Shakespeare Folios

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Yesterday, at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, PA, The English Department Creative Writing Program along with The Friends of the Lehigh Univeristy Libraries sponsored an event called Sonnet Slam!  This event featured readings of poetry, a celebration of the student literary magazine Amaranth, and the 400th year of Shakesepeare’s life and showcased a display of extraordinary importance for lovers of Shakespeare.

The event was held in the Bayer Galleria, a beautiful room, filled with special holdings in its bookshelves, an old fireplace, plenty of seating, and a very important display. Lehigh University has an extraordinary collection of early Shakespeare texts: in the case were the First Folio, the Second Folio, the Third Folio, and the Fourth Folio.

Shakespeare is one of my main areas of study, and as a Shakespearean, viewing these rare and important volumes was nearly a sacred experience.  I have loved Shakespeare since I was a teenager; I have studied his work, loved reading the plays and poetry, acted in some plays, directed a play, and taught his work.  Having been intricately connected with Shakespeare, being able to see these early texts was a moving and deeply powerful experience.

When the event began, I read two sonnets and had fun with that.  When I was younger, I had a goal to memorize all of them, but let’s say that was not entirely successful!  Then undergraduate students, a graduate student who is the advisor for the literary magazine and an excellent poet, and a professor read.  At that point, I had to leave to prepare to teach my upcoming class, but it was a wonderful and moving experience.

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Favorite Horror Films of the 1960s: The Curse of the Werewolf

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The decade of the 1960s saw the production of many horror films, some fairly standard offerings and some innovative. In 1961, Hammer Studios continued the re-imagining of classic horror characters, which they had begun with The Curse of Frankenstein and The Horror of Dracula, in the release of The Curse of the Werewolf. 

Movie audiences in 1961 were still very aware of the image of Universal Studios’ The Wolfman and its assorted sequels with Lon Chaney Jr. as Larry Talbot, the unfortunate and reluctant lycanthrope. Talbot, a good man, was cursed to become a killing monster after having been bitten by a werewolf while attempting, unsuccessfully, to save a girl from its attack. This cinematic image was one that would be very difficult to alter for the horror viewing audience.

While not making viewers forget Lon Chaney Jr. and Larry Talbot, The Curse of the Werewolf, directed by Terence Fisher, did establish new cinematic territory in this often overlooked, but important, film. This film, unlike its Universal predecessors, which were made primarily in black and white and influenced heavily by German Expressionism, is shot in color and features an almost blond werewolf in an extremely effective makeup and, for the time, a great deal of blood.

The star of this film, in his first movie, is Oliver Reed, who would go on to have a long and productive career as a film actor. Set in 18th Century Spain, the film bases its lycanthropy  on the juxtaposition of two events: Leon is the result of a peasant girl being raped, and he is born on Christmas Day, which was considered a very unlucky event. Leon is raised by a kindly man, but when puberty hits, besides the normal changes in his body, he becomes literally a monster.  What would Freud have to say about that?

Just as religion plays a part in his curse, so does it in his death. His step-father, a kindly man becomes the agent of his release. His step-father has a silver bullet made from a cross.  He shoots Leon with it, while his step-son is in the form of the monster; thus, he  destroys the werewolf and release’s Leon’s soul, but it also fills his step-father with deep grief.

Like the previous Hammer productions, this film continues with its exploration of sex and violence, going further than that which had been seen in the Universal films. While tame in sexual depictions by our contemporary standards, it was shocking to many audiences of the time.

From a critical perspective, this film also introduces an element of class critique. The young woman who is raped at the beginning of the film comes from abject poverty at the lowest level of the class structure, and the man who puts her in the cell, setting up the circumstances for the attack, is a Marques, a Spanish nobleman. Clearly, the film indicts the abuse of power and the class inequity of that time. If this were an academic paper, I would focus heavily on the class critique, but I simply wanted to draw attention to it briefly in this post.

The Curse of the Werewolf was another successful entry in Hammer Studios’ new cycle of horror films, although unlike the Dracula and Frankenstein movies, it would not generate a run of sequels. On its own, however, it rates as a film of importance in the horror genre.

Overall, if you have not seen this film, I give it a very strong recommendation.

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Writing Update

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It has been a while since I have posted my writing progress, so I want to give an update on what I have been doing. I posted a while ago that I want to write a first draft of a novel every six months or so, and I am on target with that goal. I hope that the first draft I am currently writing will be between 200-250 pages, and I currently have about 40 pages written.  At the pace I am going, I should have it complete in June.  This is book two in my YA series.

