Friday Reviews: Richard III by William Shakespeare

Richard III

William Shakespeare

After debuting with a fairly weak trilogy, Henry VI, Shakespeare hit his dramatic stride by turning a rival to the house of Tudor into one of history’s greatest villains: Richard, Duke of Gloucester, better known as Richard III.

There is, of course, debate as to whether Richard really was the villain Shakespeare paints him as, but keep in mind Shakespeare had a patron in Elizabeth II, whose grandfather appears in this play as Lord Richmond. Shakespeare is clearly not above fictionalizing history to please his patrons.

The result is one of the English language’s greatest antagonist. Upon Richard Plantagenet is based later manipulative villains: From Professor Moriarty to Palpatine to Game of Thrones‘ manipulator Petyr “Littlefinger” Baelish. Shakespeare’s Gloucester/King Richard is a master chess player, recruiting and disposing of allies, conning those around him into committing his murders for him. Deformed and hideous, and laying plots to “set my brother Clarence and the king. In deadly hate the one against the other.”

One by one, the obstacles between Richard and the throne tumble. His brother, George, Duke of Clarence, is executed on orders from his other brother, King Edward. Edward dies, stricken when he realizes that his countermand of the execution order never arrived in time. As Lord Protector, Richard then has Queen Elizabeth’s cousins and brothers eliminated. His wife, Lady Anne, dies under mysterious circumstances. And then there are those boys in the Tower of London, whose disappearance inspired this play.

But once the crown is his, Richard of York becomes a murderous forerunner of Richard Nixon. Both men coldly disposed of their allies once they held power. The result for King Richard as with Nixon was a spectacular downfall. Nixon was driven from office under threat of impeachment. King Richard, both in real life and in Richard III, was abandoned at Bosworth Field, left to die at the hands of Henry Tudor, Lord Richmond.

I’ve seen Richard III performed twice. The first was Ian McKellan’s brilliant 1995 movie set in a fictitious fascist England. It starts with Richard’s famous opening soliloquy first as a speech celebrating the apparent end to the War of the Roses, then Richard muttering in the bathroom about his brother Edward’s faults, and finally, sly asides to the audience about his schemes to knock off most of his own House of York.

The other performance was in the early 2000’s at Cincinnati’s Shakespeare Festival. They portrayed Richard as a greasy haired biker thug who began hiding his villainy like Clark Kent, donning a pair of glasses. It was a different vibe from McKellan’s alternate history.

I have seen several Shakespeare plays both live and on film. I’m pretty much Hamleted out, though Richard III ranks ahead of The Tempest as my favorite Shakespeare play.

Trigger Warnings?

I had a rant set to post this morning about trigger warnings. It was pretty nasty, but the very idea puts me in a foul mood.

What are trigger warnings? A number of colleges decided that certain aspects of the Western Canon might contain passages that could trigger bad memories or deeply upset those who might have suffered a past trauma. If it upsets you, they reason, then you should not have to read it.

Well, if that’s the case, Sally Struthers and Sarah McLachlan would need to stop appealing for starving children and abused animals. And let’s be honest here. We’d have to put a lot of political pundits out of work. Quite frankly, I don’t want Rush Limbaugh asking me if I want fries with that, since that’s about all he and his ilk are qualified for. (Well, Keith Olbermann did go back to sportscasting.)

I have no problems with something telling me there’s certain content in a book. That’s what the jacket blurb is for, actually. We do this for movies (although the NC-17 rating is absolutely meaningless since they dropped the X rating. Dumbest move ever made by the MPAA ratings board.) We do it for video games. We do it on CD’s. Apple even slaps an “explicit” label on some songs. And they should. Why?

It’s as much advertising as it is caution and warning. Anyone who grew up in the 1980’s and 1990’s will tell you that the “Parental Advisory” label on an album was like dangling candy in front of a baby to any teenager. That sticker sold a lot of Beastie Boys and Metallica albums. At the same time, it told parents that there were things they might not want to expose their children to.

But that’s for kids. Guess what. In almost every country in the world, you are considered an adult at 18. And being an adult means you are going to get offended. You are going to see upsetting things. You are going to be traumatized if you haven’t been already.

