Monday, July 30, 2012

Quotation of the Week: Wilde About Oscar!

Oscar Wilde
Most of you know that I teach online Shakespeare classes (and other language arts courses, too, through Brave Writer). I mean, what cooler job is there in which I am paid to read and discuss Shakespeare's plays, all from the comfort of my sofa??? I have the BEST job on the face of the planet.

But one would think that my favorite play would be one by the Bard, right? Perhaps Hamlet, the tale of the melancholy Danish prince? Perhaps the sublime poetry of Romeo and Juliet? Perhaps the brewing evil and wicked Fates of Macbeth, or the jolly repartee of Much Ado About Nothing or Taming of the Shrew? 

Nope. My favorite play was written several centuries after the Bard left us his collected works to read, perform, and enjoy. My favorite play was written by an Irishman, not an Englishman. It's Oscar Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest. Truly, Earnest is the most clever play ever written, with Tom Stoppard's brilliant Hamlet-reversal Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead as a close second.

Although they cut one of my favorite scenes, I am thoroughly in love with the 2002 Rupert Everett/Colin Firth film version of The Importance of Being Earnest as no one (and I mean NO ONE!) can play Lady Bracknell like Judi Dench. Yes, Reese Witherspoon gets on my nerves just a bit, but the remainder is simply marvelous. Every line sparkles. It's sheer brilliance.

Importance of Being Earnest (2002)

Did I happen to mention that I'll be teaching an online Literary Analysis class at Brave Writer next spring on The Importance of Being Earnest? As I said above: I have the BEST job on the face of the planet!!! :)

Over the weekend I began corresponding with a writer who happens to live in Italy and possesses her PhD in Italian Literature. She sent me several quotes in thanks for some feedback I offered her on a story she had published online, and two of the quotations were from Oscar Wilde. I immediately drew out my brass-nibbed pen and corked bottle of black ink and copied both quotations into my Quotation Journal which I have been keeping since August 2001.

So here are my Quotations of the Week, courtesy of my new Italian acquaintance:

"To live is the rarest thing in the world. Most people exist, that is all."
~Oscar Wilde

"Yes, I am a dreamer. For a dreamer is one who can only find his way by moonlight, and his punishment is that he sees the dawn before the rest of the world." 
~Oscar Wilde, "The Critic as Artist"

So I wish you all a wonderful week ahead, a week of truly living and of dreaming and enjoying the beautiful dawns before everyone else.

All About Oscar,

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Twilight vs. Jane Eyre

Jane Eyre (2011)

Fictional characters are compelling people. Just because they don't exist beyond the written page, the computer screen, or the digital image/film doesn't mean that they can't affect our lives just as much as real people can. My family continues to laugh at me when I cry while reading books or watching movies. The characters come alive, and for a few hours I am transported into their worlds and inhabit them as completely as I inhabit our book-lined mountain cabin.

Once character I've been fascinated by is Stephenie Meyer's Edward Cullen from the Twilight series. And it's not because handsome Robert Pattinson plays him in the movies; it's because of Edward Cullen's literary heritage. Like me, Ms. Meyer became an English major because she adored books--she loved inhabiting new (or old) world peopled with incredible characters. 

So when she created a vampire-with-a-conscience in Edward Cullen, Ms. Meyer drew him from some outstanding male characters throughout literary history. If you've read the books, some of Edward's predecessors are obvious: Emily Bronte's Heathcliff from Wuthering Heights, Shakespeare's Romeo, Austen's Mr. Darcy from Pride and Prejudice, and Stoker's Dracula. But others may be more difficult to spot. In the character of Edward Cullen I also see shades of the Beast from Beauty and the Beast, of the Byronic Hero of Don Juan, of Raskolnikov from Dostoyevsky's masterful Crime and Punishment, of Edmund from Austen's Mansfield Park, among others. But for me, the most obvious literary predecessor of vampire Edward Cullen is another angst-ridden Edward: Edward Fairfax Rochester of Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre.

Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 1

I can almost place a Robert Pattinson, aged by 15 years, in the role of this older and more urbane Edward, one equally haunted by his past sins and tied to a dark mystery in which he drags a young, innocent girl into because of the depth of his love. Only Edward Cullen leaves his Bella while Jane Eyre leaves Rochester behind...but both leave for what they believe is the "right" reason.

