Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Quote of the Day: Robert Kirby

Robert Kirby is a columnist for the Salt Lake Tribune.  He's having surgery this week to repair some damage done to a shoulder when he was young and foolishly inclined to try dare devil stunts.  In his column today ("Time To Pay Up For A Perilous Past"), he uses this fabulous line:

"The bill for that time in your life when you mistook testosterone for intelligence always comes due."

I think that, modified somewhat, this could be a very useful reminder to junior high school students (if applied frequently and with a sledgehammer).  ;D

Saturday, July 27, 2013

What's On My Wishlist

I've been having trouble finding decent YA to read this summer.  It seems like everything I pick up is a wash, and I go back to reading cozies or crime.
However, I'm on high alert for a few books coming out soon:
1) The Bitter Kingdom by Rae Carson (Aug. 27)
I loved the first 2 books in the series.  I can't wait to see how it ends.
2) Curtsies and Conspiracies by Gail Carriger (Nov. 5)
This is the sequel to Etiquette and Espionage, which I loved.
3) The Tinker King by Tiffany Trent (Feb. 11)
This is a sequel to The Friday Society, which I really liked.
4) Secret by Brigid Kemmerer (Jan. 28)
It's the next book in the Elemental series.

That's it for YA.  And, of course, I've got my radar set for more cozies and crime as well.
1) If Bread Could Rise To The Occasion by Paige Shelton (next week, people!)
It's the next book in her country cooking school series.  Paige is truly my favorite cozy author.
2) A Merry Market Murder by Paige Shelton (Dec. 3)
Next in her Farmers' Market series.  Paige is a busy gal.
3) Saints of the Shadow Bible by Ian Rankin ( Jan. 14)
Rankin, my favorite crime writer ever, has brought back Inspector Rebus (and there was much rejoicing)!

Are any of you waiting for any of these?  What's on your wish list?

Friday, July 26, 2013

Cover Reveal!! Secret by Brigid Kemmerer

I'm so excited to be part of a cover reveal for a famous author!  (And I got to see the cover 2 days before the rest of the world.  Neener, neener!)
Let's not waste any time.  Here it is, the cover for the 4th book of the Elemental series!

Secret by Brigid Kemmerer
Kensington Books
Release Date: January 28, 2014
Goodreads link: http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/17149088-secret
ISBN: 0758294379


Nowhere is safe. Not even home…

Nick Merrick is stretched to the breaking point.
Keep his grades sky-high or he’ll never escape his hometown.
Keep his brother’s business going or the Merricks will be out on the street.
Keep the secret of where he’s going in the evenings from his own twin—or he’ll lose his family.
Keep his mind off the hot, self-assured dancer who’s supposed to be his “girlfriend’s” partner.

Of course there’s also the homicidal freak Quinn has taken to hanging around, and the Elemental Guide counting the hours until he can try again to kill the Merrick brothers. There’s a storm coming. From all sides. And then some.

Nick Merrick, can you keep it together?

Brigid Kemmerer is the author of The Elemental Series, about a family of four brothers who control the elements, and their battle with those who want them dead. Storm, Spark, and Spirit are available now wherever books are sold. To read the novella introducing Nick’s story, be sure to check out Breathless, available as an e-book only from major e-book reteailers. You can learn more about Brigid and the Elemental boys at www.brigidkemmerer.com.

(Link to Breathless: http://www.brigidkemmerer.com/books/elemental-novellas/breathless/)

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

The Best Of Ireland: A Few Pics From My Trip

If you've been reading this blog at all during July, you know I spent the first two weeks of the month touring the Republic of Ireland -- because I'd never been there before and because I hadn't left the States for 5 years and it was time I kicked myself in the rear and went out of my comfort zone again.  Caught in Ireland's worst heat wave (and humidity wave) in years, I was certainly out of my comfort zone, but the heat and sunshine made for great photos, even while the heat + humidity + being a tourist made for some spectacular heat rashes and rank clothing.  (It's OK; I've carried a clothesline and pins with me on every trip since 1996.  I'd string it up in the trunk of the car and let undies and socks cook dry during the driving day.)
I took 545 photos during the 2 weeks, and I just cut that down to 143 to print for my scrapbook.  Out of those, I've chosen a handful to share with you here on the blog (because people have been asking in comments, tweets, and e-mails).  So, here we go.

