Monday, 27 February 2012

My thoughts on the movie 'Anonymous'

Hello all!
Let me start by saying I had been waiting a long time to see this movie.
I was not disappointed. I didn't know what to expect, really, and I must say that the trailers did not do a good job explaining the plot of this movie.
Which is, at its core, what if the plays attributed to William Shakespeare were, in fact, not written by William Shakespeare?
The movie itself was presented like it was a play. It's a bit hard to explain, it opens as if its being presented as a play then dives into the actual movie and I thought that was pretty brilliant. The appearance in general was amazing, it was quite the visual of late Tudor London.

I won't give too much away, but the movie takes us through a journey of what if the plays were written by a nobleman named Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford and apparent lover to Elizabeth I. There's many controversies presented, including the much debated idea that Elizabeth I had lovers and, in fact, multiple illegitimate children that were hidden by her adviser William Cecil.
The only problem I had with that was the particular boys they picked to be Elizabeth's children - was the Earl of Essex not Robert Devereux, the child of Lettiuce Knollys, great grandson of Mary Boleyn, and stepson of Robert Dudley? The incidents that happened imply that this is the same Essex, but they seem to have forgotten these facts....
 Here's the wikipedia link, with many more details, a full cast list and some comments about the critical reception:

I loved the feel and the presentation of this movie. The filmmakers did a fantastic job in creating an atmosphere that really felt like late Elizabethan London. The casting was fantastic - Rhys Ifans was brilliant as the elder Edward de Vere, but I have to say that Ifans has been good in every movie I've ever seen him in. Vanessa Redgrave was fantastic as the elder Elizabeth I, and the casting of Redgrave's daughter Joely Richardson as the younger Elizabeth was so spot on it it was impressive. (you may remember Richardson as Katherine Parr in tv's The Tudors). I could not name the actor who played Shakespeare, an opportunist actor who took it upon himself to make himself appear to be the author of these plays as opposed to another and milk it for everything he could get, but he was very good.
And, the young man who played Arthur in the most recent tv version of Camelot played the young Edward de Vere - he was fantastic as Arthur, but not given enough screen time to do much in this role. It was nice to see his face, and I expect to see more of him.

Other than that little thing about Essex, this movie was lovely. Totally worth watching on a variety of levels - for historical fans, for conspiracy fans, and for Shakespeare fans. And for Rhys Ifans. 

Saturday, 18 February 2012

Happy Birthday Princess Mary, Queen Mary I of England!

Hello, and a very Happy 496th Birthday to Queen Mary I of England!

Let me start by saying, I am used to referring to her as Princess Mary, because that's how I came to know her and begin to study her. She has been a huge inspiration to me, as I said in my previous post titled The Influence of Mary.
And to mark her birthday I thought I would put up some interesting links and and some of my thoughts on the various interpretations of Mary that I have seen over the years.

If you have no clue who I'm talking about, here's the wikipedia link

Now, I haven't read a biography of just Mary alone yet but Alison Weir's The Children of Henry VIII is a fascinating read. Six Wives of Henry VIII by David Starkey is a brilliant look at all the wives and many other things that were going on, including some information about Mary in relation to the women her father chose.
I have heard David Loades's biography on Mary is the one to read, but I have also heard good things about Linda Porter's work. I sincerely hope that David Starkey does something on Mary, I heard there was a tv program about her and Edward but I have yet to find it.
The Anne Boleyn Files does fantastic reviews of Tudor related books, here are the links to a few about Mary, I hope to be picking up some of them soon

There has been lots of fiction written about Mary, and I can't say enough about I Am Mary Tudor by Hilda Lewis. Carolyn Meyer has also written a fantastic book called Mary, Bloody Mary, done from the perspective of Mary as a teenager. But, I think my favorite piece of fiction right now that includes Mary is The Queen's Fool by Philippa Gregory. Its sympathetic but not syrupy, doesn't get too much into the religious aspect and has other interesting characters that made the story appealing. I have yet to read Jean Plaidy's In The Shadow Of The Crown.

Now, I have to admit, I haven't seen very many Tudor related movies. I'm waaay behind in that regard. But, I will say that I LOVED Sarah Bolger as Mary in the tv program The Tudors. After being so irritated at how badly they boggled up Henry VIII's sisters I was beyond pleased with the representation of his daughter. I remember a scene from the second season, when Mary has been sent to live with the baby Princess Elizabeth and has had everything stripped from her and she is sitting alone in her room, stunned and horrified by all that has happened to her, and she still gets up and tends to the poor baby Elizabeth when she's crying. And when she's at Jane Seymour's bedside, asking her not to die....oh, she nailed it! I think that there is a tenderness to Mary that so many people have missed, and Sarah Bolger's facial expressions were spot on for conveying the emotion she must have felt.
I don't remember Mary in 'The Other Boleyn Girl', movie or book. The lady who played her in the 80's movie 'Lady Jane' was marvelous.
The depiction of the older Mary that I most enjoyed was from the BBC movie about Elizabeth, with Anne Marie MacDuff playing Elizabeth. That production was marvelous on a variety of levels, but I thought Joanne Whalley handled Mary quite well, where she seemed too much like a lunatic in the Cate Blanchett version of Elizabeth.

