Monday Muse: All About That Meh

OK.

Uh.

Yes. I am writing things here. See them? They’re words. They have letters formed into sounds which achieve linguistic gestalt and become ideas. But they don’t exactly say anything, do they?

I don’t know if you guys know this, but A and I are both from Broward County. Douglas was in our backyard. When I was in school (I’m a tad older than A, though I definitely don’t act it), Douglas was my cross-town rival. Our band and orchestra departments had mock battles. Their football team routinely destroyed ours on the field (we had terrible sports teams, guys). We joked they were sinking and they rolled their eyes because, for fuck’s sake, it was settling, dammit. We were the scrappy kids from the edge of town. They were the rich kids up north.

I had friends there. And, yeah, it’s been more than a decade since I graduated, but it still felt like my friends had been attacked. I knew that was absurd. I didn’t know anyone there anymore. I’m too old for my friends to have siblings there and too young to have children old enough for high school. But the attack left me drained and unsettled in a way that no other attack has before. I’ve been angry, devastated, let down by America’s unwillingness to do anything about this, but I’ve never been drained or unsettled by it before. Like, suddenly, I felt less safe. Personally. And it left me reeling, unable to write or to feel comfortable with anything.

It was only a couple days ago I realized why that was. On some level, I’d always believed Springs (Coral) wasn’t important enough or big enough or that it mattered enough for something like that to happen there. Because the only way I heard about these things was on the news, on social media, with famous (and infamous) people talking about them and reacting to them. It made those places exceptional (in the worst way), which my home town could never, ever be. Springs would never end up on the news. We were the place where the most exciting thing during my high school years was the opening of a Jamba Juice at the Walk.

Then, all of a sudden, it was there. My home. Streets I recognized because I’d driven them (we don’t walk places in FL). Sheriffs I’d voted for. Schools I’d attended. I saw the school where my mother teaches. Realized, for what is (embarrassingly) the first time that my mom could actually be a victim. I might get that call. That the inaction of Congress wasn’t something to be abhorred just because people have already died but because I could wake up one day and find out that inaction had cost me my mom. For the record, I am not one of those people who only gets involved because it has affected me. I am vociferous in my belief that gun regulation needs to be smarter, stronger, more effective (and that regulation is not, no matter what people say, synonymous with infringement). Compassionate action begun only when those for whom you must feel compassion are those you love isn’t really compassionate.

But… this is different. I feel like my world isn’t invisible anymore. People are talking about schools and towns and streets and trees and stoplights that no one but the people who live there were supposed to know about. A layer of my safe, anonymous world (which, despite what I’m willing to tell people here, I work pretty darn hard to maintain) is gone, and my home is now just another statistic for Congress to ignore. I have hope that the kids of Douglas (and, man have the politicians and gun trolls of the world picked the wrong schoolkids to fuck with) really have lit the fuse of change, but I know how impenetrable the gun lobby has been.

I hope this doesn’t sound selfish. I wasn’t there. I grew up in a world where schools were safe. When Columbine was considered a horrible aberration and tornado drills were the most obnoxious disaster preparation to ever interrupt my day. My life is the same as it was the day before Valentine’s (hell, I was at Disney World when it happened). But I feel like maybe that security was a lie. And if Springs can get hit… if Invisible Town, USA can get hit… Anywhere can. I knew that. On some level, I knew that. But now I feel it.

I hope change finally happens. I have hoped it since it became what feels like a biweekly occurrence. I’ve donated. I’ve voted (Marco Rubio’s victory was only marginally worse than Trump’s in my book). Written. Called. Tweeted. This time feels different. Invisible Town might be the reason big change happens.

I just wish it hadn’t taken this to get there.

Thank you for letting me write this. I appreciate it, guys.

C

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Boozy Books: Revisiting Fahrenheit 451

Hey there, hi there! It’s me, A, with another kinda-late-because-I-forgot-it-was-Friday edition of Boozy Books.

I was planning to pair Red Clocks since I just finished reading it, but I’ll be honest, it doesn’t deserve a pairing. While the concept intrigued me, the writing was slow, too much information was left unexplored, the wrong characters were given attention, storylines were left unfinished, and it was just disappointing.

And that’s why today’s post is focusing on an old favorite, Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451. I think I’ve already paired this one*, but I just finished a thorough re-read because I was feeling less-than-inspired by the new fiction I’ve been sifting through lately.

Can we just talk about how eerily prophetic Bradbury’s writing was? I mean, Fahrenheit was first published as science fiction in 1953 and reading it now… Well, it feels pretty close to our reality. Frankly, it’s unnerving.

