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Exploring great authors, writing, and ideas on a voyage through classic literature - spoiler free!








My NaNoWriMo Inspiration


Thanks to all who expressed interest in my NaNoWriMo project!  The challenge officially starts at midnight, tonight, but I probably will start tomorrow afternoon.  My goal is not necessarily to reach 50k words, but to finish my long-running novel in progress.

Tales of Calantha is the code name for the novel - a story that originated in my head about ten years ago and which I've been seriously writing for the past couple of years.  Lately I've described it as half-spoof, half-serious combination of different Victorian tropes and themes, especially from Gothic novels. 

In this post, I thought it would be fun to go over different elements of the story and some real Victorian novels that inspired it.


Setting


Brimshaw - Inspiration:  Thornfield Hall from Jane Eyre
An old house situated on a cliff in an isolated forest.  Inside, it's a mishmash of Baroque architecture, collectibles, and curiosities...plus the obligatory secret passage! 

The Conservatory - Inspiration: Alice's Adventures in Wonderland
Abandoned, overgrown, and dangerously derelict, the conservatory is a character in itself.  You don't really know what (or who) you're going to meet.


The Exposition - Inspiration: The real-life Great Exhibition as portrayed in North and South (2005 adaptation)
This festive event and technology expo brings together an ensemble of characters into sort of a "calm before the storm."  Things get kind of Dostoyevskian here, with plenty of inner (or outward?) monologues and dramatic encounters.  Good times.


Characters


Sylvia - Inspiration: N/A
Eccentric and complex, Sylvia grew up ostracized from society due to her family's misfortunes, then became an unexpected heiress.  Her wealth becomes a double-edged sword, surpassing even the best of intentions.


September - Inspiration: The quintessential Victorian narrator, e.g. Watson or Walter Hartright from A Woman in White
He's well educated, well meaning, and - like all good first-person narrators - just a little bit nosy.  September has always been close to his cousin Sylvia and, after some harrowing events, begins to grow concerned for her safety.


Nicholas - Inspiration: T. E. Lawrence
A decorated colonel in disguise, Nicholas is tasked with intelligence gathering for a neighboring superpower nation.  He meets Sylvia almost by accident.

Julian - Inspiration: All the Byronic heroes, starting with Mr. Rochester
In terms of origin, Julian is one of the oldest of the characters (villains usually are).  While maintaining an outward moral high ground, he's really a scoundrel who will do whatever it takes to get what he wants.


Plot

I don't want to give away the plot, but I can say that Verne, Hawthorne, and (of course) the Brontes figure heavily in the inspiration for it. There's a voyage, a natural disaster, some strange events, and plenty of conflict on the personal and societal levels. 

I'll be honest, I still don't know precisely how it ends, just some of the scenes.


Mood

I went all classical for last year's soundtrack, and it's still a good one.  You can listen to it here.

Life Lately (Podcast & Blog Update)


Hi readers and listeners - just a quick life update...

I mentioned recently my non-blogging life has been very busy in the last month or so.  What I didn't anticipate was taking on many new responsibilities at work, very suddenly and unexpectedly.  By November, depending on how things turn out, I may not have much free time; and whatever I have, I need to spend on NaNoWriMo, to finish my novel-in-progress. 

So, in order to make this adjustment easier possible, I'll be taking another unplanned break from podcasting, starting next week, with no ETA on its return. 

via GIPHY

I plan to keep blogging, if sporadically.  I have at least one new review to share - Lord of the Flies - which should be coming here pretty soon.  Also, I don't plan to quit reading, so you can expect at least a monthly check-in with those reviews. (Reviews are much faster to publish, to say the least.)

Really sorry to anyone who's been following along with Season 3.  It's a tough choice to make...I just don't want to sacrifice the quality of content for "finishing out" the season.  I hope once things settle down, I'll be in a better place to get back into it again. :)

Reacting to "A Tale of the Ragged Mountains" - Episode 34

Let's listen to Edgar Allan Poe's "A Tale of the Ragged Mountains" - an eerie narrative about a man who takes a walk in the hills and comes back with a story to tell.  It's a new one to me, so I'll be sharing my candid reactions along the way.  Let me know what you think of it!

Links:
"A Tale of the Ragged Mountains" by D. T. McGregor at LibriVox (public domain)

Dewey's 24 Hour Readathon - Hourly Updates, October 2018 edition

Hour 15

Between doing weekend things (laundry, cleaning, yay) and thinking about work stuff - plus a heavy dose of LOTF - I got majorly derailed this afternoon.  My goal for the evening is to finish chapter 6 and then probably switch gears to something lighter.


Hour 11

Progress:
Read first couple of chapters of Pe Ell's Polish Pioneers by Leo Kowalski.  I don't think I've ever visited Pe Ell, WA, but pioneer stories are always intriguing.

Read "The Life You Save May Be Your Own" by Flannery O'Connor.  This one made me feel squicky.  

Continuing to read Lord of the Flies...very, very slowly.  I am picking up on a lot of things that went over my head before.  The most interesting thing is that each chapter contains some kind of horror or atrocity, just very subtly.  When you catch those references, you can fully understand the build-up to the ultimate evil in the book (which is what I remember most).