One of the things I really wanted to see in Ireland were the Iron Age ruins.  Nothing in the western US is that old, as any people who lived here that long ago were either nomadic or else built structures out of  wood, skin, or other things that did not last.  Not so in the British Isles.  Those ancient peoples did some amazing things with rocks.  In 2008, I was totally overwhelmed with what I saw in Orkney in just one week.  And while Ireland's Iron Age ruins aren't as concentrated or as cool as Orkney's, I did see some spiffy stuff.

The Drombeg Stone Circle on the way to Skibbereen is the one everyone talks about.  I've even run across it in novels.  But I wasn't too impressed.  However, the Derrintaggart Stone Circle on the Ring of Beara was on a path much less traveled by (literally), and -- if you could stand the smell of manure -- was in a much more picturesque setting.  There was also a clootie tree (well, it was a clootie bush, anyway) at the gate, and I was thrilled to find that people were keeping up the ancient traditions.  Also, even though I'd researched clootie trees very thoroughly for Becoming Brigid, I'd never actually seen one in person before.  And, yes, I tied a string on the bush -- onto a holly twig, since it was July, and that's the wood for July.)

Those bushes seem to be cousins to junipers, with blue berries that looked very similar, but I suspect they're actually some variety of gorse bush.  There was a lovely strip of pines to my right here, as well.  So, although I had to tiptoe through the cow pies to get the shots, I was glad I'd made the struggle to find this place.

Much more commercialized but still well-worth the trip is Staigue Fort on the Ring of Kerry.

I'd seen these before.  The Scots call them "brochs," and I visited one with a far smaller diameter but much more remaining height in the Hebrides in 2005 and a much broader one with the remains of a whole town around it in Orkney in 2008.  However, Staigue Fort wins hands down for use of stairs.  Dang!  The ancient people who built this thing did an awesome job with symmetrical stairs running up and down over the top of cave-like rooms all around the inside perimeter of this fort.  Like all brochs, Staigue Fort was built only out of stones placed on top of one another with no mortar in between.

The Dingle Peninsula was by far the prettiest of the three famous southern peninsulas I toured, and it had some amazing stone fort remains (truly forts, rather than round brochs) with the most incredible views, especially at Dunbeg Stone Fort.

Oddly enough, all the more recent dwellings (farms) are built farther up the hillside, leaving these incredible views mainly for the sheep.

Other places I really liked on my trip included Roscrea (which has a terrific castle and various other buildings I didn't have time to explore -- wish I'd scheduled more time there!), Cashel (pronounced CASH-el)
(Cashel has a large, well-preserved Norman abbey/fortress on a hill in the town, plus ruins of another abbey, and fascinating old buildings all over town.  I stayed in a B&B that was built in the mid-1700s.),

Limerick (which everyone said was just a crime-ridden "big city," but it wasn't.  There were all kinds of spiffy things to see, for which I hadn't scheduled enough time!)

(St. John's Castle as viewed across the River Shannon),
Ballybunion  (cute little beach town -- awesome beaches and a castle overlooking them), Carrigafoyle Castle, Dingle (just as charming as everyone says, and in easy driving distance of stunning scenery on the Slea Head), and the tiny town of Sneem, which barely gets a mention in Lonely Planet's guide to Ireland, but which was one of the most charming places I stopped.

(This is the view from the town bridge in Sneem.)

