The Horizon of Possibility

stargazing stock photo
Photo credit: Greg Rakozy

God, it’s been a long time. I blame work mostly, but before that it was a general lack of inspiration. I was even flirting with the idea of just never updating this blog again, but for some reason, I couldn’t let it go. Now that I have actual thoughts to relay, I’m glad I didn’t. I don’t even know if anyone is still with me, here. Hello? Is thing on?

Anyway. Nanofreakinwrimo brings me out of my self-imposed hermitude. (I’ve dutifully transcribed my experience with this novel writing month here, here, and yes, here) Possibility is in the air. Do you feel it? Do you see how it breathes through the leaves on the shivering trees? Wait. Is it growling? Just me? Okay. So many ideas and current works-in-progress to dedicate myself to, and I just want to–do them ALL. My gothic work in progress, Wrathmoor, that I’ve been writing since 2011; my contemporary work in progress The Rosen Tales; and Other Points of Contention, which just makes me giddy and terrified every time I think about it; the short story I wrote for a contest that didn’t win, but that I love so hard I want it to have a face so I can pinch its cheeks; and the poem that is writing itself in my brain right now, revealing itself to me from the end going backwards, so yeah, that should be interesting.

This month makes me want that exhilaration of a cause and accomplishment and fighting tooth and nail to do the thing I love and what matters to me. I will never have an acceptable answer that “demonstrates critical thinking” or is particularly unique and especially meaningful for why I love writing and why writing these novels matters to me. Why does a child love painting and drawing? Why do we love to go to parties? Or, contrarily, why do we love to stay in and submerge ourselves in fanfiction? Just because I don’t have a textbook or Nobel worthy answer for why I love it, is it any less valuable?

No.

This life is too transient to get caught up in abstract, diaphanous terms like Meaning and Purpose in attempting to justify why we do the things we love. You get all tangled up in Plato’s Perfect Forms, and when you live in an imperfect world, it’s just not an ideal place to be, am I right? So, I say to you, my friends, on this day of new beginnings, of fresh, dewy eyed wonder, go. Find your horizon of possibility. Grasp its coat tails and let it carry you through the night.

Anyone else venturing into the great beyond with National Novel Writing Month? What will you be working on? Something new or something you’ve already started? I’m curious to hear how other people do NaNoWriMo: a little every day until you reach 50,000? Or just push yourself into the project with more gusto during this month of possibility?

Of the Heart: Top 6 Period Romances

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In Becoming Jane, when asked by Ms. Radcliffe what her own novels are about, Jane Austen answers, ‘of the heart’.

Because winter is the time for getting cozy with feel-good movies, I have compiled a list of the six best period romances. Look, when you buy a miniseries on Amazon prime for $4.99 based on an Anne Brontë novel, you automatically qualify to write this post. Here’s a secret about me. I love period romances (romantic novels, movies, or often a BBC miniseries set in a specific time period). Some who have found me through my darker writing may be surprised or even disappointed to learn this about me. To them I say, sorry, not sorry. Just like horror, the romance genre is an emotion, the other extreme of the spectrum, some might say. For those of you wondering why I didn’t win NaNoWriMo this year (884 words short!), I was likely watching one of these movies. I recently inhaled all of my favorites yet again in preparation for this post.

JE

Jane Eyre (2012)

I’ve watched three versions of this, and while I appreciated the 1996 William Hurt/Charlotte Gainsburg version and the 2006 Ruth Wilson/Toby Stephens series, my favorite is surely the 2012 Mia Wakowski/Michael Fassbender version. I adore not so much the casting choices–though they balance well–but the director’s vision of Jane Eyre’s inner world and story. Through the movie, Fukunaga felt Jane’s life and translated that into film.