Now when I just feel like reading a little something about Mary, I turn to this fantastic blog, Mary Tudor Renaissance Queen
The post about Mary's coronation was wonderful! And there is a very interesting review of a book about Mary's husband Phillip of Spain currently up that's work looking at.

But, I hope you've enjoyed this post and that you'll take some time today to learn something new about this much misunderstood queen. If you want to know more about why I admire her so, please see my previous post The Influence Of Mary.

Friday, 17 February 2012

A Bit About Mechanics and The Road to 30

Well, the road to my 30th birthday is getting shorter, only 3 more days. In some ways I'm looking forward to it, my 20's really, really, sucked and I feel like my 30's are going to be big. My first novel will be out shortly after I turn 30, and I can't imagine that won't be the starting point for great things. I can leave all the nonsense of my 20's in the past an emerge like a phoenix into my 30's. On another hand I'm nervous and I'm worried, I mean, I'm going to be 30 for christ's sake!

Also I wanted to talk a bit about novel mechanics, since I have decided for the first time to write something in the 3rd person. I'm a bit nervous about it, but that's a good thing! It's good to step out of your box and I think its good for a writer to try something different, it could be really good. It could also be really bad, but I'm not allowing that idea to pop into my head.
So, how does one prepare for such a story? Well, mechanics pay a huge part in it. You need to plot, and (sigh) outline, especially in historical's some form of outline is important. You need to use your mechanical writer brain to decide how these stories will weave together and how, for the love of god, you're going to make it work.
Can you tell by how I'm explaining this that I'm nervous about it? I've never done alternating view points, and third person is very hard for me. So, I'll just have to write it and see how it goes.
It also gives me the chance to get into the head of some of the other characters, and that's what I'm really looking forward to.

I'm not going to talk about how I plan/outline, because I think that process is really individual to every writer. You have to do what's comfortable for you, and its taken me so much time to get used to it in general that I don't talk about it much, since I feel its really mashed together and I would never ever want to have to show them to other people. But no matter how scatterbrained they may seem and look, that's what works for me.

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

Schooling and Education

I read this really interesting blog post from Writer's Digest about writer's 'rules', if one should try to stick to them or not bother. It's an interesting read for those who have done writing courses.
Here's the link:

Now, after reading that I thought it was a good time to write a post about my thoughts on 'writers education' as one might call it.
Style is not something that can be learned, but it is something that can be fine turned with practice. Writing is a lot more work than most people think, and fine tuning your craft is a life long process. If you look at a piece of your own writing and honestly think 'this is as good as it gets', then you're in some trouble.
What you can learn from classes or courses is important tools for structure, plotting, details about crafting a story that fits into a certain genre (this is especially true for the romance genre), and when you learn about plotting you learn about flow, pacing and other mechanical details that are important in crafting a novel. I have not taken a short story writing course, its something that is now on my to-do list, but I believe that mechanics are especially important for short stories.
While I think, if you really wanted, you could learn a lot from books, the experience of going and being with other writers in that capacity is very important for growth. I would not advice a critique until you've developed a sense of how they operate, because by nature even if these people are your bestest friends it can be harsh and demoralizing.
You can also learn a lot from reading other novels, which is why its so important for a writer to read like its going to kill them if they don't. I learned a lot about plotting from reading Harry Potter, JK Rowling is an absolute master at it. But, I would not trade my writing class experiences for anything, and I learned a lot of very valuable things from taking them. They were courses offered at my local community college, and the age range of people was from 19 to 80, which I thought was fantastic. The range of life experience was incredible. 

But, I do believe a writer needs to educate themselves. The proper way to structure a novel is very important. I'm not saying you have to write outlines, the biggest debate among writers, it seems, but you need to know how to make the story flow through from the beginning to the end without running off in too many different directions. I also think you need to educate yourself on what's going on in the genre you wish to write in. Know what's popular, who the 'stars' are, so to speak, what the content of the actual book looks like. Is there a book club section? Did the author offer up some of the research material they used?
You need to know exactly where you're going, the route you are going to take to get there, and the details of the path. And the only way you can do that is through education.

I would love to hear what you thought of the writer's digest article, and what you think about a writers education. So, please, post in the comments section and let's start a conversation!

