Monday, September 1, 2014

How Not To Write Historical Fiction, Revisited

 So much historical fiction has been written since I last wrote about how not to write historical fiction that it's time to write more on the subject. This time I'll broaden my comments to include screenplays that should never have been written. Or, in any case, one such screenplay, namely, John Ridley's Twelve Years a Slave. For though Solomon Northup's nineteenth-century narrative of the same name was not a work of fiction, Ridley and director Steve McQueen went a long way toward turning it into one -- but not in a good way.

Now, make no mistake. As for Chewetel Ejiofor, featured in the photo above and on the left -- well, I would watch Chewetel Ejiofor reprogram his I-phone. That isn't to

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Trigger Warnings for a Tragic Syllabus

USA Today 4/6/12:  This branch of the University of California's student government unanimously passed a resolution in support of trigger warnings on syllabi earlier this year. Although the resolution still doesn't require [the warnings] to be placed on syllabi, [the resolution] shows that the student body supports professors using these warnings on material that could be upsetting."  -- USA Today, April 6, 2014

Well, okay. Here's my revised syllabus for my fall, 2014, section of "Tragic Drama," now retitled:

The following warnings are in place for students who have not played a video game, seen the evening news or an action movie, or read a work of fiction at any point before this, their freshman year of college.
 Week 1. Euripides, Medea. Students are warned that the text and clips of televised

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Grief, Madness, Repetition

"Horror! Horror! Horror!"  
            "Words, words, words."
    "Kill, kill, kill, kill, kill, kill!"                                 

Ever wonder what's going on when characters in Shakespeare simply repeat themselves? It is after all surprising when the greatest writer in the English language gets respect for lines like this:

          "O do de do de do de. . . . O do de de."

          "O, o, o, o!"

           "O horrible, o horrible, most horrible!"

To us such constructions seem wordy, and sometimes incomprehensible. I know you're in dire straits, Tom O'Bedlam, but would not one "Do de do" have served the purpose? And my English teachers always told me, correctly, I think, that intensifiers paradoxically weakened the force of assertions, to the point that I now spend my

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Edward Gero, Stacy Keach, and Rolling Thunder in DC

Friday afternoon at rush hour on Memorial Day weekend I thought it would be smart to head for the Beltway alongside 70,000 bikers bound for the annual Rolling Thunder event in Washington, D.C. It was a beautiful day, and I had time to enjoy it during the minutes I spent sitting semi-stationary on I-70 with my engine turned off, listening to the low rumblings of motorcyclists weaving through the parked cars and zipping by on the shoulder. At last I got to Arlington, where I stayed with a friend, and the next morning spent only fifteen minutes immobile in traffic on Memorial Bridge on my way to Washington and the Shakespeare Theatre. (A note to all U.S.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

What Drugs Did Shakespeare Do?

Here's a Mayday Shakespeare question. Was Shakespeare on drugs? And here's a response. Which time? You mean when he he sent a boy actor on stage to write Ovidian verses in the stage-dust, with a stick clutched between wrists bound and bloodied to look like he had no hands? Or when he gave Desdemona a few more lines to say after she'd been strangled to death? Or when he authored the worst lines in the canon, namely Laertes' after he hears of Ophelia's drowning: "Too much of water hast thou, poor Ophelia, and therefore I forbid my tears"? Certainly these textual instances constitute internal evidence of a mind gone haywire. But are they enough to convict the Bard of drug abuse?

Did Shakespeare over-indulge? Some have speculated that his death at a mere 52 suggests he did too much of something. But there were plenty of ways to die young in 1616, and, alas, though for centuries readers have attempted to extract

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

It's Shakespeare's Birthday!

It's Shakespeare's Birthday! Yay! Will is 450 and still going strong. I like to imagine Shakespeare transported from his time to our own, suddenly dropped down one evening onto a busy street in London or New York or -- why not? -- Grand Rapids or Kalamazoo. Amid the whizzing cars, beneath the blinking stars and plane lights in the sky, by the tall buildings and the strangely clad peoples of all hues, he stands astonished for a moment. But just for a moment. Then, like Malcolm McDowell as the time-traveling H. G. Wells in Time After Time, he quickly pulls a tablet (paper, not a drug) from his pocket, and starts taking notes. "My tables! Meet it is I set it down." He walks a block, glancing and scribbling all the while, then enters a building that, for some reason, bears his name on a signboard. If he's in

Monday, April 7, 2014

More on Writing Historical Fiction

I've been invited by Christine Sneed (, author and friend, to participate in a blog-relay of sorts, by which writers answer a slate of questions about their writing and then pass them on to other blogging writers. So here goes. The questions come with the relay, and I shall answer them to the best of my ability.

What are you working on? My diplomatic manner (still in the formative stages), my empathy and listening skills, my resistance to worry, my students' Othello exams, and, oh, yeah, some stories! At the moment I'm engaged in perhaps the third rewrite of a book I call Gunpowder Percy. It tells the tale of the twelve men and several women who conspired to blow up the Houses of Parliament in the 1605 Gunpowder Plot. Like most of my novels, it involves real historical characters and events with a bunch of made-up stuff thrown in -- ok, I mean artfully added -- to shape a story. This one centers on Thomas Percy, one of the leaders of the plot, who's driven slightly cuckoo by his obsessive attendance of Shakespeare's history plays. Any more would be a spoiler.

How does your work differ from others of its genre? It's much better. Ha! Actually: