Saturday, December 31, 2011

How I Went Crazy in 2011

It's that time of year again to look back on what was...and stop looking at the colour-coded calendar of the future.

I'd say that 2011 was the year I went crazy.  Not actually emotional break-downage. (That was 2008-2009, when my personal life and the economy went cablooey in cahoots.  Everyone should have a year they actually break down.  It makes everything else so much more manageable.)

But rather, 2011 was the year that I artistically bezerked.

Now, I am a bezerker by trade.  That is, I waffle and I waffle and I waffle over a life-altering decision...and then, rather than carefully and thoughtfully going step by step, I sort of scream my barbaric "Yawp!" at the world and run at it full-throttle.

That's how I chose a college.  That's how I joined household (Catholic sororities).  That's how I became a teacher.  That's how I became a director.  That's how I became an author.  And, thanks to the complete lack of jobs in America...that's how in 2011, I became a working artist.

It always starts the same way.  I say to myself: "Myself!  [What you're about to do] is crazy.  No one ever does [that thing].  No one can actually make a living at [that thing].  So I'll do [that thing] for a lark...and see if anyone takes me seriously."

And then they do.

And then I say: "[Expletive.]"

However, what I've learnt from being a working artist is that you had better have a colour-coded calendar.  And you had better be able to compartmentalize.  Now, I've got the former, and I'm working on the latter.  I'm also trying to learn how to juggle - because while I've gotten to the point of beginning to understand how to be a working theatrical director, I'm still learning how to be a working author.

But anywho...these are the things I have done in 2011.  And although it drove me nuts, and it meant I had almost no time...I like being busy.  And I like doing what I do.

So, thank You, God, for throwing me into these ridiculous opportunities, and please still be there to catch me when it feels like I'm falling apart.  Amen.

Edited to add: And thank you to Austenesque Reviews not only for first bringing me into the authorial blogosphere (yes, you can thank Meredith Esparza for everything), but also for awarding Nachtsturm Castle "Best Non-Pride and Prejudice Austenesque Sequel" of the year!  Yippeeeeeeeee!  (Buy your copy today!

I started running out of time with all that happened theatrically, but I really want to take a moment to thank those who welcomed me into the on-line author community.  Meredith dragged me in for the Austenesque Extravaganza and my first twitter party ever.  Then the Indie Jane girls, Maria Grazia, and the Regency Ladies really encouraged me and gave me opportunities - more than I deserve or than I knew.  And to Laura McDonald who first gave me the opportunity to publish through the wonderful Girlebooks imprint.  Thank you, to all of you. 

And bear with me as I try to juggle plays and prose!

Free Friday Fitzwilliam

I'd like to thank the Colonel for covering for me last week...alas, he's been called away on business, but you can still read the first six chapters of Presumption for a little while more!

For those of you looking for your House of Strangeways kick...

Never fear!  It's en route.  There was a slight hiccup in my personal life, but in the nonce, you can catch up on all the fun here!

So, swinging in for the rescue is Colonel Fitzwilliam from the forthcoming Presumption.  (You can read the first six chapters of the novel here available until January 16th!)

Monday, December 26, 2011

Meet My Men: or Writing Heroes

Recently, Jessica from NarniaMum and was describing her hero from (I believe) an upcoming novel and it got me to thinking about the fictional heroes we write.  Or in Jess' words, the crush-worthy heroes we write.

Dear fellow bloggers, is to show off your heroes as well!  Who would you cast?  What makes them tick?  How do they speak and interact with others?  Do leave a comment with your blogpost...or even a pretty picture for others to enjoy!

I don't know that I have anything particularly clever to say about mine, but I thought I'd list them and see if there were any corresponding marks among them.  Or, if I don't, perhaps you will....

You can read more about them after the jump.  Including:
I'm not including the heroes for Presumption or The House of Strangeways - the first because I've teased six chapters already! and the second because we have not yet met Mr Daedelus Stryke.

Friday, December 23, 2011

House of Strangeways: Voices of the Dead

Part Five, "Voices of the Dead" continues our serialized novel of The House of Strangeways available exclusively here on this blog!

To read the first four chapters, click hereAt the official site, you can also examine the library for clues, and explore the House of Strangeways for yourself!  New content is being added weekly, so keep checking back for more!


We learn more about our narrator, Miss Meadowlark's mysterious past, including an Hungarian aunt, the spiritualist and charlatan the Great Solandro, and a little more about the incorrigible Harry Potsdrain.  Also...
  • Will Jeremy Cavendish Mumm speak?  
  • What is the significance of the brass feather Miss Meadowlark's father gave her?  
  • And how do you react when your world is stolen from you?

All this and more are explored in this week's double-sized chapter of "Voices of the Dead."

And in case you missed it, check out all of the Free Fridays, including six chapters of Presumption, the forthcoming sequel to Pride and Prejudice that brings together Colonel Fitzwilliam and Maria Lucas.  The Presumption preview will be available for 30 days.


Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Writing in Iambic Pentameter

Previously, I asked the question: Where are the "new Shakespearean" plays.  There appear to be three qualities at which he particularly excelled:

1) The Beauty of Verse
2) Paradoxical Orthodoxy
3) Content Dictating Form

Today, I'd like to look at the first quality: POETIC VERSE.

  • To learn about the basics of Shakespeare's verse, please scroll down just underneath this text.
  • To see how to use Shakespeare's techniques in modern plays, please press "Read more" at the bottom of this post.

    What follows is a basic primer, but if you've the time, here's the best masterclass, courtesy of  the RSC, Trevor Nunn, John Barton, and very young Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellan, and David Suchet!

    Now, one of the first things any student of Shakespeare learns is about something called "respecting the verse."  Essentially this means that, when performing, one should be aware of the following things: 

    1) Looking for, in general, five strong stresses. 

    In a perfect iambic line, it sounds like "ba-DUM ba-DUM ba-DUM ba-DUM ba-DUM" such as "But SOFT! What LIGHT through YON-der WIN-dow BREAKS?"

    However, sometimes a line might have a feminine ending, which is basically a syllable that drops off at the end, such as "To BE or NOT to BE  that IS the QUES-tion."

    And often, Shakespeare varies the rhythm of a line altogether. "LET ME NOT to the MAR-riage OF true MINDS"  In this case, the first two words are part of a foot (series of stresses), called a "spondee."  You can read all about  the various types of metrical feet here.

    Basically, when we're in perfect iambs, the character is in full possession of his or her faculties and temper, and when it goes into varying stresses, the character is in possession of some strong humour.

    2) Be aware of metrical variations

    Occasionally, Shakespeare includes a line which sort of cuts off in the middle.  For example, Hamlet in II.2 cries in the middle of his "Rogue and peasant slave" speech, "For Hecuba!" giving us only two strong beats...and leaving us without three.

    This is a clue that the actor may want to take those extra beats before or after or some combination thereof to either allow for strong, non-verbal emotion, or to allow for movement.  The actor can also lengthen the sounds of the feet he has to make up the length of a single line...slow down the meter from quarter notes to half notes, as it were!  Actually, take a look at Hamlet's speech: it's punctuated by these short outbursts.  (Scroll to bottom of link.)

    Alternately, sometimes Shakespeare uses entirely different verse.  The witches in Macbeth IV.1 speak in iambic quatrameter, typically in rhyming couplets: 
    Double, double toil and trouble;
    Fire burn, and cauldron bubble.
    Similarly, the rude mechanicals from Midsummer Night's Dream, when they perform "Pyramus and Thisbe" in V.1 fall into two strong stresses with rhyming couplets all over the place:
    But stay, O spite!
    But mark, poor knight
    What dreadful dole was here?
    Eyes, do you see?
    How can it be?
    O dainty duck!  O dear!
    By changing the meter, Shakespeare tells us something about the character.  Both of the above forms are much more like our own nursery rhymes or common limericks, rather than the graceful swoop and fall of a line in iambic pentameter.

    However, reader beware: occasionally you can also tell that someone else stuck something in by checking the meter.  Hence, in Macbeth III.5 the character of Hecate shows up out of nowhere and berates the witches with:
    Have I not reason, beldams as you are,
    Saucy and overbold? How did you dare
    To trade and traffic with Macbeth
    In riddles and affairs of death;
    And I, the mistress of your charms,
    The close contriver of all harms,
    Was never call'd to bear my part,
    Or show the glory of our art?
    The first two lines are in iambic pentameter, and then falls into a meter we know well from "roses are red, violets are blue."  Moreover, the following lines all end very heavily and neatly (see below).  Frankly, the meter and the language are clunky; apprentice-level, which Shakespeare in the court of James I was assuredly not.

    One final note: obviously, it's also important to note when a character slips into prose, since this heralds something about the prosaic nature of the scenes.  So Benedick and Beatrice quarrel in prose, and make love in poetry.  Rosalind and Celia banter in prose, then slip into verse when the Duke enters with full formality.

    3) Catch your half-lines!

    Shakespeare loves to divide a single line between two or more character.  For example, Kate and Petruchio in their wooing scene of The Taming of the Shrew in II.1:
    Moved! in good time: let him that moved you hither
    Remove you hence: I knew you at the first
    You were a moveable.
                                      Why, what's a moveable?
    A join'd-stool.
                                      Thou hast hit it: come, sit on me.
    Asses are made to bear, and so are you.
    PETRUCHIO Women are made to bear, and so are you.
    Here we have not only half lines which are thrown to one another...and need to stay in the rhythm of a single line, but also lines that are compliments to one another, whose speed of one sort of knocks into the speed of the other.  By "throwing the line" to your partner (something you do whether you line is short or not), you keep the energy of the scene alive through the verse.  You can see the effect of that in our version of Shrew below:

    4) And most important, love your line endings.