From its ethically-challenged society to its overbearing government along with people killing each other without thought, the future Bradbury was warning against has unfolded better than he could have written it. The obsession with “parlor-walls” is the exact reason we’re now stuck with a reality television figure in the country’s highest office and a disdain for intellectuals seems to be a growing trend. As Captain Beatty says, “we must all be alike.” The only way for people to be happy and controlled is to keep them dumb and out of touch. Sounds familiar, right?

Given how depressingly accurate Bradbury’s vision of the future was, I’m pairing this with a whole bottle of whisky. Drink it neat. Drink it on the rocks. Drink it to drown out the world. But take a moment to toast the fact that at least you still have the right to read this incredible piece of literature

Cheers.

A

*Update: I did indeed pair Fahrenheit 451 back in 2015… That post had a very different tone, wouldn’t you agree?

Please Excuse Our Mess

So… yes. You might have noticed we’ve been pretty terrible about keeping up with the posts lately. Terribly unprofessional, I know. We promised you awesome content and then we go ahead and don’t deliver. What’s up with that?

Real life is what’s up with that. I’m in the process of writing two different projects and editing a third (Mercutio) as well as trying to find time to world build for Esmeihiri (that political map I mentioned months ago? Still not done) and The Lost City. Poor Fall the Gods has fallen by the wayside again, and I feel like I’ll be sixty by the time I get around to In Service, Chaos Serpent, Witch Hunt/Hammer of the Witches, Untitled Dream Story 2017, etc. Combine this with my new Get Healthy scheme (it takes a lot longer to walk the nearly two miles to Starbucks than it does to drive, guys) and all the cooking involved in that and my own need for lots of down time…

And that’s just me. A is re-doing her house, working an honest-to-god grown-up job, and tackling projects of her own. Frankly, it’s all a bit exhausting.

Oh, and I still haven’t mailed her her Christmas present. But that’s on me. I’m TERRIBLE about mailing things. (And it just occurred to me that my boyfriend had to pick something up from the post office today, which would have been the perfect occasion to have HIM mail it. Dammit.) She’ll probably get it when we see each other again IRL, and who knows when that’ll be?

Please forgive us. I find it easier to do the Muse, she finds it easier to do Boozy Books (it takes me a month to get through some of these classics), and the weekends are a crap shoot, but we are trying. We haven’t forgotten about you. It’s just real life has gotten in the way, and being grown-ups sucks.

At least we’re going to Stratford again this year. We’re always great at Stratford re-caps. And since we’re going in September instead of August this year, we can maybe do ALL the plays we’re seeing this year instead of just a couple of them.

Thank you for putting up with us, guys. We do love you. We just have to pay the bills, too.

C

Shakespeare Saturday: GOT vs. Shakespeare

Helloooooo! Happy Saturday, friends. I hope everyone had a wonderful day and the chance to see Black Panther, because it. Was. Awesome. If you haven’t seen it, do it. (After reading this post.)

Today, I’m sharing a few older posts, but they are worth revisiting. I’ve always thought that if Shakespeare were alive today he’d probably be writing something like Game of Thrones. I guess it’s probably because you can see his heroes and villains reflected in any/all of the GOT characters.

Here are a few that have struck me over the course of the last five seasons:

Dany = Tamora (Titus Andronicus)

Oberyn = Hamlet (Hamlet)

Catelyn Stark = a good deal Lady MacDuff (MacBeth)

Littlefinger = Iago (Othello)

Bran = The Witches (MacBeth)

Apparently I’m not the only one who has drawn these comparisons. Check out some of these fun posts that highlight the similarities between GOT and Shakespeare!

Here’s a “who would win” post from Barnes & Noble.

There’s also this super interesting post, which I’m sure C will appreciate. (Lots of historic parked parallels are explored here.)

And this reimagining of GOT characters in their Shakespearean roles.

Enjoy!

A

Monday Muse: My New Mission

Hey, guys! Welcome to this week’s Muse. I’m C, writing to you from a much more crowded than usual local Starbucks. The only table left was the wobbly one, which is making this blog an adventure in holding the stable steady so I can hit the right keys as I type. It’s not that difficult, or anything, but it is something else to think about when I could otherwise be reveling in my usual stream-of-consciousness ramblings. Oh well.

So, some updates on writing. Particularly in the world of Killing Mercutio.

Now, many of you already know we haven’t queried this since last August, when we went up to Stratford the last time. So, yeah, it’s been on a six-month hiatus. That doesn’t mean we’ve given up on it. Absolutely not. I spent half my trip to NYC staring up at buildings I knew housed agencies and thinking positive thoughts. (Note to any agents who might read this: I did not attempt, in any way, to be disruptive. I mostly sang ‘You Can Fly’ in my head, and then forgot precisely where the building was located.) But, after almost forty rejections, most of which seemed to give us the feeling that it was good but not salable in this market, we decided it was time to regroup and think about where we are.

