You just have to do it (lessons from the Reduced Shakespeare Company)

By noreply@blogger.com (Alexandra Sokoloff)


One of the great pleasures of living in Scotland is the month-long Edinburgh Festival Fringe. A pleasure if you don’t actually live in Edinburgh, that is. Residents talk about the Fringe as they would about a plague, which I suppose it is: 20,000+ performers and God only knows how many tourists from all over the world descending on a really quite small (and ancient) city center (that’s centre over here), for the world’s largest arts festival (and the Fringe is only ONE of the festivals). It’s a riot of buskers, street theater, acrobats, jugglers, musicians, crafts, food, bagpipes, and general mayhem on the streets – before you even get to the 3000+ shows a day in various commercial venues.
So we went in last week to see my friends Reed Martin and Austin Tichenor of the

Reduced Shakespeare Company in their new show, The Complete History of Comedy (Abridged).

It’s a great show, with the RSC’s usual combination of a razor-sharp survey of whatever subject they’re ostensibly skewering, disguised in laugh-till-it-hurts comedy, physical, satirical and intellectual. You can enjoy this show on multiple levels, and actually learn something about the development of the art and practice of comedy along the way. It’s at the Pleasance Grand until August 25, then touring the US, UK and Ireland, and I highly recommend it (here’s the schedule).

But I enjoyed it on a whole different level, too.

This was really my present and past colliding, as I have been going to see RSC shows since the genesis of the troupe at the California Renaissance Pleasure Faire, where the RSC’s first full-length show was written and for quite a long time performed by my friends (since college, eek!) Adam Long, Daniel Singer and Jess Winfield (who is also the author of My Name is Will, a brilliant novel of sex, drugs, and Shakespeare.)



And maybe when I say “present,” I really mean “future,” because along with working on Book 4 of the Huntress series, I’ve started on a new series which I’m going to set partly in Scotland.

I know. What could I possibly be thinking?

But it’s been very hard for me to envision a series that could follow (or run concurrent with) the Huntress/FBI thrillers.
This is a problem I now realize long-time authors face. Some readers will follow you anywhere. Myself, if I love an author, I read everything by that author: series, standalone, it doesn’t matter. I may like some books better than others, but it’s the themes that an author is working with that really draw me, and authors bring their personal themes into every book they write.

Other readers, though, may be so specifically keen on certain aspects of a series – the characters, the genre mix, the level of suspense, the arena – that they may well not be interested in something different from that author.

And I have to admit there are a few of my favorite authors who have books or a series that I’ve just never been able to get into.

So the problem with deciding on a new series is how to write something that will sustain you creatively as an author (since we’re the ones who have to live in these worlds for years at a stretch) and that will hopefully also draw your readers who have become attached to the last series you wrote. Obviously there are also always commercial considerations, if you’re doing this for a living, as I am.

So I needed to find a series that has the depth and thematic resonance that I think the Huntress books have, and the range of interesting characters, and the locational aspect that I know my readers enjoy – the Huntress books are in one sense a road trip and California especially is a character in the novels.

So here I am living in Scotland. And people are jealous. I mean, I get death threats. Mostly people are kidding – I think – but Scotland is a fantasy to a lot of Americans, in lots of different ways.

As an American actually living here, I see both the fantasy and the reality (sort of reality). I think I can write about that really well, and bring my American readers into a fascinating and stunningly beautiful, mysterious world – in the context of a crime series that will allow me to explore different sides of my own personal theme: What can good people do about the evil in the world?

It’s an exciting thought… and terrifying. Like paralyzingly terrifying.

So watching the RSC show I realized what I was fretting was the enormity of doing this story justice (this is my eternal fret, actually). And a line leaped to mind – my favorite moment from the RSC’s Complete Works of Wm. Shakespeare (Abridged). My favorite moment in another show full of laugh-till-you’re-sick moments comes just before the intermission, when Adam flat out refuses to go any further, because the one play left that the boys haven’t yet butchered is Hamlet. And Adam just doesn’t think he can do it justice (“There are just so many words…”). 
Jess (now Austin) lifts a sobbing Adam from the floor, assuring him – “We don’t have to do it justice. We just have to do it.”