    What this means, is that the final word (or stress) of each line, should not be dropped.  You can lift your voice, or put an italic on the final word - I usually encourage my actors to "lean" on the word - while some say that taking a small breath after each line does the same thing.

    In Shakespeare's earlier plays, he tends to stop a line heavily, in a natural place.  For example, in The Comedy of Errors, II.1, Luciana not only speaks with heavy line endings, but she also speaks in rhyming couplets. (See below.)
    Why, headstrong liberty is lash'd with woe.
    There's nothing situate under heaven's eye
    But hath his bound, in earth, in sea, in sky:
    The beasts, the fishes, and the winged fowls,
    Are their males' subjects and at their controls:
    Men, more divine, the masters of all these,
    Lords of the wide world and wild watery seas,
    Indued with intellectual sense and souls,
    Of more preeminence than fish and fowls,
    Are masters to their females, and their lords:
    Then let your will attend on their accords.
     However, in later plays, Shakespeare puts line endings in places that look like they should be enjambed (that is, the speaker just runs over the line-break, respecting more the punctuation than the line ending).  Even these lines, however, benefit from giving some weight to the final word of each line, such as in I.2 of A Winter's Tale, when Leontes says:
    Inch-thick, knee-deep, o'er head and ears a fork'd one!
    Go, play, boy, play: thy mother plays, and I
    Play too, but so disgraced a part, whose issue
    Will hiss me to my grave: contempt and clamour
    Will be my knell. Go, play, boy, play.  There have been,
    Or I am much deceived, cuckolds ere now....
     Listen to this video to hear the difference between enjambing the verse, or respecting the line endings.

    5) But don't neglect your rhyming couplet lines/Which tell us much about our poet's mind.

    Forgive my near-rhyme there, but you get the idea.  While rhyming couplets are found in many places in Shakespeare - more often in his early work than his later - whenever he deploys a rhyming couplet at the end of a scene or within it, it hits the ear with a stronger sound.  Hence, it works well as an almost musical "button" on a scene, or on the conclusion of an argument.  Rhyming couplets are there better deployed with care when writing blank verse, since they stand out so much!

    Sunday, December 18, 2011

    Where Have All the Iambic Pentameter Plays Gone?

    Someone was once asked who the greatest American playwright was.

    He answered: Shakespeare.

    Now, that answer may seem flip, but it's also got a lot of truth to it.  The brio of the Elizabethan stage very much mimics the rip-roaring-ness of the American spirit.  Shakespeare festivals abound in every corner of our nation, to the point where modern playwrights have blogged about how we need to stop doing Shakespeare and take a chance on new plays.

    The question I'd like to pose to my fellow playwrights is: If the masses want Shakespeare, why aren't we writing new Shakespearean plays?

    VERSE: The question then becomes: Well, what is this so-called "Shakespearean play?"  Is it merely a matter of writing in verse?  Because T. S. Eliot did that and only got so far.  (Although I think his Murder in the Cathedral is one of the most beautiful plays ever written, and I'm itching for the day I get to direct it in full.)  Moreover, there are all these Greek and Roman verse plays lying around...heck, there are Elizabethan iambic pentameter plays for the taking...that are performed considerably less than Shakespeare.  So it can't be just the verse.

    WORLDVIEW: Is it the content or the worldview?  I think we may be onto something closer here. Shakespeare's plays are lusty and moral; as Chesterton might say, the "centre is central."  Because Shakespeare believes in an ordered world, he's free to explore disorder.  His view is entirely Catholic - both upper and lower case - but that sort of robust Catholicism that revels in the body (and the bawdy) with respect to the soul.  It's a worldview of contrasts, or more accurately, of paradoxes.  It's a worldview wherein heroes are always on the brink of damnation, and villains in danger of salvation.  It's got something of the serious child in it: fancies are taken as importantly as realities - and sometimes realities are best laughed at.  It's beautiful, too.  It's important that we remember the grounded beauty: "The cloud-capped towers, the gorgeous palaces/The solemn temples, the great globe itself...." (Tempest 4.1).

    A picture of Prospero surrounded by his sprites from
    The Tempest (November 2011)

    CONTENT DICTATES FORM: Of course, one of the other things that must be taken into consideration is, as Sondheim puts it: "Content dictates form."  (He's not the only one who says it, but I love his book, Finishing the Hat so much, I'll credit Sondheim for explaining why content dictates form!)  That is, you can write anything in verse...but not every story wants to be written in verse.  Shakespeare's "common comedies" are almost entirely in prose - Benedick and Beatrice, Orlando and Rosalind - because they, as characters, do not speak in flights of spontaneous verse.  In fact, Shakespeare himself allows their changes into verse to herald a higher feeling within those characters: only love or nobility spring them into verse.  (Shakespeare only really wielded prose as a tool in his middle to late plays; his earliest are almost entirely in verse, revealing a young playwright first experimenting with form.)

    MODERN VERSE PLAYS - A HUNT: So, what sort of modern verse plays can we find?