Places I found to be entirely overrated were Tralee (nice park and not a bad museum, but otherwise it could be anywhere in the US.  Skip it.), Kinsale (extremely overrated.  Stop for an hour to take photos and grab a snack, but unless you enjoy hours and hours of wandering in and out of tourist shops, you can skip the rest of the town, as there's nothing else to do there if you don't boat), and Kenmare (yawn-- more tourist shops, zzzzz).
And that, dear readers, is about as lengthy a travel post as I dare give to you.  If you really want the full trip, send me a disc, and I'll burn you copies of those 545 photos. ;)  (I don't expect to have too many takers on that offer.)

Sunday, July 21, 2013

What I Learned About The People Of Ireland

This year, I spent the first 2 weeks of July in Ireland.  I went hoping to escape the baking summer heat of Utah and ended up in the the worst heat wave Ireland has had since 2006.  I left temperatures of 105 F with 18% humidity only to suffer in the FAR worse conditions of 82 F with 70% humidity and a country that has no air conditioning.  I spent most of my trip with sweat running down my back and giving me rashes from sitting against vinyl car seat too long.  (Let's not get too detailed about this part, OK?)
A few days ago, I blogged about driving in Ireland.  Today, allow me to tell you what I learned about the people.

1) As a group, the Irish appear to be the friendliest bunch I've ever met.  I've been to 23 different countries, 25 US states, and 2 territories (1 US, 1 British) now.  Plus, at dozens of UNESCO dance festivals over years of performing/traveling, I've met people from many, many places I've never actually visited (like the Cook Islands, Korea, South Africa, Bulgaria, Thailand, the Philippines, Columbia, Poland, and I could type another 25 or so, but would you bother to read all that?).  And I swear the Irish still win on the friendly scale.
Random strangers on the street or in stores would smile and strike up a conversation.  When I had trouble finding the stupid lever to open the gas tank of my rental car the first time I had to buy gas, I hadn't been struggling over a minute when 3 guys left their own cars to help me.  No one was rude the entire time I was there except for the witch of a lady who owned the B&B in Kenmare.
And, of course, I flew back home with the first stop in NYC.  Heh.  Yeah.  Well, let's just say that New Yorkers aren't going to be challenging the Irish for the world's friendliest group anytime soon. *smirks*
2) Ireland is the palest place I've ever been.  And that's saying a LOT because I'm from Utah.
It took a couple of days for me to realize that I was seeing all white, all the time, because, as I just said, I'm from Utah, the palest state in the Union.  But eventually, I found myself thinking, "Are there NO brown people in Ireland?  Seriously?"
I saw precisely 3 persons who appeared to have African heritage.  All 3 were children and they all seemed to be with white parents, so I can only assume it was the Brangelina effect.  I saw exactly 2 persons who appeared to have Chinese/Korean/Japanese ethnic background; one was a child with white parents -- so possibly another Brangelina effect going on there -- and the other was a much younger wife/girlfriend/mistress/companion/escort to a 50-something white tourist male.  I saw 3 persons who appeared to have Indian or Pakistani background; they all worked in the large chain hotel where I stayed near the Dublin airport.
That was it.
Even the tourists were white, and I mean PALE white.  They were German or Swiss or English or white Aussies or Dutch.  I met ONE Frenchman of Italian heritage; he stood out with his Mediterranean coloring.  There were no busloads of Japanese tourists, no Greeks, no one from an African tribe, no Islanders, nothing.  It was a mighty pale place to be.
It was also sort of weird.
3) The Irish still wear Crocs.  I found this amusing.
4) The Irish are easier for the average tourist to understand than are the Scots.
When I lived in Scotland, I had to "translate" for other non-Scottish native and non-native English speakers a great deal.  No tourists in any of the venues I saw in Ireland seemed to have much trouble with the locals -- even though some of these locals had very regional accents.  I think this may be because Irish/Gaelic (note: what the Irish speak is called pronounced "Gay- lick."  What the Scots of the Highlands speak is called "Gal- ick."  They are both spelled Gaelic, which is confusing to Americans, who usually don't know the difference.) is completely unrelated to English, so the Irish either speak English or Gaelic.  They don't mash the two together.  Scots, however, is closely related to English -- so close, in fact, that the English have spent centuries trying to stamp it out as "bad English," in the same way the Spanish have tried to stamp out Catalán as "bad Spanish."  This means that Scots have a continuum with English, and they may be anywhere on this continuum -- from Broad Scots to complete English -- at any given moment.  Plus, the Scots don't use as many American English words as the Irish do.  All this means it's easier for foreigners to understand the Irish than the Scots.
(OK, and the Scots seem to have more pride in NOT being understood. :D  That's part of it, too.)
5) There are so many ruins of castles and stone age forts and monuments in Ireland that the Irish don't get too excited about them.  There are no guidebooks like I've found everywhere else from England to China.  And there are tons of roadside ruins that aren't even marked with a sign.  They just don't seem to have the time or energy for all of them.
6) I have not been able to verify this, but I suspect there is some secret law in Ireland requiring its most charming young men to work in pubs for a period of time.  I'm a non-drinker for religious and health reasons, but, let's face it, pubs are pretty much the only place to get good, inexpensive food in Ireland.  So I ate in a fair number of pubs.  And in every town, these pubs had the most incredibly charming young men as bartenders/servers.  The Irish pubs don't seem to try to put sexy young girls out to lure in customers, but rather, they have über-charismatic 20-something males.
I found this more than acceptable.  ;) Really. :D