And that’s the point I have to remember in venture into my new series. Sometimes you don’t have to do it justice (although you always hope justice eventually will be done). Sometimes you just have to do it.

So authors – have you had the experience of having to follow up a successful series? How did you know when you had the right idea?

And readers – are you willing to follow a favorite author into a new series? Or would you rather your favorite authors stick to their tried-and-true characters?

- Alex


———————————————————–
August contest!

I’ve added a new feature to my website: a monthly contest. You’ll be able to enter for a chance to win signed books, audiobooks, gift cards, and other giveaways, which I intend to get pretty creative about. (For example, I have extra tickets to a showing of Benedict Cumberbatch in Hamlet, coming up next year….)

You can find contest news by clicking on the contests! link on the website nav bar (to the left), and/or you can sign up for another new feature, a monthly newsletter that will have the upcoming contests and freebies listed.

Click to go to the contests page.

Click to sign up for my newsletter.

Via: Alexandra Sokoloff

    

You just have to do it (lessons from the Reduced Shakespeare Company)

By noreply@blogger.com (Alexandra Sokoloff)


One of the great pleasures of living in Scotland is the month-long Edinburgh Festival Fringe. A pleasure if you don’t actually live in Edinburgh, that is. Residents talk about the Fringe as they would about a plague, which I suppose it is: 20,000+ performers and God only knows how many tourists from all over the world descending on a really quite small (and ancient) city center (that’s centre over here), for the world’s largest arts festival (and the Fringe is only ONE of the festivals). It’s a riot of buskers, street theater, acrobats, jugglers, musicians, crafts, food, bagpipes, and general mayhem on the streets – before you even get to the 3000+ shows a day in various commercial venues.
So we went in last week to see my friends Reed Martin and Austin Tichenor of the

Reduced Shakespeare Company in their new show, The Complete History of Comedy (Abridged).

It’s a great show, with the RSC’s usual combination of a razor-sharp survey of whatever subject they’re ostensibly skewering, disguised in laugh-till-it-hurts comedy, physical, satirical and intellectual. You can enjoy this show on multiple levels, and actually learn something about the development of the art and practice of comedy along the way. It’s at the Pleasance Grand until August 25, then touring the US, UK and Ireland, and I highly recommend it (here’s the schedule).

But I enjoyed it on a whole different level, too.

This was really my present and past colliding, as I have been going to see RSC shows since the genesis of the troupe at the California Renaissance Pleasure Faire, where the RSC’s first full-length show was written and for quite a long time performed by my friends (since college, eek!) Adam Long, Daniel Singer and Jess Winfield (who is also the author of My Name is Will, a brilliant novel of sex, drugs, and Shakespeare.)



And maybe when I say “present,” I really mean “future,” because along with working on Book 4 of the Huntress series, I’ve started on a new series which I’m going to set partly in Scotland.

I know. What could I possibly be thinking?

But it’s been very hard for me to envision a series that could follow (or run concurrent with) the Huntress/FBI thrillers.
This is a problem I now realize long-time authors face. Some readers will follow you anywhere. Myself, if I love an author, I read everything by that author: series, standalone, it doesn’t matter. I may like some books better than others, but it’s the themes that an author is working with that really draw me, and authors bring their personal themes into every book they write.

Other readers, though, may be so specifically keen on certain aspects of a series – the characters, the genre mix, the level of suspense, the arena – that they may well not be interested in something different from that author.

And I have to admit there are a few of my favorite authors who have books or a series that I’ve just never been able to get into.

So the problem with deciding on a new series is how to write something that will sustain you creatively as an author (since we’re the ones who have to live in these worlds for years at a stretch) and that will hopefully also draw your readers who have become attached to the last series you wrote. Obviously there are also always commercial considerations, if you’re doing this for a living, as I am.

So I needed to find a series that has the depth and thematic resonance that I think the Huntress books have, and the range of interesting characters, and the locational aspect that I know my readers enjoy – the Huntress books are in one sense a road trip and California especially is a character in the novels.