I love the literal darkness of the film. But there is light too, playing together with the shadows to heighten the heroine’s feelings and all that other filmography jargon. In my opinion, the film condenses the novel into the best possible film. Fukunaga takes the novel’s genre–Gothic–to heart. It is also a quiet film to the eye and ear alike, with few bursts of vivid color and an even more subtle score, which I believe do the novel justice. It would be a difficult task indeed to paint color to the fantastical reaches of imagination of Jane Eyre, to capture the vivid scope and breadth of her feelings would be nigh impossible. This version toned Jane down a bit to fit the somber aspect of the film. Somber as it is, it is a masterpiece.

P&P

Pride and Prejudice (2005)

Matthew Macfadyen is such a good balance between brooding and attentive. Elizabeth, as portrayed by Kiera Knightley, alternates between light and airy and heavy and pensive. The actors all have a great chemistry (except for Wickham, in my opinion) and the director had a good instinct for playing with that chemistry. It bubbles off the screen. There’s a lot of humor in this imagining, which I appreciated, but the dark revelations of  Austen’s social commentary laid out in her novels is also acknowledged. Purists would love the more comprehensive BBC miniseries staring Jennifer Ehle and Colin Firth, but the 2007 film has a bit of a different effect, and executes it well in the shorter amount of time. With a lively cast and of course a lovely score, director Joe Wright’s 2005 Pride and Prejudice is a light-hearted but moving film.

N&S

North & South (1995)

Score, people, score! The music in this is guaranteed to spark your feels. Besides that, Richard Armitage. Is there any other reason you need? John Thornton, Armitage’s character, is brutal and sharp as a knife, an antihero to be sure. Daniel Denby-Ashe’s soft, dewy portrayal of Margaret Hale is perfect (those names kill me); I’ve just started reading the novel and am struck at how well Denby-Ashe fits the role. The same director who did Downton Abbey also did this older series based on Elizabeth Gaskell’s novel. This miniseries has it all: class distinctions, a whopping roster of deaths, new mill owners versus cotton workers and the union, military crime, mistaken first impressions.  North & South explores the lives of cotton workers in the factories of northern England, the rise of unions, and the way of life for the elite class in the idyllic south versus the working class in the northern, more populated cities. See? Educational and squee-worthy.

Persuasion

Persuasion (2007)

The  casting of Sally Hawkins as Anne is pure perfection. This film is a emotional and immersive (see: score), thrusting you into Anne’s silent observing  plight, befitting of the novel’s depths. Charlotte Brontë was quoted in saying of Jane Austen:

“She ruffles her reader by nothing vehement, disturbs him by nothing profound: the Passions are perfectly unknown to her; she rejects even a speaking acquaintance with that stormy Sisterhood; even to the Feelings she vouchsafes no more than an occasionally graceful but distant recognition; too frequent converse with them would ruffle the smooth elegance of her progress. Her business is not half so much with the human heart as with the human eyes, mouth, hands and feet; what sees keenly, speaks aptly, moves flexibly, it suits her to study, but what throbs fast and full, though hidden, what the blood rushes through, what is the unseen seat of Life and the sentient target of Death–this Miss Austen ignores; she no more, with her mind’s eye, beholds the heart of her race than each man, with bodily vision sees the heart in his heaving breast.” 

C.B. you know you’re my girl, right? Like, I hold you in higher esteem than Jane, but you must have missed this gem of Austen’s, because Anne’s situation is heart-wrenching, and this movie conveys that so well. That quiet suffering, her self-imposed penance to meekly accept her lot, to not think she has the right to fight back. Miss Brontë would have never laid such a charge on Austen, at least against Persuasion, if she had seen the moment Captain Wentworth sees Anne’s strength of character in coming to the aid of the injured Louisa and peaceful acquiescence to her family’s ridiculous behavior. The 2007 adaptation of Persuasion is a handsome, powerful rendering of the novel, but I would advise reading the novel first to fully appreciate it. Since Austen’s most powerful skills are on subtle display in this novel and therefore this adaptation, out of all adaptations of her novels, the novel gives you the most thorough picture.