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I am also very busy working on revisions of my horror novel Evil Lives After and the first book in the YA series. In both cases these revisions are minor. I believe both books are ready for submissions; I will see what kind of results I get.  In the case of the YA, I have been getting excellent feedback and reaction from readers. I have also received excellent advice on the horror novel, and I have cut some and rearranged chapter order, so I believe it moves along much faster and better than before.

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On the academic writing front, I am working on revising an article on Gothic literature as well as conducing research for a book on an obscure Irish playwright, Seamus Byrne. I hope to send the article out again soon, and I will work on drafting a chapter of the book in the summer.

I will give an update every month or so on my progress.

 

 

 

 

Dining With Characters! Part I

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The other day I was thinking about which 2 or 3 fictional characters I would like to sit down with over coffee, tea, or beer and with whom I would like to have a conversation.  When I first thought about it, I believed it would be an easy choice to make, but then I realized that there were so many that I would have to do this in parts.

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For the initial meeting, I thought I would extend an invitation to Merlin from Sir Thomas Malory’s Le Morte D’Arthur, Gandalf from J.R.R.Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, (not from The Hobbit), and Dumbledore from J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series to join me over beer, mead, or even butterbeer, if that were preferable at a nice Public House.  I chose  these characters because they are central figures in three works that are deeply important to me, not only from the perspective of study but also from the enormous pleasure I have had from reading these works. I have taught all of them in different classes, and I love to reread these writings over the years.

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I am fascinated by the connection among the three of them, all wizards in tales of British mythology. Among the questions I would want to ask would be: Do you see a connection among yourselves? Do you approve of your portrayals in the writings? and Are you descended from the Druids?

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I think this would be a lively and enjoyable conversation, although if too much was drunk, I wonder what inebriated and arguing wizards would be like.

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Who would you choose to invite to such an event?  I would love to hear your choices.

Best TV Shows of the 1950s and 1960s–Part Three: Have Gun Will Travel

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(https://en.wikipedia.org)

For the third entry in this series about what I consider to be the best TV shows of the 1950s and 1960s, I want to mention a series that might not be as well known as the previous two I have discussed: Have Gun Will Travel.  This western ran from 1957 to 1963 and starred Richard Boone as Paladin, the man with the gun for hire.

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The name Paladin, which refers to medieval wandering knights was the working name of the main character, an educated man who charged for his services as a mercenary, except when he was defending or fighting for the poor or the week.  I have been deeply interested in the legends and mythology of knights, and I suspect this is what triggered, if you forgive the pun, my fascination with this idea.

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For me, the most important episode was in the first season: “The Teacher.”  In this episode, Paladin was hired by a rancher to help remove a local schoolteacher who was teaching other than what the local people wanted to hear.  Paladin ends up defending her and takes no offer of money, because he believed that she was doing the most important work in society.

While it was a western, filled with gunfights and fisticuffs, it was also an introduction for me to the idea of honor and standing up for those who are weaker. It also showed the importance of education for society, a value that I honor as of the highest importance.

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Do any of you remember this show?

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Drafts, Revisions, and Plans, Oh MY!

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I finished the first draft of a novel I have been working on the first part of the year. While it is very rough and in need of a great deal of work, it is time to put it aside for a while. I am not sure what my overall goals for this novel are, but at least I have completed the initial draft. So, I need to continue with the overall writing plan I put in place a while ago, one which I was not sure I would be able to maintain. So far, I have done it.

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This writing plan is to draft, as first drafts, two books per year. In addition to the drafting, I am also constantly working on revising previous books. I focus on one at a time, or at least I try to. My writing time is divided into drafting first, and then I work on revising. I have found that I am able to do this about 5 days a week.

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I had mentioned in an earlier post that I am also working on an academic book, but that is moving very slowly as I try to find necessary materials without which , it cannot move forward.  My drafting goal for the rest of the year, therefore, is to complete a first draft of a horror novel. It is a story I have had in mind for quite a while. In fact, the idea for it came from a dream I had, in which, in very cinematic fashion, I saw the entire ending of the story. It was like seeing a movie for free!

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My long range goal for this horror novel is to test the self-publishing waters with it. I still intend to try to be published traditionally, especially with my first two novels, but I decided it was time to spread out this writing venture and see what happens. That long range plan for the book will be to self-publish it sometime next year.

Let’s see how the carrying-out of my plan goes.

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A 3rd Draft Complete

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It always feels wonderful to reach a goal!  I had hoped to have completed the third draft of my Young Adult novel by the middle of this month, and I finished it on Wednesday!

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The next step in the process is to have it read by a few select readers and then return to the revision process.  I suspect the next draft will  take approximately 1-2 months, so accounting for reading times, I would like to have this draft (# 4) finished by the end of the summer.