So here I am living in Scotland. And people are jealous. I mean, I get death threats. Mostly people are kidding – I think – but Scotland is a fantasy to a lot of Americans, in lots of different ways.

As an American actually living here, I see both the fantasy and the reality (sort of reality). I think I can write about that really well, and bring my American readers into a fascinating and stunningly beautiful, mysterious world – in the context of a crime series that will allow me to explore different sides of my own personal theme: What can good people do about the evil in the world?

It’s an exciting thought… and terrifying. Like paralyzingly terrifying.

So watching the RSC show I realized what I was fretting was the enormity of doing this story justice (this is my eternal fret, actually). And a line leaped to mind – my favorite moment from the RSC’s Complete Works of Wm. Shakespeare (Abridged). My favorite moment in another show full of laugh-till-you’re-sick moments comes just before the intermission, when Adam flat out refuses to go any further, because the one play left that the boys haven’t yet butchered is Hamlet. And Adam just doesn’t think he can do it justice (“There are just so many words…”). 
Jess (now Austin) lifts a sobbing Adam from the floor, assuring him – “We don’t have to do it justice. We just have to do it.”



And that’s the point I have to remember in venture into my new series. Sometimes you don’t have to do it justice (although you always hope justice eventually will be done). Sometimes you just have to do it.

So authors – have you had the experience of having to follow up a successful series? How did you know when you had the right idea?

And readers – are you willing to follow a favorite author into a new series? Or would you rather your favorite authors stick to their tried-and-true characters?

- Alex


———————————————————–
August contest!

I’ve added a new feature to my website: a monthly contest. You’ll be able to enter for a chance to win signed books, audiobooks, gift cards, and other giveaways, which I intend to get pretty creative about. (For example, I have extra tickets to a showing of Benedict Cumberbatch in Hamlet, coming up next year….)

You can find contest news by clicking on the contests! link on the website nav bar (to the left), and/or you can sign up for another new feature, a monthly newsletter that will have the upcoming contests and freebies listed.

Click to go to the contests page.

Click to sign up for my newsletter.

Via: Alexandra Sokoloff

    

Twitrage Strikes Again

By JD Rhoades
The Pilot Newspaper: Opinion

The online reaction to couple of recent news items illustrates once again the dangers of what I’ve come to call “Twitrage.”