I’m hardly an “I hate people” type, since that mentality suggests I’m somehow better than everyone else. Bullshit. I’m not a narcissist. (Well, I try not to be, anyway.) At the same time, I have a deep, abiding faith in man’s ability to be an unrepentant dick to his fellow man. (“Man” as in human being.) Hiding from it is not going to help you deal with it. It’s not going to make you stronger. It’s only going to make you afraid and timid.

By all means, tell me there are a bunch of “N” bombs in Huckleberry Finn. I’ve read enough Twain to know what he ultimately thought of the word. (Hint: After a brief stint in the Confederate Army, Mr. Clemens said, “Screw this” and went west.) Go ahead and tell me that the people in Gatsby are a bunch of narcissistic sociopaths.Tell me that the people in The Grapes of Wrath will suffer some of the most brutal conditions anyone could endure in modern America.

But to give you a pass to avoid it if that’s what you’re studying in school? Go home, curl up in the fetal position, and never leave the house. We can’t be afraid of getting upset or offended. Sooner or later, something upsetting or offensive is going to happen, and you’ll be in no condition to deal with it.

Tell me how that trigger warning worked out for you then.

Friday Reviews: March Violets by Philip Kerr

March Violets

Philip Kerr

Part I of Philip Kerr’s Berlin Noir trilogy introduces former cop and private investigator Bernhard Gunther. Now, if that sounds like every PI novel you’ve ever read, consider that Gunther works in Hitler’s Berlin. Gunther has a lot of reasons to be cynical and hard drinking. For instance, the stiff-armed Nazi salute drives him batty.

Gunther is hired by Hermann Six, an industrialist whose daughter and son-in-law were killed in a fire. That’s not the problem. Six’s problem is that someone made off with a pricey necklace stowed in a safe. Gunther is hired technically by Six’s insurance company, who conveniently forget to tell the police about the necklace. For Gunther, it’s a collision course with the police, the Gestapo, and even the infamous SS.

Gunther’s conscience was not ground down by the poverty of the Wiemar Republic, nor does he give in to the euphoria over Hitler’s seemingly miraculous remaking of Germany. He is actually sickened by the state-sponsored anti-Semitism people casually accept. And yet he soldiers on among those he calls “March Violets,” Nazis who jumped on Hitler’s bandwagon after he became successful. He thinks the 1936 Olympics are a sham and secretly roots for Jesse Owens.

Perhaps most horrifying in the novel, Gunther is sent undercover to Dachau, the notorious “KZ” or concentration camp. As an Aryan, his plight is not as bad as the Jewish inmates. However, it is a place to avoid even as he runs across a man who got himself sent there to avoid being accused of another crime.

Perhaps the most unsettling part of this remaking of Raymond Chandler is how startling familiar 1936 Germany looks to the present day.

Whither Kepler?

Quick note: Today, I pinch hit over at Sleuthsayers where I wax philosophical over Greek gods and crime fiction. Check it out.

I started on the fourth Kepler novel this past weekend.

And stopped.

After spending the past year rewriting Holland Bay and writing a science fiction novel, the story just seemed… Small. Kepler was no longer speaking to me, despite my recently finishing a novella featuring him. The novel was even outlined years ago, during the first couple of rounds of revisions on Bad Religion.

Not happening. The setting still beckons, but most of the story just crumbled. It became another excuse for Nick to sleep with one of the characters. Plus, compared to the sprawling story that is Holland Bay and the ensemble piece that became the science fiction novel, it just didn’t have enough to hold my interest.

And so while I have a novella, a complete rewrite of “Gypsy’s Kiss,” due out later this summer, this looks like it’s the end of the line for Nick.

In a way, it’s too bad. I had an entire arc planned out for Nick. This new novel would have cost him Elaine. Its follow-up would have run him out of Cleveland. That follow up would have sent one character, the future Mrs. Kepler, in search of him in a reversal of the traditional knight-princess tale. Yeah, Nick would have been at rock bottom and in need of rescuing.

Who knows? Nick may call to me again. But the story’s gone cold, and for now, I’m content with the trilogy, a remaining short being shopped, and “Gypsy’s Kiss,” which takes place between Northcoast Shakedown and Second Hand Goods. For now, I have new stories to tell.