    David Hyde Pierce & Mark Rylance, La Bete
    Moliere's Couplets: David Ives recently adapted Moliere's The Misanthrope in tripping, rhyming couplets, in The School for Lies.  Although he updated the jokes and fleshed out the plot, it's curious that the design team felt the need to put the actors in wigs and panniers - content dictates form.  Likewise, in David Hirson's La Bete - another Molieresque comedy - everyone lives somewhere in the time of the Louis XIV, hence the verse.  In fact, rhyming couplets seem to be the new darling among the stylists.

    While these plays are not Elizabethan or Shakespearean blank verse, what they do have is both clever language, content that dictates the form, and most importantly, something both high and low, beautiful and base, jauntily paradoxical in its thought.  (Although it should be noted that the first production of La Bete failed miserably; perhaps due to a stodginess that the recent revival seems to have shed.)

    Irregular Verse:  J.B. by Archibald MacLeish is a play in irregular verse; a modernization of the book of Job.  Gilgamesh has also been turned into an irregular verse play by the poet, Yusef Komunyakaa.  Andrew Chavez turned to a Neanderthal gravesite for his irregular verse play, Shanidar Cave, and again in Three Verse Plays: A New Romantic Use of an Old Romantic Format which appear to be modern stories with archetypical underpinnings. Philip Begho also used irregular verse in his award-winning, five-act play, Esther - based on one of my favourite Biblical heroines!

    It's fairly easy to find irregular verse plays.  My own publisher, has published quite a few, including Beowulf by Gabriel Dean (which is written in prose, but makes extensive use of verse), Cupid & Psyche by Joseph Fisher (all in irregular verse), and of course The Seussification of Romeo and Juliet by Peter Bloedel (which is in coupleted iambic quatrameter, combining the best of Seuss, Moliere, morality play meter, all with Shakespeare's best known wonder this play is a hit!).

    Irregular verse doesn't seem to play as well to the masses - possibly because it sounds like regular speech with more stilted language, possibly because English lends itself to iambs...who knows.  Once again, although all these plays require verse due to their content, and all three plays are based on epic stories which ought to combine the high and the low, and the silly and sublime, it looks like only Seussification and perhaps Cupid & Psyche has done well.

    In fact, audiences seem to react better to silly in not-genius-level verse better than tragic in the same.   Perhaps that is our difficulty in finding the author of "new" Shakespeare plays.  Comedy will cover a multitude of metric sins; tragedy will reveal them.

    Iambic Pentameter: But what about iambic pentameter?  I know there must be more, although I'm having trouble finding them.  A quick search of Amazon yields The Mother of God Visits Hell by Daniel Guyton, that bills itself as being in iambic pentameter; which as a morality play makes sense.  (Although I take issue with the fact that the author doesn't seem to get line endings, simply ending after ten syllables...nnngh...or Dostoyevsky's original vision worldview-wise.)  Stuart Spencer's play, Go to Ground, about fox hunting (nice to see a non-Biblical or epic subject!), appears to have the same difficulty as Guyton - that is, presuming ten syllables make five feet of verse.  Lucy Nordberg takes on King Arthur in iambic pentameter, using an old form to examine modern war (no sample found to sample the verse).  Crossword puzzle writer, Henry Rathvon, also went to Arthurian times for for his iambic pentameter farce, Trapezium, based on the myth of Tristan and Isolde.

    From reviews (no sample available), Trapezium appears to be a comic farce ("Monty Python-esque") which may be why the reviews are generally favourable.  To me, King Arthur looks the most interesting, and promising (at least from production stills) in our quest to find someone who can "get" the tragic side of Shakespeare.  (Whether anything in King Arthur would make you laugh remains to be seen.  Macbeth is full of hilarious jokes...although Black Adder would disagree.)

    You have to look back in time a bit to find better verse, such as Jane Alice Sargant's five-act Joan of Arc (1840) or Henry Copley Greene's Pontius Pilate (1871), or Attila, my Attila! (1896) by Michael Field (aka Katherine Bradley and Edith Cooper).  In fact, the 1800's seems to have been rife with iambic plays...which I've never heard of, or which don't seem to be produced much if at all.  One has to wonder why they did not resonate with the theatrical world, when a quick scan of their verse seems to show everything in promising shape.

    Insert your face here!
    CURRENT VERDICT: Of all the plays mentioned, The School for Lies, and La Bete have performed well in New York City, helped immensely by excellent casts, directing, and all the fun that comes from rhyming couplets.  Likewise, The Seussification of Romeo and Juliet is performing gangbusters in the high-school arena...and is also in rhyming couplets.

    As for modern iambic plays, "new" Shakespearean plays, I don't know that we've quite seen them yet.  Or seen them take off, at any rate!  And part of that may not be the content (as witnessed above, by and large those who've written the form have done so because of the content), but actually because...of the verse.