Hour 7

Joining late, but better late than never!  I always like to start things out with the Getting to Know You Survey:

1) What fine part of the world are you reading from today?
A damp, foggy morning in the Pacific Northwest.  (Sometimes I like to pretend it's England.)

2) Which book in your stack are you most looking forward to?
There's never a dull moment with Wodehouse.  However, I'm also eager to finish rereading Lord of the Flies.

3) Which snack are you most looking forward to? 
Always ill-prepared, I don't have any special snacks.  :( Hot drinks are a must, though.  I'm sure I'll be reaching for the Alpine Apple Cider before the day's done!

4) Tell us a little something about yourself!
I write code for high-availability systems (online 24/7) which is at times highly stressful but also very satisfying.  Literature is my first love, though, and if I could make a living off of reading books of my choice, I probably would.

5) If you participated in the last read-a-thon, what’s one thing you’ll do different today? If this is your first read-a-thon, what are you most looking forward to?
This is my fourth readathon!  My goal this year is to read a ton of different things and not try to finish any one book, except maybe Lord of the Flies.  I'll also take lots of breaks and probably work on my podcast as well, so it'll be a much milder, more relaxing readathon this year.

For pictorial updates, check out my Instagram.

Dewey's 24 Hour Readathon - TBR Stack, October 2018




It's that time of year... Dewey's 24 Hour Readathon!

This bi-yearly event is one I look forward to with zest.  It's an excuse to take all Saturday to do my favorite thing. I'm starting late - 6 hours late - but that's ok, because this is just a fun marathon (and I like to get my sleep).

Without further ado, the lineup:

The Code of the Woosters / Wodehouse
Tales & Sketches / Hawthorne
Lord of the Flies / Golding
Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea / Verne
Three Men in a Boat / Jerome
The Boy in the Mask / Gyles

This time, my goal is to not get bored or fatigued.  So I might just ditch the list and do a Sherlock Holmes marathon.  Or, pick random books I own that I haven't read. 

Bringing WWI to Life - Peter Jackson's They Shall Not Grow Old

My sister shared this with me - a new documentary called They Shall Not Grow Old by Peter Jackson (director of The Lord of the Rings).  He took film footage from WWI, restored and colorized it, and added voiceover so you can get a sense of what it was really like.  Hoping this makes it to the U.S.!


Nine Creepy Victorian Short Stories - From Stoker to Doyle - Episode 33

It's October again: that time of year when you reach for a chunky sweater, a spicy latte, and, of course, a spooky book to read. In this episode, I share nine of my favorite Victorian short stories by authors such as Conan Doyle, Bram Stoker, and H. G. Wells.  You probably don't want to read these at night...

Three Old Movie Reviews - Heston, Peck, Cooper, et al

So, I'm not much of a movie watcher these days, much less a reviewer.  But I've started keeping a journal of books read and movies watched, by month.  (Got this idea from Rachel!)  This month's been particularly good, so I thought I'd share a few quick recommendations:


Dad's Army (TV, 1968–1977)

This comedy is set in WWII and follows a group of Home Guard soldiers in an English town named Walmington-on-Sea.  Their leader, Captain Mainwaring, manages a bank by day and serves as an officer by night.  He takes the whole thing very seriously, determined to transform his ragtag followers - butcher, undertaker, spoiled boy, and all - into a force capable of defending against an invasion.


If you enjoy British humor, this show is likely to appeal to you.  It combines several different types of comedy, including dry humor and slapstick, into a coherent medley of laugh-out-loud moments.  My favorite thing about it is the ensemble of characters.  They're each quirky, unique, aggravating, and ultimately endearing.


The Scarlet and the Black (1983) - Heard about this one from Stephen

Based on a real-life historical figure, this movie stars Gregory Peck as Hugh O'Flaherty, an Irish priest living in the Vatican who saved thousands of people from the Nazis during WWII.  Christopher Plummer plays Herbert Kappler, the SS official in charge of occupied Rome.  His orders are to catch any POWs trying to find refuge in the Vatican, and he is prepared to do so by cruel force, twisting Rome into a police state and hounding the "white line" which separates Vatican jurisdiction from the rest of the city.


It is weird watching Plummer, our beloved Captain von Trapp, playing the enemy here.  He does an excellent job of it - better at his German accent than Peck is at his Irish.  Nonetheless, Peck does what he is best at, and that's expressing the essence of the character.  The self-conflict, humor, anger, and fear are each embodied in O'Flaherty, a very human character.  Fans of Gregory Peck and history won't be disappointed.

Overall, though I like a long historical drama, this one felt a bit too drawn out.  I felt the second half was very strong; just the first half was slow.  Still one of the best bio-pics I've seen.


The Wreck of the Mary Deare (1959) - Heard about this one from Elisabeth

Charlton Heston and Gary Cooper...  *mic drop*

Ok, let me try that again.  Charlton Heston and Gary Cooper star in this 50s thriller about a ghost ship, the Mary Deare.  (Fun fact: Hitchcock considered directing this movie, but decided to work on North by Northwest instead...a film I saw last year and despised.  Moving on...)  Captain Patch (Cooper) is the only one on the ship.  Salvager John Sands (Heston) thinks there's something fishy about Patch and his story about dynamite, fire, and the crew abandoning the vessel.  When Sands and Patch finally make it to shore, other people think it's fishy, too, and the drama escalates from there.