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I am taking just the weekend off from drafting, and then I will return to the cycle of beginning a new novel.  I have several competing in my head to be the next one begun, so I am not yet sure which will win.  I will, however, choose and begin a first draft on Monday.  My goal for that draft is to have it finished by the end of the year.

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As a side note, I am working, albeit, very slowly on my academic book.  I am still trying to find a copy of the play I need, so more on that progress in the future.

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Roosevelt Theodore Franklin’s Humanism

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( by Raphael ~1510)

“Each man’s death diminishes me,
For I am involved in mankind.
Therefore, send not to know
For whom the bell tolls,
It tolls for thee.”

John Donne from Meditation 17 (1624)

Roosevelt Theodore Franklin, the protagonist of my supernatural thriller and horror novel Maledicus: Investigative Paranormal Society Book I, is a retired history professor whose main area of study was the occult during the Renaissance. He paid special attention to Marsilio Ficino, Giovani Pico della Mirandola, John Dee, and Giordano Bruno. The work he holds in the most regard is Pico’s “Oration on the Dignity of Man,” a piece often considered to be the Humanist Manifesto, and one in which Pico asserts that human beings have the capacity to rise like eagles or sink into the muck like insects.

For Roosevelt, the Renaissance represents a time with an explosion of new ideas, confronting the status quo and forcing the exploration of new forms of knowledge. In many ways, he believes it was similar to the 20th century.

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Perhaps the most crucial and important element from this period for Roosevelt was the creation of Humanism, a philosophy that he considered to be central to his way of life and consideration of the world. He rejects post-modernism and its denial of truth; he sees the existence of truth, but that it is a search one must continue throughout the entirety of life. He denies the idea that humans are disconnected; he perceives the connection among people of which Donne spoke in the Meditation 17. If he is confronted by other academics about his ideas which are often considered out of fashion or outdated, he replies that he is not a slave to fads and that he is proud to be a humanist.

Roosevelt holds that despite our many and varied differences, we are all ultimately connected as human beings.

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The Importance of Revision in Writing

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“Interviewer: How much rewriting do you do?
Hemingway: It depends. I rewrote the ending of Farewell to Arms, the last page of it, 39 times before I was satisfied.
Interviewer: Was there some technical problem there? What was it that had stumped you?
Hemingway: Getting the words right.”

(Ernest Hemingway, “The Art of Fiction,” The Paris Review Interview, 1956) 1

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The act of revision is an absolutely necessary part of writing, no matter what kind. Essays, stories, novels, books all require that the author not be satisfied with initial drafts. “Re-vision” means to re-see, or to look at the work from another perspective. This idea is something I try to teach my students in College First Year Writing classes, and it is crucial that I apply the ideas myself to my own work.

When I look back over my writing of the last few years, I can see that I employ this practice. I wrote at five-seven drafts of the chapters of my dissertation for my Ph.D. in English, and I continue to revise with the novels I am currently writing. I wrote 13 drafts of my horror novel Maledicus: The Investigative Paranormal Society, Book 1; I did six drafts of my second novel, a young adult speculative work.  The second book in my supernatural series is almost ready to be released at 6 drafts–Gallow Hill: The Investigative Paranormal Society, Book 2. I have learned to be more focused in my revisions, so I have been able to cut down the numbers a bit.

Of course, the writer can revise in several ways. Do we do a complete rewriting of the draft trying to deal with everything, or do we focus on a particular aspect of the novel, for example structure or characterization? I do not pretend to know what each writer should do. I suspect that it varies according to project and writer.

What I am certain of is that we must continue to work on the writing, trying to see it in new ways and looking for various problems to fix.

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The most important point is for writers to keep writing and revising!

1. From http://grammar.about.com/od/advicefromthepros/a/rewritequotes.htm 3/28/2015.

Continuing the Process

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I am continuing the revision of my supernatural thriller Evil Lives After, and I am a little bit past half-way finished. I hope to be ¾ of the way through this draft by the end of the weekend. If I keep on track, then I should be able to complete this draft by the end of that week.

At that point, I will send it to a few publishers as well as submitting query letters to more agents.

Once I have accomplished that goal, then I will return to the first draft of the third novel. While I am a bit behind my initial plan, I am still well within the long range goal of having the first draft done by late spring. I am certain that draft will be a mess and in serious need of a great deal of revision, but that is what I expect.

As I tell my students, if you don’t get anything done on paper, then there is nothing to work on. And I will have a great deal to work on!

I will also have the needed material together soon to begin serious work on an academic book that I hope to have drafted—the initial writing—by the end of the year. I will speak more about that particular project as I begin to work on it seriously.

This year will be a good balance between the two aspects of my writing: fiction and academic.

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