Wuthering Heights (2011)

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I love Tom Hardy as much as the next person, and his Heathcliff was fun–dark, brooding, bitchy–but this one is bold, savage, and screams indie film, which works for me with this Brontë novel. Director Andrea Arnold beautifully renders this fever dream of a novel in an Emersonian juxtaposition of the brutality and beauty of life with the brutality and beauty of nature. She approached her film depiction of the parent work with an instinctive interpretation of the less than linear novel (amiright?) and more of an emotional and mental mapping of the main characters’ inner worlds. Her instincts, in this regard, were on point. And of course the setting. This film’s setting lives and breathes as a character of its own, interlaced with the breaths Cathy and Heathcliff share on the moors and with the moors. One article says of Arnold’s work with this movie that “most directors force-feed the audience; Arnold leaves them hungry and cold”[1] which I felt the novel did in some regards as well.

Sense and Sensibility (1995)

I hate the cover of this movie, therefore you do not get to see it here.

Austen is skilled at taking women in their positions, whatever positions they are in, and revealing how hopeless and dependent upon other people their circumstances sometimes are. I love Emma Thompson’s Elinor in this depiction (to be fair, I’ve never watched another depiction of the novel): her position as head of the family, her strength of character, her delicately balanced hope and ferocity–she is sense incarnate! How she must hold silence in her love of Edward to preserve her reputation even if it tortures her to physical weakness. And Kate Winslet’s portrayal of Marianne’s character arc is flawless. This movie shows the humor of the book and the sweet nature of the romance.

This is truly another novel that Charlotte Brontë did not seem to give enough credit in her critique of Austen; because Austen writes satire and comedy, her novels have a lighter tone than the darker Brontë’s works. But if you can pull back the film of satire and comedy, you can see the suffering women, and men, underneath.

[1] http://musings.oscilloscope.net/post/153871799276/filming-the-unfilmable-on-six-versions-of-emily


Well, there are my top 6 period romances. Have you seen any of these films? Do you agree with or abhor my reviews? Have I–and this is completely blasphemous if I did, and my apologies in advance–forgotten a period romance staple?

Hero Meets Nemesis

I am the hero, in case anyone was wondering. My nemesis? The dreaded November 16th during National Novel Writing Month. I am gearing up to face this roguish fiend down. This is my 4th year participating in NaNoWriMo, and I’ve learned that this slump in the middle of the month is a trend for me, as it probably is for many others as well.

Up until this month, I’ve been dabbling with my most recently finished project, Holding, a YA fantasy about two boys, their forbidden magic, and the vampires that want to eat it. I finished the 2nd draft and am preparing to bind it for 3rd draft revisions, an idea I got from Maggie Stiefvater. After NaNoWriMo, I doubt I will have the desire to produce any new words ever, so I will be going through a physical book of my WIP, looking for pacing problems, character consistency, and tightening my theme. As stressed as I get about revisions and making sure every single letter is balanced within the universe, I also enjoy revisions because it’s like solving a problem…a very prolonged problem.

NanoWriMo is a little different for me. I could revise my old work for the rest of my life and probably be mostly content, but creating new, raw words is like squeezing juice from apricot pits for me. Especially creating raw, new words at the speed NaNoWriMo requires. BUT it gets my ideas out of my head and onto the page. And this is exactly why I do it.

Each year that I undertake this task, I dread confronting my old nemesis, the mid-month NaNoWriMo slump. For this year’s novel, I am returning to a long-time work in progress, Wrathmoor, a gothic romance (Annie Neugebauer has a great post on the gothic genre here) about a young lady posing as a housemaid to escape the tragedy of her past. The decaying old house, far from her old life, harbors ghosts that moan at night and an eccentric, brutal lord. I’m writing the novel in a tone appropriate to the time period, or attempting to, anyway. And because I depend so heavily on accuracy and research as I write, my usually slow progress with new novels is even slower with this one. You can see why this project might be a difficult one for NaNoWriMo, I assume?