As such, the query has been redone (masterfully, I must say, by the wonderous A) and I am in the process of bringing the novel down from 120k to closer to 110k. It’s not easy since this is something like the fifth pass (our original draft was well over 150k), but sacrificing a little on the formality of the language and giving Benvolio a few more contractions (he’s one of the only characters who uses them regularly), I have cut quite a bit. My hope is that I can get close enough to 110k (the upper end of acceptable for this kind of book as far as I can tell) that there’s some sort of margin of error.

So, Mercutio is not shelved. He’s just going through a bit of a nip tuck.

Now, on to my current project. Not writing related. I’m going through and re-reading all the books I hated in school (except The Scarlet Letter, which was in a league of its own with regards to hatred). I got the idea when I had to re-read Wuthering Heights for the Brontë-off and… hated it exactly the same. I mean, I enjoyed the actual readability and obvious skill of the author (whom you’ll remember I crowned the best writer of the three sisters), but I still hate each and every character the same. Actually, I think I hate Catherine even more. But it made me think about whether or not I actually hated the books I read in school or if I just wasn’t ready for them. Or maybe my notorious loathing for anything I’m forced to do (nothing like 1000 pages of reading in three days to make you hate the American Civil War) got in the way.

So far, I have re-visited Thomas Hardy and Charles Dickens. One has improved in my eyes (Hardy) and the other remains mostly the same (I know Dickens was trying to get that money, but all I want to do is cross out, like, half of what he writes as interesting but irrelevant). Yes, I am aware that Dickens was all about exploring class and society and whatnot, but the man was verbose. It felt like reading every tangent his brain went off into as he wrote and because he wanted the money, he left it in. That being said, I never hated Dickens in the way I hated, say, Moby Dick. Oh, yeah… that’s another one I’m not entirely sure I want to give another chance to. My personal best is 50 pages. I might just let Melville win that battle.

Now, I admit to an obvious bias toward English lit (we mostly read Brit or Am Lit in school, with some forays into Dumas). Most of the books I couldn’t finish were furnished by my fellow countrymen (The Good EarthMoby Dick, etc), though I was one of the only people to really enjoy Fitzgerald and Alas, Babylon. I plan on giving Steinbeck another try, though his books are among those I ended up SparkNotes-ing. Holden Caulfield stays in purgatory, but Franny and Zooey will get a go (never read that one in school, but I hated Catcher in the Rye so much, I gave up on Salinger for years). Only the guys seemed to like Caulfield.

You’ll notice a distinct lack of women and POC here. That was because we read very few. My 10th grade English teacher recommended The Color Purple to me, but it wasn’t an assignment. I read Pride and Prejudice for a project because I knew the book so well, it was a chance to ease my workload. It wasn’t until college that I read anything resembling magical realism (real magical realism, not the fantasy-lite being passed off as M.R. these days). Hell, I was in my mid-twenties before I read Middlemarch for the first time, and that is my favorite book in the world (Will Ladislaw is ♥). And I am going to get to all the people I missed or my education decided not to introduce to me, but for now I’m focusing on the stuff I hated in school.

Again, except The Scarlet Letter. That book can continue to rot in hell. I’ll try Moby Dick again before I try that book. Hawthorne’s short stories will more than suffice for me.

So, be prepared for a lot of the classics in the coming weeks. And maybe some round-ups, since I’m starting with The Three Musketeers (which is the greatest travesty to me. How could I possibly hate anything involving Athos, Porthos, and Aramis? D’artagnan, I can take or leave, but Athos? No. High school me was a culture-less twit), and I think I… might have paired that one already? No? I’ll check.

I’ll be back on Friday with something that isn’t a classic. I have to break it up, you know, or I think I’ll go into classics fatigue.

C

Silly Sunday: Moving Furniture

Happy Sunday, friends! Sorry for the silence, but life has taken a hectic turn as of late. Among other things, I’m currently in the midst of “redecorating” my living room. It’s not nearly as fun as I thought it would be because a lot of the look and style is for business purposes. My SO is building out his home studio so we are working on finding a compromise between professional and “I actually live here.” It’s going well.

I don’t have a silly fact or tidbit or clip today, but I do have the story of four people trying to move a couch. I was one of those four people, and this story took place this very afternoon…

Allow me to supply you with a little backstory: The couch my SO and I inherited mere months ago has disintegrated. (Real leather my ass.) Because we don’t currently have room in our budget to buy a brand-new couch, we have pursued other methods. Namely, asking friends and family for hand-me-downs. (Which is how we got our last two couches.)