The women of both Jane Eyre and Twilight, and their stories, definitely parallel each other. Both raised in unusual circumstances, Jane an orphan and Bella parenting her own parents, Jane and Bella are rather strong-minded in some ways, yet their teenaged romanticism colors their world greatly. They're young, innocent, trusting girls who are drawn to dark, angsty men who conceal dangerous secrets and checquered pasts. After a climatic event in the story line, a separation ensues during which both women discover another possible love interest, Jane with St. John Rivers and Bella with Jacob Black. Both women's lives are in danger because of this relationship as Jane could easily die on the missionary fields of India where St. John intends for her to join him while Bella learns to love a werewolf.

Supernatural forces (Jane hearing Rochester call for her, and Bella learning of Alice's vision of Edward's suicide attempt with the Volturi) bring the couples back together, Jane to a blinded and contrite Rochester, Bella to a contrite and apologetic Edward. Choices must be made regarding which love interest the women will choose, and of course they choose their angsty guys, marry them, and live happily ever after, children and all.

And the two Edwards are so similar. They both possess sinful pasts that they are reluctant to share with their innocent teenaged loves, and both have a deep-seated self-hatred based on those pasts and on their perceived danger to their women. Once restored to their loves, both are appropriate contrite although Rochester has truly changed during the separation from Jane while Edward Cullen was altered by Bella more before the separation.

Both male characters are loners to an extent, have past romantic interests in Blanche Ingram and Tanya from Denali, neither truly worthy of the angsty guys, who inspire jealousy in their teenaged loves. Both men are altered greatly by the introduction of these pure, idealistic women who look past the ugliness in the men's lives (Rochester's physical ugliness and the ugliness of who Edward is as a vampire) and love them not only despite the men's flaws but perhaps because of them.

If you haven't yet had the pleasure, I cannot more highly recommend the 2011 film version of Jane Eyre with Mia Wasikowska (from Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland) and Michael Fassbender. For a short film version, it's masterful, even though it omits much of the faith element of the book (one of my top three favorite novels of all time) and rushes the ending a bit. It's far better than the Twilight films in quality and faithfulness to the book. 

Always reading,

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Summer Stuff

Well, it's been a strange summer so far, alternatively crazy-busy and then peacefully serene. (Or as serene as a house with four young people and a dachshund can be, LOL!)

My brother married his beautiful bride on Saturday on a mountaintop in Wildomar (north of Temecula), and so we welcome Ari and her two young people, Brooke and Grant, into our family officially. The sunset ceremony was lovely, and then the kids and the wedded couple danced under the stars, with the addition of a distant lightning storm illuminating the clouds over the desert. My sister and her family who live in Montana were here for two weeks, arriving in time for the traditional 4th of July Beach and BBQ at my parents' home in Pacific Beach and staying through the wedding.

I've been working hard on my new job at Brave Writer which currently involves teaching a new class in writing Fan Fiction. Because it's a new class, I'm constantly writing posts and assignments as well as responding to the students' work. My own fan fiction novels and stories are doing well, and I'm approaching 1.5 million reads between the two sites on which I post. I've written well over 100 chapters between the two novels and the three short stories, and teaching the fan fiction class is renewing my inspiration as I strive to complete my second novel (I'm about 3/4 the way done and have written 43 chapters so far).

But I've spent a lot of time reading this summer as well. The first novel I tackled was The Help by Kathryn Stockett. Yes, the movie was popular, but I haven't seen it yet, but if it's half as compelling as the book, it will be wonderful. Yet the book was difficult to read--not because of vocabulary or quality, but because of the difficult subject matter. I cringed so often as I read it, hating the way "the help"was treated, especially being forced to use different bathrooms from their employers because African-Americans "were diseased." Ugh!!! And readers can see the train wreck coming a mile away as one white woman and one black woman seek to change the situation by writing a book together. When the slow-building climax does occur, it's expected but nonetheless powerful. It was a book I was loathe to pick up to continue reading each evening, but once I started reading it, I just couldn't stop. If there were only one word I choose to describe The Help it would be compelling. Truly.

Between The Help and the next recent release I've been reading, I picked up the Anne of Green Gables series again. I taught the first book in a literary analysis class in the fall at Brave Writer, but I really missed Avonlea and all of Anne's capers, so I thought I'd reread the whole eight-book series. So I made my way quickly through Anne of Avonlea and Anne of the Island. Finally Anne and Gilbert are together, even though my least favorite book of the series, Anne of Windy Poplars, is next. I may just skim it so that I can start one of my favorites, Anne's House of Dreams.

