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November 2017 Archives


So I wrote a play.

This is new territory for me. Having written nonfiction, short stories, novels, poetry, and most other forms of writing, I guess it was inevitable that I would eventually drift into writing drama, but in some ways it surprises me that it took so long. I mean, I've been working in theater in some capacity for years, starting back when I was 15, and I've done practically everything that can be done in a theater other than costuming and makeup. Why didn't I write a play before?

Well, I should note that I've tried to write a play before. I adapted a favorite graphic novel (Kyle Baker's WHY I HATE SATURN) a few years ago, but when I discovered Baker didn't own the rights to it, I figured there was no chance of ever getting permission to stage it. I've also written some fragmentary bits that may turn into a play someday, but I suspect I'll need to change a few things (including the working title, "Crepuscule with Nellie.") But this was the first time that I'd been hit with an idea for a play and actually managed to get into a fully-constructed form.

The idea hit me after Kelly and I drove down to Alabama at the end of July. En route, we listened to Bill Bryson's audiobook of his Shakespeare biography, and I was reminded of something I learned while researching Along Those Lines: that Thomas Bowdler's famous expurgated edition of Shakespeare's plays was actually created primarily by his sister Harriet. Unfortunately, as an unmarried woman, she could not be acknowledged as the plays' editor. Not only would it have been unseemly for her to take on such an editorial role, Harriet could not be credited with removing the naughty bits from the plays because she would have to admit to understanding why they were naughty. 

That particular Catch-22 struck me, and I began thinking a play about the Bowdlers themselves might be better than the bowdlerized versions of Shakespeare's plays, and that led me to look more deeply into the family's history, which turned out to be fascinating. Despite their reputation as bluenoses par excellence, the Bowdlers were surprisingly unconventional in some ways--such as the fact that Thomas/Harriet's mother and older sister Jane were both published (albeit anonymous) authors, which was highly unusual in the late 1700s. Brother John was a retired businessman who spent his later years pushing for prison reform and resisting reform of the Anglican Church, while sister Frances was the only member of their generation who did not write for publication--but she turned up in print because of her friendship with diarist/novelist Fanny Burney.

Other than their names and publications, however, I opted to ignore the Bowdlers' history, creating my own versions of their characters and playing with the conventions of theater as I saw fit. I have added several original characters to the mix, cooked up an utterly ahistorical plotline, and thrown in a lot of jokes, and I don't apologize for any of it. I'm waiting on feedback from some trusted readers, some with theatrical experience, some with literary chops, some with both, but if I can wrestle the next draft into shape, perhaps I can figure out how to get this thing staged somewhere.

I'm calling it The Kindest Cut. We'll see where it goes from here.

6:52 PM

Missing Out

As former SFWA president, friend of the blog, and general all-around mensch Marta Randall is fond of reminding me, "The Golden Age of Science Fiction is thirteen." It is demonstrably true that in my case, at least, the things I was fond of circa 1976 are things I remain fond of, even if time and experience has proven to me that a lot of it was pretty bad.

I mean, I am almost always delighted when I'm in a used book store and stumble across an old Bantam paperback of one of Doc Savage's adventures. I first came across Doc in his short-lived Marvel Comics version back in 1972, but I wasn't really hooked until I found a copy of The Derrick Devil while visiting my grandparents. The fantastic gadgetry, the exotic locales and period details, the nonstop bickering of Ham and Monk, and Doc's total unflappability combined to make me a huge fan of Kenneth Robeson's creation. That didn't change when I found out Robeson didn't exist, except as a pen name for Lester Dent and and a handful of other pulp writers, and it certainly didn't change when I grew up, re-read one of my old Bantam books, and realized... man, that prose is just plain not good.

The point, however, is that this realization in no way makes me dislike Doc Savage. If the rumored Doc movie starring Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson ever materializes, I will be there. I will pay money. And if it's any good, I will say a prayer of gratitude to the cinema gods who previously rained down misery upon Doc fandom with the 1975 Ron Ely movie. 

It's that cinematic connection that has me thinking about adolescent fandom, because we're about to be presented a movie version of a book that is beloved by millions: the Ava Duverney film of Madeleine L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time. I've seen the previews, and they look pretty darned good. I'm also excited by the prospect of seeing a fantasy/SF movie in which so many of the faces onscreen are nonwhite. Oprah Whitney is getting top billing, with Mindy Kaling also getting a starring role and Gugu Mbatha-Raw playing the mother of protagonist Meg Murry. Prominent white actors will be appearing as well--Chris Pine as Meg's father, with Reese Witherspoon and Zach Galiafinakis also in prominent roles--but Meg herself (played by Storm Reid) and her brother Charles Wallace are being presented as biracial, which has got to be some kind of first for a major motion picture.

(I'll admit to a little personal fondness for the idea of biracial representation. Though I can pass for a WASP with ease, my maternal Azhkenazi heritage has always made me root for characters with parents and grandparents in multiple categories.)

But for all my interest in the movie... I never read the book. Not when I was a kid. Back in 5th grade, Ms. Fulton would regularly show us episodes of Cover to Cover , which introduced me to many of my favorite books: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, The Children of Green Knowe, Ben and Me... I remember seeing them all read and illustrated by host John Robbins. And I vividly recall seeing the episode featuring L'Engle's book. When I next got to the school library, I flipped through it, and may have even checked it out, but I never got through it. I picked it up a couple of times over the next few years, because I genuinely saw plenty of reasons why I would like it, but for some reason it never quite grabbed me.