Twitrage happens when someone sees an item in print or on the Internet, gets offended, then immediately takes to Twitter or other sites on the Web to trumpet their outrage, all before taking a closer look to see if there’s really anything to be offended about.
For our first example, we turn to Amanda Carpenter, whose Twitter feed describes her as a “Speechwriter/senior communications adviser to Ted Cruz.” Sen. Cruz’s designated mouthpiece was mightily incensed over the idea that in these troubled times, President Obama would be frivolous enough to host a concert by teen idol Katy Perry at the White House.
“Do they even care about optics anymore?” she tweeted, before comparing all the important things her boss had been allegedly working on: “Israel, border crisis, Internet taxes, NSA, FAA. Iran. Not Katy Perry concerts.”
Only problem was, Ms. Carpenter had missed the fact that, not only was the president certainly working on all those things as well, but that the concert was a benefit for the Special Olympics. As one of Cruz’s fellow Republicans once famously said, “Oops.”
After this was pointed out to her, with a few questions as to what, exactly, Cruz’s office had against benefit shows for disabled children, she deleted the tweets in question and apologized — not to the president, the person she’d actually insulted, but to her Twitter followers. Obama Derangement Syndrome means never have to say you’re sorry –to the president.
Then there’s the liberal outrage directed against State Sen. Richard Ross of Massachusetts, after The Boston Globe’s website reported the Republican senator was sponsoring a bill to require divorcing couples to get court permission before dating.
It’s pretty much standard language in a custody order that neither party can have “unrelated overnight guests of the opposite sex while the children are in their custody.” The theory, and it’s not an unreasonable one, is that it would be upsetting to children to have someone who’s not Mom or Dad stumble out of the former parental bedroom yawning while the kids are eating their morning Froot Loops.
This bill, however, went even farther than that. It says that in a divorce proceeding “the party remaining in the home shall not conduct a dating or sexual relationship within the home until a divorce is final and all financial and custody issues are resolved, unless the express permission is granted by the courts.”
Got that? For divorcing couples in Massachusetts, the bill as written would require judicial permission to even date until the case is settled.
We should all be pretty outraged about this, right? Sen. Ross is pushing a major invasion of personal privacy and liberty, right? Certainly there’s been much headshaking and finger-wagging on Twitter, as well as on liberal blogs such as Jezebel.com and ThinkProgress.
“Hard to believe a small-government Republican would want to make you check with the government before having sex,” tut-tutted Alan Colmes’ blog Liberaland.
But, as so often happens with Twitrage, there’s less to this story than meets the eye. As reported by Boston Magazine, “the bill has no legislative sponsors, no support, and is in no way under consideration by anybody.”
It seems there’s an old tradition in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts called “the right of free petition,” which allows private citizens to submit just about any bill they want to the legislature for consideration. You want to propose legislation to make putting pineapple on pizza a capital felony in the Commonwealth, you could do it. The only requirement is you’ve got to find an actual member to file the paperwork.
According to Boston Daily reporter David S. Bernstein, “many legislators aren’t even aware that they are allowed to deny a citizen petition request.” Just because a proposed bill gets filed doesn’t mean it’s going to happen, or even that the person who signed off on the petition cares enough about it to bring it to the floor.
As it turns out, this same bill has been proposed by the same guy, an 83-year-old codger named Robert LeClair, for years, and it never gets anywhere. LeClair clearly has an ax to grind, but nobody in the legislature is turning the grindstone for him. So everybody just calm the heck down.
In these times of instantaneous worldwide communication, false or incomplete information can, in the words of the old saying, “be halfway around the world before the truth can get its boots on.” So can the indignation from the kind of stories that cause both liberals and conservatives to say “isn’t that just like those [insert your favorite bogeyman here]” before they have all the facts.

So let’s be careful out there.

Via: J.D. Rhoades

    

Gone but never forgotten: RIP Robin Williams

By noreply@blogger.com (Alexandra Sokoloff)


This has been a heavy week. Like a good part of the rest of the world, I’m heartbroken over the loss of the incomparable Robin Williams.

I’m surprised at the depth of my feelings. Of course the loss is massive. He was a once-in-a-generation (perhaps once in several centuries) comic genius who was a presence in my life for so many years. A whole generation of us grew up with Williams always in our lives, and as a theater person I was in awe of the force of his talent. He was a touchstone for artistic integrity. He made me understand what truth is, in acting and in writing. And how truth means letting go of all comfortable boundaries. He is a living lesson on the edge.

But the grief I feel over Williams’ death is more complicated than that loss. There is guilt and sadness that someone who gave so many billions of people so much pleasure was suffering so terribly himself. There is selfish anger about the many roles, both written and unwritten, he was born to play as an older man that we’ll never have. His death brings up conflicted memories of my personal experience living with a loved one with biopolar disorder. And I have a strange, absolutely codependent thought that (as with Philip Seymour Hoffman) we all should have seen this coming and have done more to ensure it didn’t.

I’ve spent some of this week reading the tributes (this anecdote by Norm MacDonald was most resonant for me) and watching film clips (the Mork and Mindy premiere!) and will no doubt be revisiting some of my favorite Williams movies this month. I am so incredibly grateful that so much of his work is on film for us and future generations, that his talent will continue to entertain, challenge, and delight the world.

But I’ve realized this week that there’s something even more to all of this, that makes the loss even more than the black hole that it is. Because Williams is an archetype.

I’m not going to go into a lecture on archetypes and how to use them in your writing. I’ve written about it before, and this week I’m just too sad. But here’s the definition.

Archetype: a collectively-inherited unconscious idea, pattern of thought, image, etc., that is universally present in individual psyches

That is, there are characters that we are all born knowing. And theatrical, filmic, television characters take on exponential power when they are archetypes: Reacher -the Mysterious Stranger; Katniss Everdeen – Artemis (or Diana) the Huntress; Gandalf – the Mentor…

And Robin Williams. He is a living embodiment of the Fool, the brilliant and childlike truth-teller, the divine madman, who is empowered to criticize kings, and gets away with it exactly because of that childish truth.