    In my next post, I'll ruminate on what it means to write Shakespearean verse, which is more than just writing ten syllables at a time.  In the meantime, comment and let me know about an iambic pentameter or verse play that more people should know about!  I'd love to know.

    SO...WHO IS THE NEXT SHAKESPEARE?  Well, maybe it could be you!

    Thursday, December 15, 2011

    Jane Austen Birthday Soiree

    UPDATE: Congratulations Becky for winning the Letters of Love & Deception Giveaway!  

    And thanks to all who entered, joined in the celebration, and left kind words!

    Happy birthday to Jane Austen!  Looking good at 236 years old!

    Today, over thirty bloggers are celebrating Austen's birthday with a Soiree.  You can see all the blogs, and the presents you can enter to win just by commenting!  So blog hop and comment away!

    REMEMBER: You can enter to win all the way up 'til December 23rd!  Just make sure you leave your e-mail so that you can be notified.

    Here at O Beauty Unattempted, we're giving two presents back to Jane.  After all, she gave us a refuge from a very bitter world, something beautiful and pure and worth striving after.  I think we can give her a little back.

    Since she can't be here to accept them, I hope you will!
    1. The first is a present for everybody: the first six chapters of Presumption, a sequel to Pride and Prejudice that matches the coming of age Maria Lucas with luckless in love Colonel Fitzwilliam.  (This story will be available for 30 days.  Read it here.)
    2. Our usual Free Fridays will continue later tomorrow night with the House of complete with a growing text-adventure game! Explore the house with Governess Sera Meadowlark, and discover clues, hidden scenes, and much more. (Updated weekly.)
    3. The second is a book giveaway!  For those die-hard Austenites, here's a special treat: comment below and enter to win a free e-copy of Letters of Love & Deception, a collection of Austenesque short stories, that brings together all of your favorite heroes, heroines, foils, villains, and fools from Jane Austen's six novels.

    4. And, one more for the road.  So you want to write your own Jane Austen novel?  Here's a primer on what characters you might want to include in Deconstructing Jane.  (Comment there, too, for an extra chance to win a copy of Letters of Love & Deception!)
    Happy birthday, dear Jane, and thank you for giving us such wonderful gifts!  God's blessings be with your soul, amen!

    Click on READ MORE to see a list of all the Soiree presents!

    Wednesday, December 14, 2011

    How to Write Your Own Jane Austen Novel

    So, you want to write a Jane Austen novel?  But where to start?

    My article, Deconstructing Jane is now available at Maria Grazia's blog, My Jane Austen Bookclub!  And lucky comes with a giveaway just in time for Christmas of Letters of Love & Deception, a collection of Austenesque stories sure to please fans of all of her books.

    In Deconstructing Jane, you will learn all about the:
    • Heroine (spunk a plus; strength a necessity)
    • Hero (a man of upstanding and outstanding virtue)
    • Foils (those who steal the hero away, and those who steal the audience)
    • Clergy (from silly to serious, a must in any Austen novel)
    • Military (often luckless in love, but happy to help!)
    • Nobles (inadvertent assistants to Cupid's designs)
    And much more!
    Maria recently joined us for the Teatime Ten, and was good enough to host me on her blog Talking Austen.  Maria, along with Katherine Cox, and over thirty other Austen bloggers, will be hosting a Jane Austen Birthday Soiree this Friday - I hope to see you there!

    Tuesday, December 13, 2011

    Jane Austen's 236 Years Young

    Or, as Oscar Wilde might put it, there are some women who have remained 236 for years!

    Yes, that's right mesdames et monsieurs, our own Jane Austen turns 236 years young this Friday - and to celebrate, O Beauty Unattempted! is joining other Austenites across the blogosphere in Jane Austen's Birthday Soiree.

    Our Soiree hostesses are Maria Grazia of My Jane Austen Book Club and Katherine Cox of November Autumn.  You can hop around to each of the thirty-two blogs, each of whom will be giving a gift to you in honour of the birthday girl.

    Here at O Beauty Unattempted! I'll be giving away a free e-copy of Letters of Love & Deception, a collection of Austenesque short stories, including characters from all of Austen's novels, perfect for any enthusiast!

    Fridays are also Free Fridays here at O Beauty Unattempted!, which is currently chronicling the original Gothic novel, The House of Strangeways...but there will also be an extra Austen ficlet surprise!  (Hey, you only turn 236 once!)

    How do you enter to win any of the giveaways?  Easy!  Just comment on the Soiree posts!  A full lists of sites and presents is below.  See you Friday!

    Friday, December 9, 2011

    House of Strangeways: The Woman in the Walls (Pt. 4)

    Part Four, "The Women in the Walls" continues our serialized novel of The House of Strangeways available exclusively here on this blog!

    To read the first three chapters, click here.

    And make sure you keep checking out the House of Strangeways website to find clues to this Gothic mystery.  Look inside the library books (pop-ups must be enabled) to find what else the people of Strangeways are hiding in their walls.