This story reminded me an awful lot of Joseph Conrad (Lord Jim and The Shadow-Line especially.)  Unfortunately, compared to those two, this story is a bit of a letdown.  It starts out with an utterly chilling opener, then takes some up-and-downs until the finale, which is fairly pedestrian.

It's a real shame, because of the cast.  Heston is great here as a reluctant hero (definitely a precursor for Chris Pratt's Jurassic role).  Cooper is fine, too, though the role is far from his best.  We even get a small appearance by John Le Mesurier, who plays Sergeant Wilson in Dad's Army

Overall, Mary Deare is an ok movie.  Speaking of Lord Jim...I would say Mary Deare is way better than Lord Jim (1965) starring Peter O'Toole.  But neither one really packs the same punch as an actual Conrad novel.

H. G. Wells on Victorian Short Stories

H.G. Wells LCCN2014701289
Lately I've been wandering down memory lane with H. G. Wells' The Country of the Blind and Other Stories (1911).  This collection holds, in the words of Wells: "all of the short stories by me that I care for any one to read again."  Some are new and some familiar - two of them are personal favorites, which I'll be mentioning in Monday's podcast episode ("Nine Creepy Victorian Short Stories").

In the Introduction, Wells gives us a little recap of the short story form and its writers, as far as it had evolved in the late Victorian era.  He praises Kipling, whose writing "opened like window-shutters to reveal the dusty sun-glare and blazing colours of the East."  J. M. Barrie also gets a mention, along with Henry James, Stephen Crane, Jerome K. Jerome, and Edith Nesbit.  Other contemporaries are listed, whose names are less known to modern readers.  Joseph Conrad alone is noted as having, in Wells's eyes, continued in the 20th century to write pieces comparable to his pre-1900 work.

The golden age of short stories was not critic-free, Wells recollects.  For example, there was a question of what constitutes a short story.
There was a tendency to treat the short story as though it was as definable a form as the sonnet, instead of being just exactly what any one of courage and imagination can get told in twenty minutes' reading or so.
Personally, Wells did not care to put a solid definition on what makes a "short story."  In his view, a short story meant just two general properties, and those were a) "achiev[ing] the impossible," and b) taking around 15–50 minutes to read aloud.

I have always enjoyed short stories, and to this day, I prefer them over novels.  They also appeal to me as a writer, because my inspiration tends to home in on a specific scene or piece of dialog, which doesn't necessarily fit in a longer form.

What are some of your favorite short stories (or short story authors)?

The Jungle Book: Returning to Rudyard Kipling - Episode 32

This week, I revisit Rudyard Kipling and his famous feral child Mowgli.  The Jungle Book is one of my favorite Disney stories, but I did not like the book as a child.  How does it read now that I'm older?  (And when is that new movie coming out?!)


Sources / Further reading:
My Boy Jack (2007) - Biopic
"The White Man's Burden" - Kipling's poem
"The Black Man's Burden" - H. T. Johnson's response
Mowgli (2019) - Trailer

"In the Rukh" - Mowgli's Sequel

Becque - Livre de la jungle, p42

Like many famous characters, Mowgli makes his debut in a different time frame than we are accustomed to seeing him.  "In the Rukh" shows the feral child now grown to be a young man, having some of the same traits as young Mowgli - his distrust of settlements, for one - in addition to a self-confidence and refinement of skill which awe the locals to the point of superstition.  Gisborne, an English ranger, is fascinated by his new acquaintance and is intent on hiring Mowgli on to be his assistant in managing the forest.

It's been so long since I read The Jungle Book proper, I wasn't sure what to expect in this short story.  Overall, I found it interesting, yet underdeveloped.  It could be that, being so used to the character of Mowgli as a child, I struggled to accept him as a grown-up man, and what might have made a good sequel instead poses The Jungle Book as a superior prequel (a working hypothesis; I have started rereading it and am enjoying it more, so far).

The characterizations are not terribly strong.  There are some moments with Gisborne's German boss and his Muslim servant which are supposed to be comedic, but these scenes have not aged well.  The conflict is fairly mild, and there really aren't any "aha!" moments if you know the Mowgli story already.  Mowgli himself is, well, kind of boring.  Being grown-up and having fully developed survival skills, he's lost the vulnerability which made his child self such a complex and interesting character.

3 out of 5 stars for "In the Rukh."  Not a must-read, but I'm kind of glad I read it.

Two Views of the Twentieth Century - Episode 31

We kick off Season 3 with two giants of 19th-century science fiction: Jules Verne and Albert Robida.  Both French authors, Verne and Robida crafted futuristic novels set in the 20th century, predicting changes in technology and society.  Join me in this trip to the past, which at times feels amazingly reminiscent of the digital world we live in today.

Links / Further reading:
Paris in the Twentieth Century by Jules Verne
The Twentieth Century by Albert Robida

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