A Modest Proposal: Star Trek: The HBO Series

2009 Star Trek cast

Source: Paramount Pictures

As JJ Abrams takes on Star Wars, nothing but Star Wars, it’s clear there’s only one Abrams-driven Star Trek left. Paramount has decided it wants a movie for the fiftieth anniversary of Trek‘s debut. But after that…?

Let’s be honest. As good as JJ Abrams is, he didn’t think of the future of Trek, just how to get fannies into theater seats. But the technology is too omnipotent. A couple of devices used to drive both movies’ plots – transwarp beaming and Khan’s blood – don’t bode well for long-term story-telling.

So let me suggest that, once Pine, Pegg, Quinto, et. al. take their last bow in 2016, that Paramount reboot the series once again, this time for HBO.

HBO Original Series logo

Source: HBO

Or SyFy or Showtime or FX or… You know. Star Trek is ripe for the kind of storytelling that made Breaking Bad, The Wire, Battlestar Galactica, and even Deadwood hits. It’s time to start over, give the thing an arc based on its original run, and take it places. While completely revamping it like BG is a horrible idea (Galactica was always kind of an unfinished idea in its original incarnation anyway), it would be an opportune time to toss out some of the cliches that have grown up around it. A cable series would also allow writers to explore aspects of the crew’s story that are only hinted at or played around with in novels and fanfic. Is there really a sexual undertone to Kirk and Spock’s relationship? Why is McCoy so neurotic? What’s the real story behind Khan? Klingons: Ridges or no ridges? (I know Enterprise answered that, but this would be a reboot.) I’d also love to see an end to all the time travel nonsense.

Fans, of course, would have to come along for the ride. It’s been fifty years. Time to give up pelting the writers over trivial inconsistencies that would simply be ignored in real life. It’s not Doctor Who, where the very nature of The Doctor demands inconsistency. Besides, back when I indulged in cosplay, this sort of nitpicking sucked all the joy out being a fan. One idiot told me I could never write fanfic involving Harry Mudd, the lovable rogue who gave Kirk and company migraines in the original series. When I asked why, he said that Roger Carmel, the actor who played Mudd, was dead. Yeah, I’m pretty sure Ron Moore and Brannon Braga were going to show up on my doorstep with a bunch of red ink. Rick Berman would shake his fist thusly at a pizza delivery driver from Cincinnati no one had ever heard of. That kind of lunacy.

But it’s also time to bring Trek back to its original story. The altered timeline with a Kirk who is something of a cross between Han Solo and Stifler from American Pie works for the Abrams movies. Now, let’s get back to why people even care about him in the first place. You can’t duplicate Shatner (which is why Kirk’s character was selected to be the epicenter of the altered timeline), but you can build on what he did previously. And it’s not that you need to ignore the latest movies. Why should you? They’re fun. (OK, I do still cringe whenever I see Spock bellow “Khaaaaaaaannnnnn!!!!“)

It’s something to think about. Besides, Trek is a story about explorers. Exploration is better suited for TV. Movies are for high action and epic battles.

Which is why Abrams needs to do Star Wars.



Friday Reviews: 1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus Created by Charles C. Mann

1493: Uncovering the World Columbus Created

Charles C. Mann

In his first book on the impact of Columbus’s voyages, 1491, Charles Mann described how our commonly held assumptions about the Americas before Columbus are fundamentally wrong. The Americas, he showed, was a thriving continent of about 200 million people. While the Black Death is often cited as the greatest biological disaster in human history, it actually was the fifty-year rampage of small pox through the native populations in the Americas, an event that sounds like Stephen King’s The Stand.

In 1493, Mann shows how the meeting of east and west inaugurated a new epoch in the history of the planet, the homogenicine. Many foods that we think of as being Asian or American or European actually originated somewhere else. For instance, China is the largest producer of sweet potatoes. The Chinese never saw a sweet potato before 1500 nor did Europe know what maize (You call it corn) was until then.

Mann does not shirk from the atrocities committed by Europeans and Chinese in the early days of globalization. He also shows how metal-based money, based on American silver, ultimately wrecked the economies and political clout of Spain and China, then the two most powerful nations on Earth. But he also shows how the mixing of Spaniards and Portuguese with natives in America, Africans brought as chattel slaves, and Asians looking to do business in Mexico created an entirely new race.

At the same time, the Golden Age of Discovery likely saved many populations in Europe and Asia from ruin and ultimately may have ended what is known as The Little Ice Age. Had small pox not decimated the Americas ahead of colonization, the tribes living in the New World might have benefited from the advent of European crops. For good or ill, Mann posits, the world we now live in would not be possible without what he dubs “the Columbian exchange.”


Revisions, Revisions…

I’ve had the edits for Holland Bay back for almost two weeks now. So, I just accept track changes and pack it off to the wonder agent. Right? No? So it’s going straight to Amazon as soon as I can get a cover? No? Then what?

Cut. Add. Change up. Rewrite. Words that make many writers, especially newer ones, cringe with fear.

I’ve been on this merry-go-round three times, with Bad Religion dependent on a lot of interim beta reads. This, despite being done for barter, is the most professional edit I’ve had on a manuscript. Such edits are not for the faint of heart. There is, however, a method to the madness that is prepping a manuscript.

For starters, the first thing an editor does is line editing. They will flag grammatical errors, continuity problems, and suggest dialog changes. It’s not just proofreading (though that is part of the process). This is where the editor tries to make the language clearer, finds inconsistencies, and learns the structure of the story.

Then the editor will make notes at the end to give an overview of the manuscript and suggest changes to structure, even scenes to add or cut. The notes often come at the end of the edited manuscript. Read those first. Why?

Everything else will make sense. Remember, this is often the first time someone other than you has seen the manuscript. By now, you should have at least one round of revisions under your belt. (You did do at least one before packing this off. Right? Right?) So there should be some coherence to the story. Even if you still are sending out something completely unreadable, it should still have something of its final shape by now.

Now, here’s where a couple of professional editors and I are in agreement: Forget your manuscript even exists. You don’t want to know about it. The only thing you should do is answer questions about word choices. For instance, there is a neighborhood in Holland Bay called “Serievo,” which sounds like “Sarajevo,” the capital of Bosnia. I needed to explain that I did that on purpose. But beyond explaining word choices and naming conventions, the book should not exist to the writer.

“But what should I do while I’m waiting?”

Why aren’t you working on the next project? After I sent off Holland Bay for editing, “Dick” wrote the science fiction novel, which I am now studiously ignoring.

Once you have them back, you are going to rebel. “But why should I drop that character? What do you mean that subplot is unbelievable? Why can’t one of my characters retire to Montana to raise dental floss?” (Seriously, why would he want to? Monsanto’s GMO floss has completely wrecked the market for organic dental floss. Go breed unicorns instead. There’s a big market for unicorn meat.) Yes, rebel. Respectfully push back. If you’re working with a publisher, I must strongly emphasize the respectful part. They’re paying you. But it’s just as important if you’re paying the editor. Professional editors have only so many slots. If yours is good, you want to get another slot. And if you’re trading…? Hey, it’s a favor, stupid. Don’t spit in the face of someone doing you a favor.

All the same, push back. Find alternative edits. Find out why something did not work. This is where new ideas are bred. An example: My guy, Brian Thornton (my fellow blogmate over at Sleuthsayers), did not like the character of Murdoch, a beleaguered patrol officer who finds himself working with disgraced cop Jessica Branson. Murdoch has to deal with a ladder-climbing wife who wants to break out in the city’s media. Brian initially suggested simply cutting the character. Ouch. I couldn’t see where that would work. So I asked why? The marital woes of the Murdochs take up a lot of space, and they’re over Murdoch’s career. Murdoch is a cop. He goes where the city sends him. It’s not really enough for the FM rock station’s “Traffic Wench” (the nickname makes sense in context) to get worked up over her husband managing to keep a steady paycheck.

On the other hand, if she’s bored and finds an influential lawyer who takes a shine to her…

Oh, now that amps things up. Some characters got killed off, one main character gets shot. It’s all about ratcheting up tension.

So now I’ve come up with some ideas to rework this puppy. What now? Well, I sent Brian a Word document, so he was able to do Track Changes. Once I’ve read the notes and kicked around alternative structural changes, I go through the track changes and either accept or reject changes. I would say I took about 95-98% of Brian’s changes. At the same time, I made notes on each chapter. Replace certain scenes, adjust existing ones to accommodate other changes, and add or delete scenes. Then I went back and shifted scenes around, added them, deleted them. The climax was completely rewritten.