    Tuesday, December 6, 2011

    Macbeth: Character Descriptions

    Macbeth: Character Descriptions

    With auditions coming up next Monday & Tuesday (see here for more information!), I'm getting excited by our Macbeth on the boardwalk, dans le funfair, mit der sandcastles.

    A common theme between both this and Tempest can be summed up from the Coldplay lyrics for "Viva la Vida:"

    "And I discovered that 
    My castles stand
    Upon pillars of stone
    And pillars of sand...."
    Character Descriptions
    MACBETH.   (Male) A very minor soldier at the outset, self-effacing, jocular, who becomes by a combination of pressure, fear, and ambition, more bloody.  It is important that he radiate a sense of warmth and kindness that draws the audience in, despite his increased monstrosity.  He should be always in danger of salvation—just before he rejects it.  In some ways, he is driven by a need to please and prove himself to others.
    LADY MACBETH. (Female) A powerful and alluring woman, whose beauty lies not in her face, but in her fascination.  She is of better birth than Macbeth, and feels the unevenness in their stations, and her present situation keenly.  Her marriage was a love match, but to a Machiavellian woman, who would sleep with Duncan to get Macbeth his first advancement (pre-show), and then ruthlessly urge Macbeth to kill to get the next.  This production is particularly interested in her statement that she had a child, who seems not to exist.  Unless Lady Macbeth’s tryst with Duncan produced an heir…whom she disposed of while very young.  The death of children will prove her undoing.

    Sunday, December 4, 2011

    Gothic Travelogue: How to be Abducted (True Story)

    When traveling to Paris, it is important that you do not get abducted.  

    Or, if you do nearly get abducted, you can at least put it into a book!  I speak, both times, from experience.

    In Nachtsturm Castle, Catherine Tilney is wise enough not to go to Paris alone (well, she and Henry are on their honeymoon!), but while at Notre Dame, she sees an American woman who's being cornered by an over-amorous Creole man.  Now, the truth is that I was that American woman, and the man was actually  Nigerian.

    Round and around they ran, and if the child was nimbler, then Henry was more determined.  He cornered the boy at last at the edge of the Seine, interrupting an over-ardent Creole gentleman and an immediately grateful New England woman...

    The gypsy thus satisfied, she once again resumed her game of tossing the eldest child at likely victims – which now included the amorous Creole, much to the long-suffering New Englander’s delight. 

     ~ Chapter III, Nachtsturm Castle, "Wherein Our Adventurers Encounter the Foreign and Familiar"

    Unfortunately, no gypsies came to my rescue at Notre Dame, but that's the fun of fiction: you can right realistic wrongs.  

    There are a few ways to make sure you are Not Abducted:

    Friday, December 2, 2011

    House of Strangeways: Labyrinth & Locksmith (Pt. 3)

    Part three of The House of Strangeways continues here!  To read the first two installments, you can read them all here.  Since this is a weekly serial, The House of Strangeways will remain available for longer.

    In this chapter, The Labyrinth and the Locksmith, we learn what you hear when you put your left hand on the wall, and the dangers of eating marmalade, and the mysterious story of a locksmith who could not free his wife.

    Also, Mr Mumm enjoys the sight of Miss Meadowlark attempting to flee her room by means of the window.

    Very soon, we shall be meeting the elusive Mr Daedelus Stryke, but in the meantime, how much of the mystery can you solve before Miss Meadowlark gets lost in the House of Strangeways again?

    Now, there's a website for The House of Strangeways!  Keep an eye out for super-secret extra content!

    Tuesday, November 29, 2011

    Occupy Microphone

    To all my fellow artists, I give you Occupy Microphone.


    When I returned to university for my masters degree, I suddenly found myself quietly, politely, and firmly silenced.  As a Christian in the arts, I was perceived as a danger.  No one was ever rude, but there was simply no room for debate, no desire to consider an issue: only the unspoken injunction to conform or remain silent. 

    I hadn't realized how much this silencing was affecting me until one day in class my professor brought in an array of items for us to choose and use in a theatrical exercise.  I was immediately drawn to a set of delicate windchimes which I let jangle while we all waited for further instruction.

    When, suddenly, from somewhere in the circle a fellow student called out irritably: "Will whoever has the windchimes SHUT THEM UP?"

    Immediately, I grasped the windchimes, closing them in my hand and hiding them.  A moment before they had been making beautiful, communal, chaotic music - now they were deadened.  And by my hand.

    I realized at that instant that I felt like those windchimes.  Particularly as a theatre artist who depends upon the harmony of chaos and control in creating live performances, who had previously spent her days debating the deeper, harder issues with her students in theology class where everything was discussed - I now was silenced.

    And I had silenced myself.

    Art does not need to be directly confrontational.  But it does need to open up debate.  Art does not need to fully, philosophically point to all answers, but it needs to open up the path to them.  An artist who is silent has nothing to say, and does no one any good.  An artist must speak up: speak hope, speak truth, speak beauty.