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Things I Learned About Driving In Ireland

So, yeah, I FINALLY got my rear in gear and, after five long years, left the US again.  I picked Ireland for this jaunt.  Why?  Well, I hadn't been anywhere but the US or the UK since 2001 (China).  Originally, I'd planned on Iceland instead of Ireland, but I realized I wasn't in good enough physical condition for the hiking in Iceland, and I also learned that Iceland requires an international driving license while Ireland does not.
Apparently, the Irish have no problem with putting a sleep-deprived foreigner just off the plane from a country that drives on the right side of the road immediately onto their freeways and sneaky toll roads where everything is backwards.  Sure, sounds safe to me. *rolls eyes*
Fortunately, I prefer to drive standard transmission cars at home anyway, and fortunately I'd already had some experience driving in Orkney in 2008.  But I mistakenly believed that driving the rural areas of southern Ireland (the Ring of Beara, the Ring of Kerry, and the Dingle Peninsula) would be like driving in Orkney: wide, open spaces with narrow roads and a clear view, where the main road hazards are sheep and guessing who's going to pull aside for the oncoming person.
That is not what I got.
The main thing I learned about the Irish through driving there is that the Republic of Ireland is a country which was never united until the English did it for them and 90% of their history is about battles and uprisings against the English, all of which failed due to lack of organization and communication.  Their roads and their driving habits reflect this.
For example, this is what I saw for miles and miles and miles of Irish countryside:

Hedges.  Those *&^% hedges.
Notice that the road is wide enough for two compact cars to pass each other?  Now try to imagine what happens when the other vehicle is a full-sized tour bus.  Also try to imagine what happens when you're looking for a turn-off to a smaller road that leads someplace you want to see.  Notice how you can barely see the yield sign on this road?  Well, the direction signs are smaller, brown, and not placed above the hedges.  They're placed right at the turn, which you can't see unless you 1)already know it's there or 2) just drove past it.  Also imagine what happens when you realize you need to turn around and go back to said missed turn off.
I am pleased to tell you, however, that the rental car company did not charge me for any of the hedge scratches found on my returned Nissan.  Bless them.  :)
The hedges also mean that you don't get to see much while you're driving, and, since pull outs and parking spaces are about as prevalent as Buddhists in Ireland, a person driving doesn't see much besides those &^^%$% hedges and whatever can be viewed from on foot in whatever town where a parking space is finally won.
Also keep in mind that the speed limit on this road is 100 km per hour, which is roughly 62 MPH.  Then remember that this photo shows a rare straight bit of road; most of the country roads swerve and curve all over the place.  Driving 62 on such roads is unsafe and stupid.  I spent half of my trip in 3rd gear, going about 35MPH.  But the Irish drive these roads alternating between roaring up way past the speed limit, passing anyone in front of them, then slamming on their brakes at every bad curve.  They also are the reigning monarchs of tailgating.  They excel at this art -- at top speed.
This part of driving in Ireland made me tense.  Not being able to see, having to fight to turn around, having to hunt up to 20 minutes to find a parking spot in every single town, dealing with the fact that the Irish drive like idiots and park willy-nilly on either side of the road -- it all drove me nuts.
The other thing I learned about driving in Ireland was much funnier: perspective.
For days as I interacted with locals and tourists along the Ring of Beara and the Ring of Kerry, I was told, "Make sure you drive the Conor Pass."  It was called "beautiful," "breath-taking," and "scary."  How could I pass that up?
So, when I was ready to leave the lovely little town of Dingle (awesome place, even if there's no parking -- and past it, the Slea Head was the most stunning thing I saw on the whole trip), I made sure to find the road to the Conor Pass.
When I got to the summit, I laughed.
I'd forgotten with whom I was speaking and their perspectives on "mountains."  You see, it wasn't the Swiss who'd told me about the Conor Pass.