We’ve lost something much more than a brilliant talent.
We’ve lost the world’s Fool.


And my poor fool is hang’d! No, no, no life!
Why should a dog, a horse, a rat, have life,
And thou no breath at all? Thou’lt come no more,
Never, never, never, never, never!
— King Lear

Via: Alexandra Sokoloff

    

8.14.14 - On Making Strides

By JT Ellison

I’m sitting here, wet and chilly, after hitting balls in the rain to prepare to play golf in the morning with my dad and his pals, a terrifying prospect because the last time I played, I did so horribly I made all kinds of assurances and promises that I would be a better partner this time, and I haven’t played a single day this summer.

Shite.

The ball striking was good, but I’m rather distracted, because I’m finally making strides with the book. The Big Blow Up of 2014 worked – I think – and I’ve revised the 36 chapters I had already written, adding 7 in the process. I’m over 85K now, and the end isn’t in sight, but there might be a glimmer of hope ahead. So.

My Dad turns 80 Saturday. We will be feting him in various ways, and I’ll be happily tied up with family business this weekend. So it’s back to work Monday and by damn, there will be a draft by next Friday. There. I said it. So it will happen, right?

Who made the pear sorbet from this month’s newsletter? How was it?

Via: JT Ellison

    

8.11.14 - On Frustrations, and Refilling the Well

By JT Ellison

My journal entry yesterday begins with this rather alarming phrase: “Sometimes, you just have to blow up a book.”

I’m nearly to the end of the book — that is, the word count says I’m nearly to my end goal. I personally am nowhere near the end, and need to get there, STAT.

I’ve been writing a book that I started in late April that’s plot line began to play out on the nightly news three weeks ago, and it has gotten so topical I couldn’t see the forest for the trees. This is the writer’s worst fear — that something they come up with will happen, and then it seems the book was written as a response to the news, rather than being a precursor. It happens more often than you’d think, which is why our government has a few authors in from time to time to brainstorm “worst case scenarios.” Our creativity has prevented many terrible issues, I’m sure.

But there are times when the story just ain’t gonna fly. Saturday, tired of struggling with this, I decided I needed to make some rather large changes. I stayed up very late writing down “fixes,” ten of them in all, then Sunday morning, went back to Page 1 and started over.

Page 1 rewrites are terror inducing, but sometimes necessary. I’ve only done it twice before, and never this far into the writing, but both books ended up much stronger for the last-minute alterations. And I‘m feeling better about the story. Ninety percent of what’s there stays, it’s just being reworked to be simpler, less topical, and more personal to Sam.

I’ve already rewritten the first 20 chapters, and am hoping to have a draft done by next week.

In the meantime, in the moments I’m not writing, I am desperately trying to refill the well. Which means watching movies, which led me to Armageddon last night. There is a scene in particular that blows me away every time, and after I watched it, covered in goosebumps, I starting thinking about my top movie scenes ever. So here’s the list:

Armageddon:
The twin shuttle launches, both snaking into the twilight sky

Gladiator:
Maximus in the Coliseum. He jumps on a horse and is thrown a sword, which he catches and twirls into a lethal grip.

G.I. Jane:
Jordan [bleeding]: “Master Chief?”
Master Chief: “Lieutenant, seek life elsewhere.”
Jordan [screams, to the delight of her team] “Suck my dick.”

Star Trek (2009):
When Sulu brings the Enterprise up out of the cloud vapor to save the day. And the score… perfection.

Star Wars:
The immediate opening, the crash of the music as the words begin scrolling backward into the universe.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (Part Two):
The Courtyard Battle Scene. The score makes this incredible moment truly magnificent.

French Kiss:
At the very end, just before the credits, when Kevin Kline kisses Meg Ryan on the hillside above their vineyard, picking her up in a passionate embrace neither of them could have imagined when they first met. *sighs*

Do you have a favorite movie moment?

Via: JT Ellison

    

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