Well, over the last year, I've had cause to seek a fair amount of comfort reading--I can't imagine how the real world might have produced that need--and I've looked back at a number of old favorites. I re-read all seven of the Chronicles of Narnia over the summer, and I recently plowed through Ursula K. Le Guin's Earthsea trilogy (ignoring the later books in the so-called Earthsea Cycle, which I read as an adult.) I haven't lost my critical faculties at all; I recognize Lewis's misogyny and paternalism quite easily, thanks, and I appreciate the depth of Le Guin's worldbuilding even more now than I did when I first fell in love with her work. But there's no question that my very real affection for the work of Le Guin and Lewis, warts and all, rests on a foundation laid down before I first shaved.

And that foundation simply doesn't exist for L'Engle. I missed out. And now there's nothing I can really do about it.

I finally read A Wrinkle in Time last year, well after turning fifty. And it was... fine. There were elements I quite liked, but at the same time, so much of it seemed dated, or tame, or derivative. Obviously, it's NOT really derivative; it's simply so influential at this point that other creators in other media have used it as a source. But having come to it so late in life, I simply can't appreciate it for what it is in the minds of so many others. I hope it the movie kicks ass at the box office, and I hope I can glean from that cinematic treatment some of the joy I couldn't get from the book.

But man. I am so, so glad John Robbins did a show about A Wizard of Earthsea.

7:22 PM

Blue Virginia

I'm happy about the statewide victories by Ralph Northam, Justin Fairfax, and Mark Herring. It's good to feel that my fellow Virginians have rejected the kinds of fanatical tribalism pushed by Trump-Lite candidates such as Ed "MS 13" Gillespie and Jill "Transvaginal Ultrasound" Vogel. But these aren't the most important victories of the week. Those might be explained away (as a number of conservative commentators are trying to do) by saying "Oh, Virginia's a blue state, with a bunch of socialist swamp creatures in the DC suburbs. Of COURSE a Democrat won there." I don't think that's true--witness the reliably red Richmond suburb of Chesterfield County going to Northam--but it's at least something that could happen in theory.

But it doesn't explain what happened all over the state.

Last Tuesday, in districts whose gerrymandering has been a major project of the state GOP, voters selected their representatives for the House of Delegates. That gerrymandering had been successful enough to leave the Republicans in firm control of the House, with an advantage of 66 seats to 34, nearly a two-thirds majority. That majority has encouraged the GOP to pursue victory in the culture war here in the Commonwealth, proposing laws that would defund Planned Parenthood, protect civil servants who refused to perform same-sex marriages, etc. And only the governor's veto has been able to stop them. In short, there's a reason why Democratic Governor Terry McAuliffe broke the all-time record for vetoes by a Virginia governor in only 3 years, 2 months of service.

And on Tuesday? That powerful majority vanished in a puff of orange-colored air.

In district after district, angry Democrats took to the polls to send a clear message to the party of Trump. With plenty of fresh candidates, many of them women, offering challenges to Republican incumbents, the 34 sitting Democratic delegates were joined by new faces. Six were declared almost as the polls closed Tuesday night. Then a few more results came in, and a few more, and a few more, and suddenly Blue Virginia was whispering about the impossible dream--could we actually flip the House?

That's still unknown as of this writing. There are four races too close to call and the recounts have yet to take place; in fact, candidates can't even call for a recount until the results are officially certified on November 20th. One district in Newport News is currently showing a GOP lead of a mere 13 votes, so we can pretty much assume a recount will be requested there, and any race where the margin is less than 1% can legally go to one. But even without the recounts, Democrats currently hold 49 seats. Any change in the results would strip the Republicans of their control of the chamber. (They still hold the state senate 21-19.) And perhaps most importantly, even if the GOP clings to its majority, it will face not only the obstacle of a veto from Northam, but the necessity of complete unanimity. If even one Republican delegate refuses to go along with the party, the GOP cannot win a vote.

In other words, what I see as I look around the Commonwealth is the promise of better days ahead--unless you're a Republican. So long as GOP incumbents clings to the corruption of Trump, the cowardice of Ryan and McConnell, and the moral bankruptcy of Roy Moore, they will face the prospect of removal from office in 2018 and beyond. And nowhere is that more true than here in Virginia.

As Kelly put it, thinking of the 5th district's Republican Congressman, "I hope Dave Brat is looking at these results and shivering in a puddle of cold urine."

12:11 PM

50/50 Project Map Update

Howdy, all. I thought it was time to post an update of the map I posted a few years back showing my progress on the 50/50 Project. (You can make your own map right here.) For those of you who don't follow this blog obsessively, 50/50 is my continuing quest to see a life bird in each of the 50 states. Following last year's trip to the Pacific Northwest, I'm now standing at 37 states checked off. There are still a number of states I haven't visited (the Dakotas, Oklahoma, Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Alaska) as well as a frustrating number I've visited without logging a lifer, and now you can see them all in living color!


(Red states are those where I've seen a life bird; pale blue states are those I've visited without seeing a lifer; dark blue states I have not visited at all.)

*Alaska is likely to be the final state on this list; I very much want to go there, but I suspect it will be easy to get a life bird once I do.
*Kentucky is probably the state I'm most worried about; I've got to somehow see a new bird despite the fact that I've already seen lifers in pretty much every habitat in the area, so the only birds left there are birds that are relatively hard to find.
*I've barely spent time in Arkansas, so it's not shocking that I don't have a lifer there.
*I'm targeting Wisconsin and Minnesota next. We have friends in those states whom we keep intending to visit, so they seem like reasonably tempting possibilities.
*Georgia. Fucking Georgia. I have family there. My grandparents are buried there. I have traveled there for work and for pleasure. I have been there dozens of times in my life, and have birded some parts of it hard. And I've got nothing. Sapelo Island? Been there. Okefenokee Swamp? Been there. Harris NWR? Been there repeatedly. And NOTHING new has appeared. I'll be back, and I'll be ready, but jeez, Peach State, give it up already.

Updates as warranted

8:31 AM


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