Friday, November 22, 2013

Friday Five

Oh, how I love autumn!

Haven't done the Friday Five in a while. Today I give you one alarming thing, and four lovely ones. (Actually many more than four lovely things!)

1. The Bechdel Test. Recently I was reading Michelle Cooper's blog (she's the author of the much beloved Montmaray Journals), and she mentioned this. You can read more about it here, but it boils down to the question of whether a novel, film, play, etc.: 1) has at least two women in it, 2) who talk to each other, 3) about something besides a man. As soon as I read that I thought HOLY MOLY, do my novels pass? And yes, they do, but I still appreciate the reminder.

Now, to the lovely things:

2. Author visits. I had a wonderful time talking to Choctaw High and Middle School students last week. They asked entertaining, thoughtful questions, and then they pretty much bought me out of books. (That never happens.) And this past Wednesday I met with a book group that has been meeting in Norman, OK, for several decades, and those ladies were so gracious, so fun to chat with, and at the end I was offered the most delicious petit four I've ever eaten. ALSO, during both visits I was told some hair raising stories of real life ghost encounters. Marvelous!

3. Middle Grade Books. Two in particular have warmed my heart lately, and they both were recommended by Caroline Starr Rose as part of The GreenBeanTeenQueen's So You Want to Read Middle Grade? series. With a Name Like Love, by fellow Elevensie Tess Hilmo, is an historical mystery featuring a traveling preacher's daughter who determines to clear the name of a woman who has falsely confessed to murder. Last night I finished Pictures of Hollis Woods by Patricia Reilly Giff, about a girl who has been in foster homes her entire life. She finds a loving home with Josie, but she yearns for the former family she betrayed. Beautiful books!

4. Feel good movies. This is the time of year when I transition away from that craving for spooky Gothic horror. Instead I want predictable, gooey romance and friendship in a picturesque setting! I already mentioned on Facebook that I'm rather a junkie for Hallmark Christmas movies. I'll pass on the ones featuring Santa's wife/daughter/elf/whatever on the loose, but I love the simple and sweet romances like The Christmas Ornament (new this year) and Trading Christmas (2011). Last night I re-watched Enchanted April--I think it's been over a decade since I've seen it--and it was just as magical as always. (Though I wonder how those ladies can endure sleeping on craggy rocks!) Do you have any recommendations for me?

5. Short story anthologies. Last week was the official cover reveal for GRIM, a collection of dark fairy tale retellings edited by the wonderful Christine Johnson. I am absolutely delighted to have a story in this anthology! By the way, I also received two GRIM ARCs in the mail -- hooray! I will be plotting their fate in the next few weeks, so stay tuned . . .

The cover, front and back:

My story, "Untethered," is a modern interpretation of a little known and very tiny Brothers Grimm story entitled The Shroud. If you read it, you'll probably understand why I picked it. :)

Look for the hardcover release of GRIM in March 2014!

[Cross-posted to Livejournal]

Thursday, November 14, 2013

November Tea and a Book: ANGELS & INSECTS

I love tea and I love books, so why not combine the two in a blog post? Each month I'll attempt to pair tea and something scrumptious with a good book. In some cases, the book will even reference tea -- bonus!

Let's start with my recent re-read of the two novellas that make up A.S. Byatt's Angels and Insects.

Hmmm . . . how best to summarize them quickly? "Morpho Eugenia" is the tale of a working class English naturalist who falls in love with the fragile, tragic daughter of a wealthy baronet, Oh, is he in for many surprises! And "The Conjugial Angel" centers around a group of Spiritualists who, individually and as a group, take things a bit too far with a séance. (This one has real people as characters, including Emily Tennyson Jesse, the sister of the renowned poet, who was at one time engaged to Arthur Hallam, the subject of Tennyson's In Memoriam.)

By the way, some of you may know that "Morpho Eugenia" was made into a film entitled Angels and Insects, which features one of my very favorite actors--and former artistic director of The Globe--Mark Rylance (whom I saw play Pericles, and I was right up against the stage and so close that I could have touched his leg had I let myself do such an inappropriate thing). Anyway, Angels and Insects is one of my all-time favorite films, but I must warn you that it is very much rated R.

Back to tea -- happily, there are references to it in both novellas.

In "Morpho Eugenia," we learn that Eugenia's mother, Lady Alabaster, "seemed to spend most of her day drinking--tea, lemonade, ratafia, chocolate milk, barley water, herbal infusions, which were endlessly moving along the corridors, borne by parlourmaids, on silver trays. She also consumed large quantities of sweet biscuits, macaroons, butterfly cakes, little jellies and dariole moulds, which were also freshly made by Cook, carried from the kitchen, and their crumbs subsequently removed, and dusted away" (30).

