that whole secret-wife-in-the-attic thing happens. And, of course, I’ve always like that she takes delicious revenge on Rochester by telling him all about St.John Rivers. Now, this is the worst case of author manipulation for marriage plot in the history of ever (hearing his voice? really? really, charlotte? really?), but it is in keeping with Romantic ideals. And I can’t help but dislike Rochester. He made bad decisions and then decided he should be able to ignore them because he deserves to be happy? He was going to enter into bigamy and, in Jane’s belief, doom her to Hell all for his own feelings. Again, though… it’s good writing. And in keeping with Romanticism. But the biggest problem with Jane Eyre? The writing itself. It’s terribly dense, especially compared to her sisters, and it has a definite effect on the readability score.

So, let’s do this:

Characters: 4 out of 5. I take a point off because some of the characters (especially the Riverses) exist solely to further Jane’s story. I get she’s the main character, but everyone should exist for themselves.

Plot: 3 out of 5. I took points off of this one because there are some really damn obvious cases of things being unbelievable for the sake of the plot. Jane takes off into the moors and ends up being found by the only people in England who happen to be her long lost family? Seriously? I get that these are all Romantic tropes, I really do, but Charlotte does it too much.

Writing Style: 3 out of 5. Again, especially when compared with her sisters, Charlotte’s language can feel clunky and dense. It starts out with a great first line and then nary a period for what feels like forever. So long, dense sentences that attempt to say too much. Compared to her sisters (for different reasons I’ll cover), Charlotte’s writing style is my least favorite.

Readability: 4 out of 5. There are periods in this book I just want Jane to shut up and move on. The part where she’s wandering in the moors after running from Rochester is one of them. The part with the Riverses is another. Actually, the entire second half of the novel needed tightening. And that made it, on occasion, difficult to slog through. Honestly, I prefer adaptations to the book sometimes for this very reason.

Total. 14 out of 20.

Now on to Wuthering Heights. This book suffers a lot for me from having such high scores for readability and writing style and yet awful characters and a somewhat… overwrought plot. As I discussed in the pairing, I hate every character in this book. I hate them all. Heathcliff isn’t a romantic hero. Catherine blames everyone for her own weakness. They’re terrible together and apart and everywhere. And the thing is… they aren’t real. None of this is real. It’s so overwrought and so full of the dark side of Romantic sensibility that it loses any and all of its realism. If Emily Brontë had wanted to look at the dark side of Romanticism or in what can happen to people when they don’t do what their soul is telling them to do, she could have done so without delving into a nightmare Gothic world and I think her thesis would have been much more powerful. That said, this is the book I actually enjoy just reading most, if that makes sense. The language is spectacular. Emily is the best writer of the three sisters, in my opinion. Her poetry is powerful, her prose is evocative, and if she had been the one to write The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, I think no one would ever talk about Jane Eyre.

Then again, no one would talk about Anne, either… and that’s sad. I like Anne. I like the whole concept of Gondal that she and Emily created.

The scores!

Characters: 3 out of 5. OK. Are they well-written? Yes. But they’re… they’re almost caricatures of real people. They’re like Gothic archetypes. Like… you know how Commedia dell’Arte is all about archetypes and the characters are differentiated by their masks and costumes? Yeah. These characters feel like all the villains from Gothic romance put together into one novel. They’re well-constructed, but… I just like a little more realism in my work.

Plot: 3 out of 5. Yeah. I know. But… guys. The plot is so unrealistic. I mean. Yes… people are awful. They marry the wrong people and are then unhappy. They try to get revenge on one another. But it’s like Emily decided she wanted to take EVERY TROPE in Romantic literature and then explore the dark side. It’s just one awful thing after another until, in the last few pages (literally, like 9 pages from the end), Heathcliff dies and people can be happy. Sort of.

Writing Style: 5 out of 5. Emily is the best Brontë. She can WRITE. Enough side.

Readability: 4 out of 5. I only take a point off because, as well-written as the whole thing is, it’s sometimes hard to keep reading when all you want to do is murder everyone in the book. And then you realize you’ve become Heathcliff. And you hate yourself a little bit.

Final Score: 15 out of 20.

The Tenant of Wildfell Hall. The book that, in the interests of disclosure, was my favorite. But, in the interests of disinterest, I have some problems with. Like I said above, if Emily had written this book, I think it would have been the greatest masterpiece in the history of ever. EVER. EVER!!! But that’s because it’s my favorite book, but Emily is the best writer. That being said, Anne’s no slouch. Something I marveled was her ability to characterize so well in only a few words. One line and you knew a character, especially in the case of secondary characters. This allows her to focus on the main players. In fact, of the two biggest weaknesses of the book, one is something Anne couldn’t really help because of the time in which she wrote (Arthur’s affair, for example, could be dealt with in a much more… open manner), and the other is at the heart of the novel. If you’ve been keeping up with the Brontë-off, you’ll know I disliked the constant moralizing and Bible-quoting on the part of the main character. It got to be… a bit much. But, also… the point was it didn’t work. And, once Helen realized it wouldn’t work, she stopped quoting the Bible. So I think Anne just went too far. One final weakness is the final portion of the novel, where it goes back to Gilbert’s POV and we’re treated to being told what is going on with Helen (and on occasion reading her letters) instead of seeing it. But because of that framing device choice, I got treated to Gilbert falling in love with a Byronic heroine (of sorts), and that is worth everything.

Scoring:

Characters: 4 out of 5. I have to take points off for Helen’s moralizing. During these portions, I found myself sympathizing with her husband… and we’re not meant to do that. Now, maybe the constant Bible quotes wouldn’t bother someone for whom religion forms a big part of their life (does that clause even make sense?), but it bothered me. I hate being proselytized to and it made me sympathize with Helen less. Plus, it was SO OBVIOUS. If you want to make a bad person better, you don’t quote the Bible at them. That just makes you seem obnoxious.

Plot: 5 out of 5. I wanted to give it 6. I really did. But that would be breaking the rules. Guys. A woman tries to save her husband for love, realizes it can’t be done, and leaves him. She takes her son and runs off to become a painter. In 19th century England. And a dude falls in love with her AND RESPECTS HER WISHES WHEN SHE SAYS NO, LET’S JUST BE FRIENDS. (There’s also a Toxic Nice Guy who doesn’t, and we’re meant to hate him. No sympathy from Anne.) Guys. Can I just give this six points out of five? PLEASE.

Writing Style: 4 out of 5. Just because she isn’t as good as Emily. Sorry, Anne… I love you. But I can’t give you the same score as Emily. I mean, she’s your sister… you definitely understand. That being said, aside from a tendency to just, throw, punctuation, in random places; everything was really good. And it’s clear, evocative, and gets the point across. Which leads to:

Readability: 4 out of 5. It’s an easy novel to get into. Except for the parts I had to push through because Helen was just throwing constant Bible quotes around. I think I was supposed to understand what they meant. But I’ve never finished the Bible. So I didn’t, and they kinda just felt… plugged in there. Once those few pages were done with, though, and they became much more judicious, I plowed through this book like it was a summer, poolside novel.

Final score: 17 out of 20.

OK. Maybe it’s a bit anticlimactic, but… ANNE WINS! Yeah, I know, you probably knew that coming in, but, really… it was the book I enjoyed reading the most. And it’s the book that has the most realism and the most staying power. I mean, seriously… women can’t change problematic, abusive men through their love? That’s still so damn relevant!

So. Go read The Tenant of Wildfell Hall. Realize why it’s the best. It’s been settled now.

Emily Brontë is still the best writer, though.

C