Thursday, May 19, 2011

Writing Exercsies

A little while ago, a good friend reminded me of a story I'd written as part of a 'one page story' challenge. He'd lost his copy and asked if I still had it on my computer. I'd completely forgotten about it, but once I located it, I was actually kind of surprised by how much I still liked it. I admit, as a writer, I tend to hate everything I've written the moment I've finished it. It's a good and a bad thing. It leads to a great deal of angst, but it also encourages me to write better. However, this time, I actually paused and enjoyed something I'd previously written.

It was also a marvelous exercise. I recall that just before we tried the one page story, we played with six word stories. You can see a website for such stories here. I came up with something along the lines: "Met Death. Dying to tell tale." Terrible pun. I didn't submit it.

These are useful exercises, though, if you're suffering a little creative writer's block. They focus the mind. They provide a quick fix of accomplishment. They're particularly entertaining to share, since you aren't asking your friendly readers for hours of their time.

Spurred on, I've created a couple of pages for the blog. One is for scholarly writing. I'll be adding quotes from some of my work there. There's already a few selected quotes from various papers I've given about the place. One page is for fiction. That's where I've pasted in my one page short story.

Incidentally, I'll be presenting at Continuum 7 next month. I'm presenting a paper on ageing in fairy tale and fantasy with a terrific colleague of mine, Deb Waterhouse-Watson.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

ABC's Once Upon a Time

Now, this is what we're hoping for! There's some clips on i09 from the upcoming Once Upon A Time series and it's looking extremely promising. After all, what could be bad about a show featuring Robert Carlyle as Rumplestiltskin? When I first heard that casting coup, I, like others, wondered if it might be a wild rumour, but had high hopes. So I'm rather delighted.

I'm also delighted by Snow White whipping out a sword, even if Prince Charming makes her put it away. I hope she stops listening to him at some point. There should be more sword wielding fairy tale heroines.

UPDATE: You can also see a preview of Grimms here.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

So, fan fiction isn't new?

i09 today covers the British Library's upcoming exhibition on science fiction, which includes the Glass Town sagas written by the Brontës. Charlie Jane Anders indicates how the Brontës engaged in "group storytelling" and "started adding characters from popular fiction and real life." The comments on the piece so far have been lively - engaging with the concept of their work as fan fiction and how even earlier works may be classified as fan fiction. I particularly liked Josh McDonald's comment: "Greek mythology has more continuity errors than Doctor Who." (This is true. It's something I pointed out when a colleague said Disney wasn't true to Greek mythology in Hercules. It's a little difficult to be true to the mythology when there are so many contradictions. Although, admittedly, Meg wouldn't have sounded like she came from Brooklyn, but she's still secretly my favourite Disney heroine.)

It's worth popping over the British Library site to have a closer look at the saga, since, of course, most of us won't be able to make it there in person. The work involved is intricate and detailed. The sisters, particularly, and their brother were quite passionate about world building.

Such activity isn't new. One of my favourite examples is in Anne of Windy Poplars (1936). It isn't really fan fiction, unless you argue that all fairy stories are in some way fan fiction (that in itself isn't a bad argument - the fans involved are simply enthusiastic readers who in turn begin to write).

Anne: "
One stormy evening when the wind was howling along Spook's Lane, we couldn't go for a walk, so we came up to my room and drew a map of fairyland. Elizabeth sat on my blue doughnut cushion to make her higher, and looked like a serious little gnome as she bent over the map. (By the way, no phonetic spelling for me! 'Gnome' is far eerier and fairy-er than 'nome.')

"Our map isn't completed yet . . . every day we think of something more to go in it. Last night we located the house of the Witch of the Snow and drew a triple hill, covered completely with wild cherry trees in bloom, behind it. (By the way, I want some wild cherry trees near our house of dreams, Gilbert.) Of course we have a Tomorrow on the map . . . located east of Today and west of Yesterday . . . and we have no end of 'times' in fairyland. Spring-time, long time, short time, new-moon time, good-night time, next time . . . but no last time, because that is too sad a time for fairyland; old time, young time . . . because if there is an old time there ought to be a young time, too; mountain time . . . because that has such a fascinating sound; night-time and day-time . . . but no bed-time or school-time; Christmas-time; no only time, because that also is too sad . . . but lost time, because it is so nice to find it; some time, good time, fast time, slow time, half-past kissing-time, going-home time, and time immemorial . . . which is one of the most beautiful phrases in the world. And we have cunning little red arrows everywhere, pointing to the different 'times.' I know Rebecca Dew thinks I'm quite childish. But, oh, Gilbert, don't let's ever grow too old and wise . . . no, not too old and silly for fairyland."

Friday, May 6, 2011

Teaching English Literature

The other day, I came across this. Even beyond the whole copyright issue, I won't copy it directly, since it contains a swear word and sometimes people get a little odd about an adult who works in children's lit. even referring to a swear word. But the gist of the item linked is that there is very little overlap between what the author intends and an English teacher (one may insert 'English Lit. scholar') thinks they intend. And it's funny.

The importance of authorial intent has been a fierce debate in English Literature - see for example Barthes' "Death of the Author." Yes, I always quip "no, they're alive and tweeting." It's not so much that I think the author's intent is the last word (after all, that would make my job redundant), but that I think scholars need to be balanced in their approach. Scholars should take into account the production of texts and the people behind them, for that gives us an idea not only of the thematic ballpark we're working in, but also the practical ballpark (and here I'm going to break off the baseball metaphor since I don't know a thing about baseball). For example, recently I was reading an academic book, Nikolajeva and Scott's How Picturebooks Work. It's a very good book and I recommend it. However, it illustrates how I became torn on this issue. I wondered if relating the appearance of crinkled brown endpapers in Sendak's We Are All in the Dumps with Jack and Guy, to a statement on "the rawness of a life devoid of the usual 'civilized' resources" was entirely logical (249). I did quite like the proposal that it represented "the need to use and reuse the detritus of a richer life" (249). However, while both statements make fascinating reading and form a cogent analysis, particularly in relation to Sendak's social themes, a little voice inside me wondered if that was going just a bit too far on those themes - or if the crinkled brown paper was just a clever idea, drawn from the practice of crafting itself, that gave texture to the endpapers; an effect that fitted the overall aesthetic of the book. Sometimes, the simpler answer gets to the heart of the matter. Part of the work of literary scholars is to juggle the urge to take the analysis further and the little voice that wonders, bluntly, 'if you're not reading too much into this.'

Of course, often times, an author or illustrator will write or draw something and later think: 'oh yes, that could also be a reference to the detritus.' (I just like the word 'detritus.') Or they'll hear someone else say it later and nod, pretending that was intended all along. (NOTE: And I should add, the more I thought about this analysis, the more I liked and agreed with it.)

This is part of the challenge. But it is worth reminding ourselves, occasionally, that other people are looking at our clever analyses and thinking "sometimes, the crinkled brown paper is just crinkled brown paper."