In "The Conjugial Angel," following the final séance, hostess Mrs Jesse pours tea. "The oil-lamps cast a warm light on the tea tray. The teapot was china, with little roses painted all over it, crimson and blush-pink and celestial blue, and the cups were garlanded with the same flowers. There were sugared biscuits, each with a flower made out of piped icing, creamy, violet, snow-white. Sophy Sheekhy [the medium] watched the stream of topaz-coloured liquid fall from the spout, steaming and aromatic" (333).

For my tea, I chose this Golden Tippy Assam from Tealeaves, described as "a full-bodied cup with deep, copper liquor noted for its lively character and distinctly malty flavour."

For my tasty treat, I flirted with the idea of making butterfly cakes (see lovely recipes here and here), but even though that would have been so appropriate for "Morpho Eugenia," I decided the cakes would be much better for spring than fall. So I went with the idea of "sweet biscuits" and baked these easy iced pumpkin cookies, which are perfect for a Thanksgiving treat.

Then I dusted off my English china and put everything on a tray for tea on the patio. Hooray!

Now I'm off to find a book for December that will inspire a festive holiday tea. Any suggestions?

[Cross-posted to Livejournal]

Monday, November 11, 2013

Brontës on the Brain

I finished a first draft of my latest project, which had been dragging on FOREVER. The ending is a bit sketchy, but at least I have something to work with, so YAY!

I am very good at rewarding myself for finished tasks, and this weekend was no exception. Friday night, I re-watched Cary Fukunaga's Jane Eyre (2011), my favorite of all the adaptations.

It's no secret that I adore Michael Fassbender. He's probably too handsome for this role, but he has such a lovely intensity. And he can be ugly when the situation requires it. I love the early scenes with Jane in which his face tightens, his mouth flattens into a sneer, and his eyes flash with contempt for the world.

And Mia Wasikowksa is appropriately small and plain, but also projects the necessary fierceness. It is only in this adaptation that I fully experience the seductiveness of Rochester's attention to her, and the tragedy of having to walk away from the freedom, inspiration, and affection offered to her at Thornfield.

I also watched Les Soeurs Brontë (1979), which has become available on US DVD only recently, as far as I can tell. (I bought it on Blu-ray.) It's a beautiful film, shot partially on location in a way that capitalizes on the wide, bleak vistas of the Yorkshire moors.

I'd gathered in advance that the film was more about Branwell than the sisters, but I still found myself resenting the time devoted to his addictions and failures. In the documentary that accompanies the feature film, the director states outright that "in the final version of the film, it's like a vampire story, if you will, or virgin-vampires, in a way, who appropriate and accomplish the artistic destiny of their brother." BLECH! One could argue that Branwell was the one with the most external conflict, the most drama, and that his life translates better to the screen. As Claire Bazin says in the documentary, the imaginations of the sisters "were fertilized and developed by an interior richness, by their internal life." How do you represent that rich interior life on film? I don't know. What films have effectively represented the dramatic interior life of a writer?

(And anyway, the sisters did have dramatic lives--traveling to Brussels, opening their own school back in Yorkshire, governessing for crazy families, etc.)

Surprisingly, Emily Bronte was my favorite character in the film, and it wasn't just because (in this incarnation, at least) she liked to roam the moors in trousers and shoot guns. She was strange and passionate--a true brooding heroine. I never knew or had forgotten that the titular heroine of Charlotte's Shirley was based on her. I am not a fan of Wuthering Heights or Emily's poetry, but I think I would watch the heck out of a film that was mostly about her. Isabelle Adjani was absolutely mesmerizing to watch (and you can bet I'll be watching La Reine Margot and Camille Claudel ASAP).

I need to watch again, but for now my verdict on Les Souers Brontë is that it's a must-watch for obsessive Brontë fans, but may also be of interest to French film buffs. The cinematography is gorgeous.

In other news, I hope something comes of this notion of a BBC Brontë biopic (mentioned in 11th paragraph).

[Cross-posted at Livejournal]

Monday, November 4, 2013

Halloween hangovers and giveaway WINNER

How can it be November already?

I'm still in a spooky mood, and I love these faux horror movie trailers:

Hee! So well done.

Though I haven't seen all of Wes Anderson's movies, Moonrise Kingdom is a favorite. (BTW, how did I miss Edward Norton on SNL?)

Finally, by the totally random power of, a winner has been chosen for last week's signed book giveaway:

Bev Kodak of Ola Middle School in Georgia!

Congrats, Bev! And thanks to all the teachers and librarians who entered.

Happy Monday, everyone!