Once that’s done, we’re ready to upload, submit, or hand back to the publisher. Right? No. The notes included (as yours most likely will) suggestions for dialog and description. You’ll want to make another pass or two to check that out. Now we’re done. Right?

Nope. One more pass. You’ve sent a manuscript off that probably has continuity errors built in (and your editor’s notes will point those out.) You’ve made changes to scenes, added or removed characters, and even deleted whole chapters. You want to make sure the story still makes sense, that you’re not referring to events that no longer happen or an inserted character or place doesn’t just appear out of nowhere. One final pass with a little proofreading to clean up finishes the process.

Okay, now what?

Indie authors format for ebook and print, which means you have to get your own cover. Trad authors just format it and write the dreaded query letter.

Yes, revisions are a lot of work. You might get lucky and get away with little revision. I submit that succeeding without any sweat equity is the worst thing that can ever happen to a writer. If you don’t learn how to do the work, that success is going to be short-lived.

The Writer’s Routine

Whenever people hear that I’m a writer, I get the same three questions:

  • “So what’s your real job?” (I work in IT support and web development. And yes, you risk physical injury if you ask me that on the chance I’ve gone full-time. It’s an insulting question.)
  • “What’s your process?” (Shut up and finish your assignment for that MFA you paid entirely too much in tuition for.)
  • “Tell me your routine.”

Ah, I can sink my teeth into that one. I do have a routine. And it took me forever to figure it out. It’s subject to change, but it lets me contemplate actually doing this, yanno, full time.

5AM – Smack snooze bar

5:09 – Smack snooze bar

5:18 – Okay, I guess I need to get up

5:20 – Shit, shower, shave, pop an ungodly number of pills that keep my fat ass from imploding on itself.

5:40 – Dress. Ask my wife if she wants to wake up at 6:15. (Answer is always yes.)

5:45 – Boot laptop, grab food from kitchen. Ready to write. Right?

5:46 – Damn dog wants out. Let dog out. Now I’m ready to write.

5:48 – Dog barks. As it is before 8AM, I have to let her in.

5:50 – Now I can write. I work on fiction.

6:15 – Going at a pretty good clip only… “Honey! It’s 6:15!” Actually, I’m a good husband. I drop what I’m doing and go wake her.

6:30 – Done with WIP for morning. Shut down and stow laptop, go dump trash.

6:40 – Off to far side of town for work.

7:15 – 11:30 – All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.

11:30 – 12:30 – Flee my coworkers to work on edits for prior WIP that’s been edited or in need of submission.

12:30 – 4:30 – All work and no play still makes Jack a dull boy.

4:30 – 5:15 – The hell that is the afternoon commute.

5:30 – Depending on the day: Make dinner, run, do housework before the weekend.

7 PM – Pay bills, make phone calls, try not to spend too much time on social media. (That’s what work is for.)

7:30 – 9:30 – (If I’m lucky). Web projects or skills sharpening. I need to do that, too.

9:30 – 11 – (If I’m lucky. And not watching TV with my lovely bride.) Work on nonfiction pieces, revisions, or even the blog.

11PM – Hard fast rule: I do not go to bed any later than this.

How’s it working? Ask me again when I get to slow down a little. Thanks.

My Summer Vacation

What summer vacation? I still have a day job. But I’m not going to school this summer, so…

How am I spending my summer?

  • Stealing blog post ideas from Neil Smith, like this one, since he stole one of mine.
  • Whip Holland Bay into shape and send off to Agent Who Cannot Be Named Yet.
  • Write not only Kepler #4 but a Kepler novella, both of which you will see later this year.
  • Rewrite Dick’s science fiction novel and…
  • Get Dick’s web site, social media, and assort sundry writer stuff up and running
  • Be ready to run my first 5K race since 1983 by August
  • Get the web development business up and running
  • Ride the Little Miami Trail from downtown Cincinnati to Yellow Springs
  • Prepare for my last year of college, getting the degree I should have finished in the 80’s.
  • Continue to post Game of Thrones spoilers on Twitter. (Oh, shut up. The books have been out since the 1990’s.)