But before I return to lovely Prince Edward Island, I've taken a serious detour and am currently reading Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. I know, considering my love for the Twilight books, one must wonder if I have a thing for vampires. But truly, it's not so. I'm just a fan of the author, Seth Grahame-Smith whose hilarious Pride and Prejudice and Zombies amused me when I listened to it on audio book over the winter. I haven't yet attempted Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters, mostly because I don't have easy access to a copy. But Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter is fascinating. I'm learning a lot about Lincoln's life as background to the novel, and I'm quite fascinated by Lincoln's bravery in killing renegade vampires. The premise of the book is that slavery provided vampires with a steady diet of victims they could purchase at will, thus providing the reasoning behind Lincoln's hatred of slavery and willingness to enter the Civil War.

I'm still trying to add the final Harry Potter audio book to my iPod; once Half Blood Prince is properly loaded in, I'll be uploading the thirty-disc monstrosity of Stephen King's Under the Dome. The book is simply too heavy to carry, and the Kindle version is $15, which is about $14 too much to spend. So I'll try the audio version as soon as I can. :) After all, I promised my friend from second grade, Teddy Vardell, that I would read Under the Dome if he read Harry Potter (all seven books), and now that he's starting Half Blood Prince, I need to get moving. :)

We've been watching some great old movies this summer, too. Yesterday Elizabeth and I watched two movies from the 1950s: How to Marry a Millionaire with Marilyn Monroe, Lauren Bacall, and Betty Grable, and Funny Face with Audrey Hepburn and Fred Astaire. Astaire was 58 when he filmed the movie, but his dancing was just as light and perfect as when he was dancing in the mid-1930s. We're also on a Jeeves and Wooster kick right now as we finished Season 1 and am waiting for Season 2 to arrive from the library. I also want to order Season 2 of Castle since the boys have missed it all because it's on too late for them to watch. I still want Castle's bullet-proof vest emblazoned with "Writer" across the front instead of "FBI" or "NYPD."

So that's what we've been up to this summer. As I said, it's been alternatively crazy-busy and wonderfully peaceful, and I'm hoping for more of both as the summer sun continues to shine, and we continue to swelter....

Happy Sum-Sum-Summertime,


Tuesday, July 3, 2012

A New Job Position

I've been working at Brave Writer for ten of the twelve-plus years that the company, the brainchild of Julie Bogart, has existed. I started with teaching an online poetry class and with writing the monthly language arts subscriptions. This past school year I taught eight courses: Literary Analysis: Anne of Green Gables, MLA Research Essay, Groovy Grammar Workshop, Playing with Poetry Workshop, Literary Analysis: Little Women, Literary Analysis: Merchant of Venice, and Shakespeare Family Workshop. Whew!! The fall wasn't too bad, but I taught straight through from January 3-June 15. It was crazy but fun. 

I'm also teaching a summer course at Brave Writer in writing Fan Fiction (class #8 for the 2011-2012 school year) which starts next Monday, July 9 and runs for four weeks. It will be fun to explore writing stories based on already-existing characters, from Jane Austen to The Hunger Games. Fan Fiction writing is especially helpful in luring reluctant writers to the keyboard as they create new adventures for their favorite video game, movie, TV, or book characters while they absorb basic story structure which will assist them when they approach literary analysis as high school students. Plus...they're actually writing during summer break!! Yes, Virginia, miracles can happen!! ;)

Recently Julie offered me a new position that will be of greater assistance to her in the running and expansion of Brave Writer. I signed the contract and mailed it back on Friday, so we're ON!! My new title is Senior Teacher, Staff Writer, and Curriculum Developer. Pretty cool, eh?

I'll be working with the language arts subscriptions again; Julie now has three: The Wand (grades 1-3), The Arrow (grades 4-6), and The Boomerang (grades 7-9+). We used to have The Slingshot (grades 10-12), but there just wasn't that much call for subscriptions for high schoolers; they prefer the interactivity of discussions, so Julie has added a Boomerang Discussion Group, plus we'll be offering several literary analysis courses this year as well.

I'll also be helping with new staff hires (probably at a later date), with creating a "staff handbook" of sorts to keep all the online classes organized similarly, with creating and editing curricula, with some information for the website, etc. Teaching classes will still be a large portion of my work; I'll be teaching six courses (one in the fall, three in winter, two in spring), then possibly a seventh class in Fan Fiction again if this summer class starting next week does well. I'm to be working twenty hours a week with teaching always being the first priority.

So I'm really excited about this new position at Brave Writer--no more freelancing!!! And I'm also looking forward to teaching the following courses in the 2012-2013 school year:

MLA Research Essay
Groovy Grammar Workshop
Playing with Poetry Workshop
Literary Analysis: The Importance of Being Earnest
Literary Analysis: Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing
Shakespeare Family Workshop
possibly...Fan Fiction in summer 2013

Please do feel free to check out all that's going on at Brave Writer by clicking the bolded, colored words or by typing in

Writing bravely with you,


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