    Speak up, artists.  Debate.  Converse.  Challenge.

    Occupy Microphone.

    Man will be saved by beauty. ~ Fyodor Dostoyevsky, The Brothers Karamazov

    Do not be afraid. Do not be satisfied with mediocrity.  Coraggio! ~ Pope John Paul II, First speech as Pope 1978

    Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable - if anything is excellent or praiseworthy - think about such things. ~ St. Paul, Philippians 4:8

    Sunday, November 27, 2011

    Light Princess: Not All Who Wander are Lost

    I'm adapting The Light Princess by George MacDonald for Festival Competition play this year, and I ran across this gorgeous quote:

    These forests are very useful in delivering princes from their courtiers, then the princes get away to follow their fortunes. In this way they have the advantage over the princesses, who are forced to marry before they have had a bit of fun. I wish our princesses got lost in a forest sometimes.

    I love George MacDonald.  And I love chamber theatre.  The opportunity to put these two together means that the Prince who is - in the fairy tale - one of those hopeless romantics, in my version of the play is the one who speaks those lines, while the Princess (floating unnoticed behind him) overhears it.

    If you don't know The Light Princess, run to read it (or amble to the synopsis).  It's a beautiful fairy tale, with terrible (and wonderful) puns on what it means to be light; what it means to have no gravity.  George MacDonald is a dream-like fantasist, who greatly influenced C. S. Lewis.  

    His books are all worth reading...and since he wrote in the 1850's, they're also all free!  Next to The Light Princess, his novel The Princess and Curdie (the sequel to The Princess and the Goblin) is my favorite.

    Happy reading!

    Friday, November 25, 2011

    Free Friday: House of Strangeways (Pt. 2)

    Welcome to Black Friday here at O Beauty Unattempted!  In case you're waiting in those pesky lines up to the counter, or whether you're at home avoiding crowds, we've got you covered with this week's installment of The House of Strangeways.  (You can read Part 1 here.  And yes, it was previously known as Confessions of a Gothic Governess)

    Reader beware, though, don't read this alone at night.  Or do.

    Since the text formatting seemed to give some people some trouble, I've reverted back to normal typeface.  Let me know what you prefer, please!

    And enjoy!  If you dare.  *cue thunder*

    Notes: You can read Part 2 by clicking the fly-out button below or clicking here.  If you're in the mood for something more spoofy, take a look at Nachtsturm Castle...and at the Action!Henry scene, available for a few more days.  (Each Free Friday is available for 30 days.)

    Monday, November 21, 2011

    Teatime Ten: Maria Grazia

    Many of you know Maria Grazia as the editrix of My Jane Austen Fan Club (wherein I recently got to Talk Austen with her!) and The Everything Austen Daily.  But did you also know that she teaches English in Italy?  And is an avid fan of Richard Armitage?  (Clearly, a woman of taste!)
    Well, now it's time for the interviewer to be interviewed!  So sweeten that tea, break out the clotted cream, and join us for the Teatime Ten (now in a monthly edition) with Maria Grazia! 

    Hello Maria!  Thanks so much for joining us for the Teatime Ten.  Tell us a little bit about how you came to love Jane Austen.

    Oh! The first time I read her Pride and Prejudice, an entire new world was revealed to my  young-teen-living-in-the-provinces-and-knowing-nothing-of-the-world inexperienced mind. I was so naive I even liked Wickham as much as Elizabeth and disliked Darcy as much as her! Never been caught in that trap again. ;-) 

    But I only read the rest of her work when I was at university and beyond - so as  an adult. Actually, a revival of my fondness came after watching P&P 2005 at the cinema. Yes, I know, I know, it is not the most faithful adaptation but it was my first one (**blushes** ) Darcy/Firth only came... second. I’ve started collecting adaptations of classics after P&P 2005. So it was then when  my period drama mania had its start. But that’s another story.

    How did you come to start your blog?  What did you want to focus on? 

    I started blogging in 2008 for my students at  Learnonline and I still regularly add audio/video/didactic  materials there. So, after discovering the blogosphere was such fun, I wished I had  a special corner for my passions and started FLY HIGH! where I write about literature, books, art, journeys and trips, school, period drama, movies, TV series, theatre and, of course, "my one weakness," that is my favourite actor, Richard Armitage. 

    I noticed that many of my posts tended to be Austen-related, so when one day at the local public library they asked me to organize and moderate a “Jane Austen Book Club,” I decided to start a third site to support and report about that experience. I wanted it to be  “A friendly meeting place to discuss everything Austen...” - hence My Jane Austen Book Club. 

    I have met so many interesting people and learnt so much since I’ve started blogging. Believe it or not, but my life has radically changed!

    I love the Everything Austen Daily!  How do you find your articles?  What prompted you to start it?  

    That’s a very easy task. Anybody could start his/her own daily paper. You must set the tags or key words you’re interested in and then the paper is automatically done. As an editor,  I check what they have picked up from twitter and delete what is not actually Austen-related. A piece of cake, isn’t it?