It is pretty from the summit.  There are a couple of cute little lakes and some very interesting ruins on their shores, which, unfortunately, I didn't know how to reach.  But the rest of it was just green, grassy, rolling hills.
I kept thinking, "Mountain?  This ain't no mountain.  I could show you a real mountain!"
I looked it up this morning.  The Conor Pass reaches 1167 feet.   For perspective, that's only 104 feet higher than the Eiffel Tower.  Snowbird ski resort, just a half-hour drive up a canyon near Salt Lake City, has an elevation of 11,000 feet, not 1100 feet.  You wanna talk striking view?  Take the tram up to the top of that and have a look around.

Ah!  But the Conor Pass has those stinkin' narrow roads where only one car at a time can pass on sections with a steep overhang!
Seriously, the people who call this "scary" would never survive the Shafer Trail.
(Yup.  Grandpa made that.)

Or the Furka Pass in Switzerland (ok, it's only 7000 feet or so, but it's gorgeous.  We drove it clear back in '84.)
So, the Conor Pass?  Well, it's green and pretty -- and the shot of the lakes from the summit is definitely a Kodak moment.  And I suppose it's scary and striking if you're from Kansas.

Yes, more about Ireland will follow.  But for now let it suffice for me to tell you that I liked the Irish people one whole heck of a lot better than I liked their roads.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

First World Problems

I arrived home from two weeks in Ireland late Sunday night, only to discover that we had no phone service or internet in the house.  Then last night we had a power outage for over 8 hours  --- and still no phone or internet.
I was really grateful, however, that the water supply was working.  :)

(FYI: the telephone repair guy worked for over an hour today, since the *&^% Comcast people have been putting in new cables without taking care not to damage existing cables, making this the third time in 9 months my phone service has been down.  And, yes, the electricity's back on too.)

Friday, July 12, 2013

Sharing The Humor

A few weeks ago, I got a tweet with a link in it to a buzz feed article about a hilarious Pinterest board.
(*pauses for a moment to reflect on how very meaningless that sentence would've been a decade ago*)

Blogger and would-be author Tiffany Beveridge is on Pinterest, like hundreds of thousands of other women (and some guys, too!).
She has a board about her imaginary, well-dressed toddler, Quinoa.  (Yes, she misuses the word "toddler," but the board is wonderful anyway.)  Here, she uses ridiculous fashion shots of children wearing clothes so expensive that their cost would feed an entire third-world family for months and makes fun of the pics to create character development for this fictional child.  What truly gives me warm fuzzies are the names she uses for the children: Quinoa, her BFF Chevron, Humboldt.  Hilarious.
Here, let me give you a sample or two:

She has captioned this picture thusly:

One time when Quinoa and I got separated in a busy train station, she thankfully remembered our safety training: stay in one place, look spectacular, and don't talk to poor people.

Isn't that great?
Here's another:
Quinoa and her BFF Chevron prepared a class presentation on The Captain and Tennille for Famous Person's Day.