It just so happens that my SO’s brother has had a couch in storage for the last two or three years and we’re welcome to have it. Hooray!

Apparently it has minor dings from previous moving expeditions and a few scratches from the cat, but it’s in good condition. Also, there seems to have been a jalapeno popper incident, but we don’t need to worry about that. Cool. Free couch. Whatever.

Well, today was the day that we said goodbye to yet another couch that proved to be less trouble than it was worth and hauled this sucker in. It took my SO, his brother and father, and myself to finagle this thing into the house and along the way, we managed to rip up half a tree, break our screen door, and destroy the underside of the couch itself. But still, free couch.

Cut to a few hours later. We’ve cleaned our new used couch with leather cleaner and car interior cleaner and other cleaning chemicals, leaving the couch looking quite nice actually; not at all as though it’s been sitting in a glorified garage for the last few years.

So, we’ve rearranged the room and we’re ready to relax. We take a seat on the new old couch and we sink, and I do mean sink, to the floor. Some couches are soft and smushy, but something is very wrong.

After flipping the sofa on its side, we discover that the frame is broken and corroded… Oh, we also find a dead lizard and half of what I can only assume was once a jalapeno popper.

I think the moral of the story is this: there is no such thing as a used couch in good condition.

Also, anyone trying to get rid of a couch?

-A

Boozy Books: Vinegar Girl

Heyo! Welcome to Boozy Books! Let’s get into this.

I haven’t had the opportunity to read many of the Hogarth Shakespeare books that came out in the last couple of years. Not because they’re not available, of course, but because most of them really aren’t my cup of tea. I’m not a literary fiction kinda gal, really; I much prefer genre, particularly speculative, stuff. But my love of Shakespeare is such–and my respect for many of the authors involved in the imprint, of course–that, when I had the chance to pick one up, I did it.

Everyone here knows how we at Nerd Cactus feel about Taming of the Shrew. We have a Boozy Plays: Taming of the Shrew and an entire Monday Muse dedicated to the play, as well. There’s probably more. We liked talking about it because it’s one of Shakespeare’s most problematic plays, but also one of his more interesting ones. It’s open to interpretation in so many ways. Is Petruchio a misogynist or just trying to help Kate navigate her way in a world that doesn’t want–or plan–to accept her? Which one of them is actually the shrew (yeah, we’ve seen that interpretation live). Does he enjoy visiting his tortures on Kate or are they a burden he has to force upon himself?

It’s a complex play, and because of that, it’s one of my favorites.

Which is probably why I didn’t like the book as much as I was hoping to. I feel like it took the Kate of the play and made her… not the Kate I love. And it took the Petruchio I loved and made him… a huge dick. I feel like there was an attempt to humanize Pyotr by making him a foreigner and giving him a language barrier, but that attempt comes so late in the book, it feels tacked on. The one character I really liked was Bunny, who had more agency in her few lines than Kate did in the whole damn book, which just felt wrong. Bianca isn’t the delicate flower most people think she is, but she shouldn’t be more active a character than Katherina.

Basically, the book is the play re-written with Kate’s scientist father asking her to marry his research assistant before his Visa expires. She eventually says yes because her life sucks and, hey, at least this is an opportunity to do something new and it can’t be worse than the stagnation of living in her parents’ house, right? And even though Pyotr never does anything to earn even a sliver of Kate’s respect, the book ends pretty much exactly like the play, right down to “Kiss me, Kate”. See, there are some pivotal scenes in the play that, if performed correctly, really show Kate and Petruchio coming to understand one another as equals, and I don’t think they’re there in this book.

It’s well-written. The familial relationships are amazing. There is a lot of humor, too, which I appreciate since the play is actually really damn funny. But the book takes the play at face value, and without the irony and wordplay of Shakespeare, the joy of Taming of the Shrew is lost. The play can be performed straight because doing so highlights the irony of Kate having the longest speech in the play while simultaneously saying women should shut the hell up. This book? It misses that irony in favor of the way families interact with one another. Which, in a book that wasn’t based on one of my favorite plays, would be a lot better.

Unfortunately for me (in this case), Vinegar Girl is based on Shrew, and I can’t agree with its interpretation of the play. Someone else might not have a problem with it.

Now, I suggest mead for this because it’s honey wine, and the title of the book comes from the idiom ‘you catch more flies with honey than you do vinegar’. Actually, it’s one of my favorite parts of the book because vinegar girl describes Kate really well. I just wish it described the Kate of the book more.

C