Friday, 10 February 2012

Maria V Snyder and the 'Study' Series

    I just finished reading Fire Study by Maria V Snyder, I'm pretty sure its the last in the Study series, but not the last for that world.
I have to say, Snyder is a remarkable writer. She has way of weaving a world that really sticks to you, her world building and characters is truly inspired and I think that she's a strong voice in the fantasy genre.
Let me say a bit about the Study series:
It focuses around Yelena, a young woman that we first meet in Poison Study in prison, where she is offered the option of being executed for the crimes she has committed or become the Commander of the land that she lives in, Ixia, personal food taster. She chooses the tasting job, and we are lead into her world where she trains with the Commander's right hand man personal assassin, Valek, and deals with the repercussions of what she's done. She cannot run, because Valek has given her a poison and if she doesn't have some of the antidote daily she will die.
Now, I won't dive too heavily into the plot because I don't want to give it away, but I will say that there is enough realism woven into the fantasy that Yelena's world and the land of Ixia doesn't seem so far away from our own. Yelena's abilities become more complex then just being a simple poison taster, and when a plot is uncovered to try to assassinate the Commander Yelena is instrumental in helping foil it. It has enough twists and turns to keep you up at night so you can see what happens next.
In Magic Study, Yelena is free and we learn more about her life before she ended up in prison, about her family and about her blossoming abilities (did I mention they were magical?). She returns to her homeland of Sitia, the country that borders Ixia, where she was kidnapped from 14 years earlier. Trust becomes a major issue and Yelena spends a good portion of the book trying to prove she isn't a spy for Ixia; something she does after she foils the plot of a serial killer who is stealing the souls of girls to try to gain more power. Snyder really dives into her word in this book, revealing the nature of magic and power and we meet many interesting characters in this book, my favorite is a Story Weaver called Moon Man.
In Fire Study, everything comes to a head. It's a bit hard to explain without giving things away, but I think this was my favorite of the Study series. Snyder is really in her element in this book, and with both the land of Ixia and Sitia established at this point she can now put the world's that she created to their optimal use. And she does not disappoint. Also, one of the major characters from Magic Study, Opal, comes back and we learn about her life which leads us into the next series Snyder has that focuses on Opal, the Glass Series starting with Storm Glass.

Wow, I hope I've explained things well without giving too much away. But Snyder's work is something you really need to read for yourself, and do not make a judgement solely based on the back of the book matter because the Study series (same with Cassandra Clare's Mortal Instruments series) is SO much more than that. A true study of the fantasy genre, no pun intended.

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Creature Creating and Blending Different Myths

   I thought it would be a good idea to write a post about supernatural creatures.
There are several ways that a writer can step into using supernatural creatures. You can create your own, something that can be fun but is also very complex, or you can use the great wealth of creatures that are in myths and legends today.
In my research I have learned that every culture has myths and legends about the supernatural. Depending on the location in the world, some are similar. But, regardless, every culture has something that could be classified as a vampire, or a shapeshifter; you name it, it'll be there.

I used a variety of sources to help create my creatures.There were specific traits that I needed, and depending on which direction I decided to go it wasn't hard to find what I needed, but in some cases I needed to spin some details.
For example, my vampires. I'm not entirely comfortable with the idea that all vampires cannot walk in the daylight. So, I wanted to find a way so that a certain 'type' could; and to do that I had to use what I call the 'Dracula model' for vampires. And with me deciding to do that, those vampires I modeled in that form would have other traits that were associated with Dracula. Because the reality is that Dracula could walk in the sunlight; he also had control over nocturnal animals, could shift his form in a variety of ways, including turning into mist, and had control over the weather, among other things. When I used the Dracula model, I had to make sure that all the other traits were taken into consideration, I may not have used them all immediately but because I had decided to follow that model they were at my disposal.
This is what I like to call Creature Creating by Blending Different Myths.
I also had to do this with the dhampir (half human, half vampire), and as I write I continue to build on my idea of this particular creature. Because the details of what would happen throughout these creatures lives would be so complex it just continues do build, and it seems to be a creature type that I will continue to use. The original dhampir myth has them generally being male - not in my world.

I've done things like this in a number of cases, this is the fun part of supernatural fiction. If you take something traditional as the jumping off point and use your imagination it can guide you in amazing directions.

I needed to use the model of a skinwalker and place them in my own location. Now, if you read into skinwalkers you know this is a myth associated with Native Canadian and American cultures, but it seemed strange to me that similar creatures would not exist all over the world. So I took that original idea and spun it, creating a similar myth for my chosen location and giving the skinwalker a little extra power to make it my own.

   Once you grown accustomed to doing such things, they seem to come naturally. And now as I'm writing and trying to build the lives of some of the other characters these threads are appearing before me, and in some cases its tying a real historical person to a supernatural myth, and a story appearing fully formed in front of me.

I would suggest, if you're going to do this, that you have some kind of folder or place to put all the information that you have used and thought up to create these characters because it'll be hard to keep it all in your head. I've heard straight fantasy author's refer to this as 'world building', and some have extensive binders with maps and all kinds other bits and pieces that they used to build their world - but character creation should be its own sub section. Some people use questionnaires and other charts to create their characters, what I can say is do whatever comes naturally, and if you're handwriting something do it in pencil.