And my favorite:

Sometimes when Quinoa is particularly well-dressed, she begins to levitate.

Go check out her board -- and laugh!

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Can You Spot The Errors?

I pull my proofreading exercises for my students straight off the internet.  The trouble is, however, that sometimes the writing is so very bad that the kids can't figure out what to do to fix it.
Here are a few "good" examples of lack of copy editing I've found in the past few months.

“At age six, Ducharme's father hired two mermaids to swim up to a dock where the boy was eating his birthday cake.” -- from a Yahoo! news article about a reality show guy who likes mermaids. 4/3/13

Uh, but when Ducharme's father was 6, it's pretty unlikely that Ducharme himself was there.  I know some folks hit puberty early, but fatherhood at 6 is not too probable.

“A Memorial Day weekend storm has dropped three feet of snow on a New York ski mountain near the Vermont boarder.”  AP, Yahoo! News 5/27/13

Gee, I bet that renter was surprised.

 “We wanted to recognize our consumers as more than just moms, but also as women and give her a campaign that has her view Kraft salad dressings in a whole new way."  Yahoo! news article about Kraft salad dressing ad. 6/14/13.

And we're rockin' some MAJOR singular/plural confusion in this one, honey!  I had to read this three times to figure out what the writer was attempting to convey.

“Michael Romano is an American priest working in the Vatican's Secret Archives with a penchant for stepping over the line.” -- from the book blurb for  The Psalter by Galen Watson. 6/15/13.

I had no idea that archives could have a penchant for stepping over the line -- or for anything else, for that matter.

After being taken to a local hospital, nurses reported to police that the bandage had not been changed for some time....”  ksl.com news article about a bedridden person, 6/22/13.

Wait.  So the nurses had to go to the hospital before they could report to the police what had happened at the home of the mistreated bedridden person???!!!  What?!   This is the sentence mangling that occurs when people don't check their modifiers.

“Four women were killed in a rollover accident on Interstate 70 Saturday when the driver told police he dozed off at the wheel.” -- McKenzie Romero on ksl.com 6/22/13

Well, then, if the driver hadn't been so busy telling the police about his bad driving, those women wouldn't have been killed!!  Obviously!

“In addition to playing chess and reading, her mom said that she loves hanging out with friends, watch TV, and swim.” -- Yahoo! news article about a 13-year-old girl with a 162 IQ. 6/7/13

It seems to me that the writer should've asked the girl with the high IQ if she could explain to him parallels in the usage of gerunds vs. infinitives.

“Utah Lawmakers tackle teen suicide, bullying after deaths.”  Salt Lake Tribune, 2/20/13.

Why would you bully someone AFTER her/his death?  How does that even work?
Ah, yes.  Another problem with a modifier. *sighs*

Fortunately for my lesson planning, but unfortunately for all of us who have to read garbage like this, it's never very hard to find samples of un-proofread writing.
Do feel free to share in the comments section any you've found recently. :)

Monday, July 8, 2013

Guest Post: Martin Willoughby

I'm happy to be hosting Martin today!