So, how do I plan to combat my nemesis this year?

Music

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I will be listening to soundtracks (aren’t they pretty?) made by my illustrious best friend.  They probably won’t leave my CD player throughout this month. Also, this song and this entire score.

Art

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Img src: https://www.flickr.com/photos/56238066@N08/8110149754/

My Pinterest page for the novel has taken on new life through October in preparing for this month. I will be revisiting it anytime I feel uninspired. I’ve taken to referring to the above-image as a temporary cover for this project because I am utterly in love with it.

Books that feed me.

Revisiting the greats, like my inspirations for the novel and some of my favorite books: The Great Gatsby. The Fountainhead. The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights. Also, I’ll be reading time-relevant works, old and new to catch a feel for the voice I want, like Mr. Rochester by Sarah Shoemaker for something new and The Woman in Black by Susan Hill for something older. I also couldn’t resist starting Confessions of an English Opium Eater. 

Writing

As King famously declares in On Writing, the muse doesn’t always just wait around, leaning temptingly against an ivy covered pillar. You have to schedule a standing appointment with that flighty twit. Ergo, at one point–well, many points throughout this month–I will have to just sit down and get the story out. It will be messy and that’s okay. This month is not about producing a perfect final draft.

That, my friends, is how I plan to prepare for this throw down with my nemesis.

Are you participating in National Novel Writing Month this year? How far are you already? How do you keep the words coming when you stall out? (And why are you reading blogs when you should be writing?)

10 Halloween Indulgences

This day is all about the mood. To set the mood, here are 10 spooky reads and movies for your Halloween enjoyment.

7 Spooky Reads

Classic Gothic

Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë

If you take your horror with a side of obsession and romance, then this powerful novel is for you. Whether you see vampires or just madness, this book has some dark and truly unsettling parts.

Contemporary Gothic

The Night Swimmer by Matt Bondurant

I listened to this book on audio, discomforted by the eerie setting and tone the whole way through. With its folk lore and Irish gangs, Bondurant firmly places you in a literary landscape you want to stay in forever and escape in equal measures.

Horror

Within These Walls by Ania Ahlborn

I read this book as a comparison to one of my own novels, and it was everything I hoped it would be. It is full of cults, ghosts, possession, and desperate measures.

Bird Box by Josh Malerman

The second most terrifying book I have ever read (after House of Leaves). I guarantee you have never read–nay! experienced anything like this!

Literary Horror

Night Film by Marisha Pessl

This is a good book for people who like mystery, thrillers, film, and of course, horror. Not to mention, the antagonist is very intriguing.

Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn

Grim, gruesome, and gritty. I loved Camille’s tone. I loved the tone of the entire book. Such a satisfying mystery shot with horror and an ending that’s sure to make you reel.

Quirky Horror

My Best Friend’s Exorcism by Grady Hendrix

This book was unique, and it really made me squirm in terror at times. I remain ambivalent about the end, but if you like horror and the 80s were part and parcel to your childhood, this is definitely worth a read.

3 Spooky Movies

The Witch (2015)

One of the best horror movies I’ve ever seen, subjectively speaking. Obviously, I want to be scared when I watch horror, and this one digs under you skin.

Goodnight, Mommy (2014)

A highly uncomfortable–but satisfying–foray beautiful cinematography, boyish adventure, and M. Night Shyamalan-ish twists.

The Descent (2005)

I can’t believe I’d never watched this until recently. It’s psychological and creature horror wrapped up in one edge-of-your-seat horror.

 

As a bonus, if you’re looking for a quick horror fix, check out my flash horror story, “The Wake”, which just came out, or my horror poem “The Insolubility of Nightmares”–my first published work from October three years ago.

Have you already seen these movies or read these books? What did you think (no spoilers, of course)? What horror novels or movies are you indulging in on this All Hallow’s Eve?