    Wow.  It really is.  Can you give six tips to those interested in starting their own paper or blog?

    Tips? I’m not that expert, you know? I’m always asking for tips myself from bloggers I “virtually” meet online. But I’ll try to find something useful to say, let’s see...

    1. Write about things you really like
    2. Make your blog a friendly place
    3. Try to create a net of mates/ friends taking part in blog events, hops, meme.
    4. Try to use twitter/facebook  to publicize what you write about
    5. Don’t write a blog copying another very popular one. If it already exists and is popular, why should people read a similar less popular one? So try to be original, create your own style.
    6. Last but not least, be politically and intellectually correct/honest/coherent
    I'm amazed that you teach ESL in Italy to high school students...and find time for everything else.  How do you balance your days?

    Ehm, first of all my days are not ... balanced at all,  they are frantic! But my answer is:  to manage everything, I’ve  had to become a multi-tasker, just  like my teenage students. Something like...correcting tests and papers with music and twitter on?  Or I sleep less.  I answer e-mails very early in the morning (when my American mates/friends are still up) while having my first cappuccino or write posts/interviews at night (until 1 / 2 a.m.) after finishing correcting or preparing notes or power point slides for my lessons. 
    What is really difficult is that with my different class-groups I have to cover all English literature from the origins to nowadays: pills (only one hour a week) of literature for my youngest students (16) from the origins to Shakespeare the poet; a bit more when they are in the 4th year (and 17) from the Elizabethan Drama to the Early Romantic Age;  and, finally, in their last year at school,  they study the 19th, 20th, 21st  centuries. I select authors, texts and themes but it is, however, pretty much to deal with. 

    Do you find there's a difference in how Americans vs. Europeans approach literature? 
    That’s a tough one, first of all because I know very little about Americans’ approach to literature. And if I must be honest, I don’t even follow any official methodology  for the teaching of language and literature. But, being the daughter of a very boring/dull/ uninteresting/formal approach to literature both at high school and at university, I’ve tried to find my own way. What I can say about us in Italy is that we are still totally free to pick up the authors and texts we like as well as the methodology we prefer. 

    As for myself, I use the language as much as I can to communicate (English is a foreign language to them, not a second one), I use literature to make my students recognize/discover  themselves or connections to their own world and needs (a humanistic approach?), I support my lessons with audio/visual/interactive tools as often as I can. 

    Sounds great to me!  What do you look for in a good book?

    I’m rather schizophrenic (but not dangerous!) as for my attitude to books. I read and manage to appreciate very different stuff. Anyhow, my attitude depends if I'm reading  fanfiction, a best-seller (I tend to be very hard on those!) or literature. I switch my “criticism button” right or left (but never OFF), according to what kind of book I’m reading. If it is a light, escape read,  it must be intelligent and well-written but I can suspend disbelief for a while.

    If it is literature or a classic, I turn into the teacher I am and start noticing, analyzing, comparing. But in order to like a classic also, it must be thought-provoking and well-written. 

    Did you notice any type of book I can’t renounce? 

    So let's talk books!  You've been locked in your room by a nefarious villain, who's only given you two novels for comfort.  What are those novels and why?

    Mind you, I like villains. Is “my nefarious villain” here more like a wicked libertine (Robert Lovelace? John Willoughby?) or a gothic monster? Well, I hope he is one of the first type. I love them! And if he even let me keep my two favourite novels with me...awwww...he’s a darling!  I’ll keep Jane Austen’s “Persuasion” and Mrs Gaskell’s “North and South” with me, thank you. 

    Why? Simply because I love them both, differently, but very much.
    Now for a little Austen fun: if you could pair up any two characters from different Austen novels, who would you pair up and why are they perfect for each other?

    I hope Mr Darcy would not be angry with me, it’s just a game, isn’t it? And I apologize with Catherine, but she mustn’t feel offended. I’d love to see Henry Tilney interacting with Elizabeth Bennet. They are both brilliant minds, so witty and  smart, while Mr Darcy and Catherine Morland totally  lack humour and wit. Wouldn’t Henry and Lizzie be an extraordinarily well-matched couple? 
    Actually...that does sound fantastic.  (With all apologies to their respective others.)  Then what's next for Maria Grazia? 
    More teaching, more blogging, more reading,  more period drama, more art exhibitions, more good movies, more theatre, more trips to the UK. Fingers crossed!  
    Ooops... I forgot more housework, laundry, ironing, driving sons, cooking meals... :-/  Did you think my life was all Jane Austen and Shakespeare? 

    Thank you so much for joining us, Maria!

     Maria Grazia is the editrix of My Jane Austen Bookclub and the Everything Austen Daily, as well as Learn On-Line and Fly High!  She lives in Italy.  

    You can follow her via Twitter and Facebook (Fly High) or Facebook (Jane Austen).  You can also find her on YouTube and Vimeo, Paperblog and Blogworld (Tumblr)