How To Write Humour

There are lots of rules about writing humour, but there’s one that stands out from all the rest: If you’re not laughing, no one else will either. The second standout rule is aptly summarised by the playwright Alan Ayckbourn who said, ‘dramatic acting is easy compared to comedy acting’.  Why? Because everyone laughs at different things. That’s not to say there aren’t generalities that most people find amusing, the success of comedy shows such as Friends and Monty Python attest to that, but even then everyone will find something different in the show that they remember.
With a standup routine you can tell if it’s going well by the number of laughs you’re getting. You can then adjust your comedy routine accordingly, or, as Eddie Izzard, does, make a fake note on his hand to the effect of ‘Must remember not to do that joke again’.
Writing humour for a play, film, TV show or novel is more difficult than a standup routine as you have a far more general audience in mind than the relative few who attend comedy clubs, or those who find your brand of humour funny. 
First of all, find out what makes you laugh. Jot down films, comedians, etc. that make you laugh or smile, even when you’ve seen them a hundred times. For me one epic moment comes in a Bob Hope & Bing Crosby film where they’re sent into space. The capsule has been designed for monkeys and the feeding system goes, overfeeding them bananas and milk. I first saw that clip in the 1970s and it still makes laugh when I think of it now.
Once you’ve identified the things that make you laugh, see if there are any instances in your novel that lend themselves to a bit of humour in that vein and experiment.
For me, my first book, which was relaunched on 1st July, started out as a piece of serious SF, but the characters lent themselves to comedy so well, I changed it and have been writing comedy ever since. There were ideas that just left me laughing out loud (my neighbours still give me odd looks), so I wrote them down and worked with them until they were funny even when I knew what was coming.
The second thing is not to elaborate. Don’t tell the reader every punchline; allow them to come up with their own sometimes. The best horror films use the audiences imagination to great effect and it’s a tool that a comic writer can use to good effect, such as the following piece from the second comedy I’ll be re-releasing later this year, Apollo the Thirteenth.
Carla remembered what God had said to her earlier and started to laugh, then whispered in Anne's ear. Anne started to laugh and said, “Oh that's good.”
As the novel never reveals what God has said, it allows the reader to make up their own joke based on what’s funny to them.
In summary, writing humour is about writing what makes you laugh, then making other people laugh too.  And you’ll always find someone who will find what you say funny.

Martin Willoughby has performed on stage in comedy, drama and pantomime and makes people laugh wherever he goes, sometimes deliberately. Tempers Fugit is his first book, published by Bubble Books is available as an ebook on Amazon, and will soon be available as a paperback.

Twitter: @Willabywriter

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Happy Independence Day!

Hey, Utah!  Let's leave all the fireworks to the professionals this year, okay?  Then maybe we won't have any new wildfires started!

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

The 2013 Utah Shakespeare Festival: Review of Peter and the Starcatcher

This is the last in a series of six reviews.  To read the others, simply click on "previous posts" on the blog, as the reviews have been posted the last six days running.

I love the Utah Shakespeare Festival!  Really, I do.  They do three Shakespeare plays and three non-Shakespeare plays every year.  One of those non-Shakespeare plays is often a very new play, and this year it was Peter and the Starcatcher.
This play was built up by the whole staff at the Festival; they raved over how wonderful it was.  I expected to love it.
I didn't.
In fact, I had to try really hard to find things I liked about it.
Let me give you the positives first:
1) The set is fantastic, and what the actors convey with minimal props is amazing.
2) The idea to put the musicians onstage in ships' prows is a stroke of genius.
3) Quinn Mattfield, who plays the pirate Black Stache, is freakin' HILARIOUS!!!

But that was about it for what I liked.
Here are the issues I had with the play:
1) The writers never decided who their intended audience was to be.
What I mean is that we have Peter Pan, a play about a very young boy (who still has all his baby teeth!), then we have the book Peter and the Starcatchers, wherein Peter is someone older.  Then we have this play.  It seems like it should be a play for kids, but the humor is very adult.  Sometimes it's sexual, such as when Stache -- who is most overtly camp -- digs into the Lord Aster's trouser pocket to get some keys.  And sometimes it's just waaay over kids' heads, with references to Phillip Glass operas and to Walt Whitman's poetry.  So, there's a very childish story told in a very adult way.  Huh?  It didn't work too well because it wasn't clearly a parody; it was part parody and part serious.
2) Although the play is supposed to be "good for girls," it's not.  First off, Molly is the ONLY female in the play: one girl in a man's world.  She is desperate to be a leader and to become a starcatcher -- which is a type of career.  But, when the play ends, she has to remind herself to "be a woman," and her father makes her leave everything behind.  The audience is then TOLD (not shown) that Molly will become the mother of Wendy and the other boys, that Peter will forget her and come back for her daughter.  This is a reminder that Wendy's mom has no adventures, has no career, merely exists for the sake of her children, and that Wendy is wanted only so she can be a mother to the lost boys anyway.  Thus, the message to girls becomes "have adventures now because later you'll have to give up everything so you can be a good mom, as moms never get to do anything adventurous and shouldn't be anything but moms."  Honestly, what woman wouldn't this offend?  It's negative about women with careers, moms who stay at home, and moms who have careers.  What kind of message is that for girls -- or boys -- to hear?  Gag.

So, should you see this play?  Yes -- if you are an adult and like adult humor and take this play as a messy parody.  It's not a play for kids.  It's not a play for anyone who's easily offended at sexual jokes.  Oddly enough, even though the play does have a mentality that childhood should be sweet and innocent, this is not a play for those who fear having their children grow up and lose their innocence.  In simple terms, if you don't want your "sweet and innocent" child to see bare-chested men playing mermaids with spinning starfish nipples, then you probably shouldn't take said child to this play.

Now the mermaids didn't offend me at all: the message of "women belong in the nursery" offended me a great deal.  And the confused state of "who is the audience for this play?" made me irritated at the bad writing.

If this play had been described and billed as Monty Python Does Peter Pan, I probably would've gobbled it up.  But because it was presented as a children's play with strong feminism -- and it failed to deliver on both  -- I didn't like it much, even though Mattfield is a freakin' camp pirate drag queen. ;)

More photos and all ticket info are available at bard.org.

Monday, July 1, 2013

The 2013 Utah Shakespeare Festival: Review of Twelve Angry Men

I have been reviewing the plays from the Utah Shakespeare festival all week.  This review is the 5th in a series of six.  If you wish to read the other reviews, simple go back or forward in time on the blog.

The Utah Shakespeare Festival does three Shakespeare plays and three non-Shakespeare plays every summer season.  One of the non-Shakespeare plays is generally a drama; this year, that drama is Twelve Angry Men.

Twelve Angry Men was originally created as a teleplay, performed before a live audience for Studio One TV in the 1950s.  It was later made into a movie and then into a stage play, but the stage play is more like the teleplay, as it is (obviously) meant to have a live audience.
It is an extremely intense play, and director David Ivers has chosen to keep it especially intense by having no intermission, so the audience is trapped in the same room with the 12 men and is carried with their emotions.
David Ivers also explained to those of us attending the first literary seminar that he chose to keep the play in the 1950s, with an all-white, all-male jury, because having women or persons of color would change how the situation is viewed by the audience.  One of the main points of the play, after all, is that  an all-white jury is trying a case in which both the defendant and the victim are immigrants -- although what race they are is never identified.
The play is about a jury who has listened to several days of testimony about a murder case in which a 16-year-old boy is accused of stabbing his father to death.  There is a good deal of circumstantial evidence and two semi-reliable witnesses.  As the play begins, 11 of the men are completely and totally convinced of the boy's guilt, but one man does not feel good about sending a boy to the electric chair when he (the juror) cannot convince himself that the case is so cut-and-dry.  This juror asks to go over the evidence again.  No one is pleased.
As they argue, however, several men begin to realize that they cannot be completely sure of the boy's guilt, either, and everyone's background and prejudices begin to play a part.

This is a fascinating play.  It is odd, also, that even though Ivers has kept every single detail (the set is fantastic) in the 1950s, the play still seems so very current right now.  Part of this is due to the fact that racial tensions never really leave us; they just switch races with area and time period.  Part of this is also that no character ever has a name in the play.  Not one.  Part of this is that every audience member will identify with SOMEONE: the hurt father, the logical man, the working man who hasn't had the education to keep up with the others, the young man who came from a slum, the man with prejudices, the older man, the immigrant, the shy man, etc.

This is NOT a relaxing play.  I was very tense after seeing it, and it took a good hour for me to calm down.  But this testifies to the success of the acting and directing.  Emotionally, I had a hard time remembering that this was fiction.

Five stars to Twelve Angry Men.  This is a superb production.

This photo, other photos of the show, and all ticket info can be found at bard.org.