In Defense of the Legend of John Alden, Priscilla Mullins, and Myles Standish

Brief History: First of all, I know this isn’t my usual fairy tale/folk tale blog, but I thought I’d try something more Americana in honor of the football season. . . or something. Second, I promise that since this blog is about the group known as the Pilgrims I won’t get on my many colonial America soapboxes such as the difference between the strict, hypocritical Puritans and the religous-diverse Plymouth colonists or the broken agreements with the Wampanoag people or the lack of cultural acknowledgement for Tisquantum (a.k.a. Squanto) who is the only reason why we have Thanksgiving. Nope. Nor will I go into the history Thanksgiving not being celebrated in U.S. until the Civil War as a morale booster and really had nothing to do with the Pilgrims and Wampanoags. [Deep breath] Now, on to the story.

In 1858, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, the king of historical inaccuracies (i.e. The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere), wrote a long poem called The Courtship of Miles Standish. In the midst of battles against the indigenous people and bad harvests, Miles Standish had an eye for the young, pretty Priscilla Mullins. As a military leader, Standish naturally was not a romantic (as according to the big book of stereotypes) so he asked his friend, John Alden, to speak on his behalf. However, John and Priscilla grow close and by the time he tries to propose for Miles, Priscilla says, “Why don’t you speak for yourself, John?” So, they get married, Standish gets over it, and they all eat turkey.

Analysis: Everyone likes history better when it has a love story involved. Case in point - Titanic. (And they could have both fit on the door. Just saying.) In reality, historians don’t know if there really was any triangle between the political assistant, the military advisor, and the daughter of a shoemaker. This is what is known:

  • The major events from the poem like the Nemasket raid really did happen, but over many years instead of a few months.

  • Myles (correct spelling) Standish really did remarry when his first wife died after arrival in Plymouth, but he married a woman that came over on a separate ship about three years later. His first wife died very shortly before Alden and Mullins married so if he really did want Priscilla for his wife, he must not have waited long.

  • John Alden originally joined the colonists as a barrel mender and became a part of the standing military and a secondary governor. He sounded more ambitious than his literary counter-part.

  • Priscilla Mullins was one of the only members of her family to survive the voyage on the Mayflower and married John Alden when she was about 19 years old. They had at least 10 children, one of whom grew up to be accused during the Salem Witch Trials.

Blame It on the Victorians: Longfellow was a descendant of the Aldens and claimed the story of the love triangle was a family legend passed down through generations. An upside to all of the fame his poems gained by being more dramatic than historical is that Longfellow used some of his fame towards his support for the abolitionist movement. Focusing on a positive here.

Last Thoughts: “Didn’t it reeeeeeeeally happen that way, Grandpa?” Ever seen the Elmer Fudd cartoon where he’s John Alden? Huh. Huh.

Courtship_of_Miles_Standish_(1903)_(14757131396).jpg


Reviews: The Perfect Gift For Your Favorite Indie Author

You want to get something for that special someone whose book you bought from a local festival or convention. You loved this book (or even just kinda enjoyed it) and wish could give back to the person who put so much time, blood, and tears into telling a story. Good news: you can without spending money or even having to creepily stalk said author.

Write a review.

Reviews are how independent authors get traffic to websites, recognition from peers, and interest in their future work. You might not think that writing a review is really important if it was something you liked. Look at Yelp - most people just go on their to complain. But in a social media obsessed society, you need to record the good with the disappointing.

Below is a list of places for book reviews are that helpful because its where other people go to read about a book they are curious about. Even if you only liked a part of the book, say there was a character you loved, but a scene you thought was too slow, then write the truth. Help out the local authors in your community by giving them a voice online.

Amazon and Barnes and Noble - These 2 seem obvious, but indie author books are available on these platforms, but can get less notice without a community behind them. That’s where reviews come to the rescue.

Goodreads - This is the ultimate in book recommendation websites. You can write whole summaries, send book links to friends, and, of course, write reviews.

BookBub - If good reads is overwhelming with its massive database, this new website for primarily ebooks is not just good for reviews, but also if you are looking for new book samples to read.

Online sources of your local newspaper - Sometimes, the local news will want the opinions of the people posted on their message boards or in response to editorials. At times, especially in the midst of gift-giving holidays, this can include the work of independent authors and artists.

Your Own Personal Social Media - If you are comfortable, post on your Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, blog, or whatever social media outlet you are currently addicted to. A review or book recommendation doesn’t have to be long to help an independent author.

All Saints' Day

In the Southwest, Mexico, and some Latin American countries, today is best own as the first day of El Dia de los Muertos, but November 1 also has it’s background in All Hallows Day or Hallowmas.

In Medieval Europe, Halloween lasted three days - All Hallows Eve on the 31st of October, All Hallows Day on November 1, and the Feast of All Souls on November 3 - which were all meant to be days to honor the death and keep one’s own morality in mind. Halloween was part of a Pagan day of harvest. What started as Samhain, a day when the veil between the spirit world and the mortal world was dangerously thin, became a Christian holiday of remembrance. The recently deceased were the most cared for in these celebrations, hoping their souls weren’t lost in Purgatory. All Saint’s and All Soul’s days are for visiting graves, feasting in honor of the dead, and, of course, remember all of those obscure Catholic saints who died in very creative ways.

So what’s with the history lesson, you may ask? I just wanted to point out that, even if you aren’t Catholic, your Halloween celebrations do not need to end just yet. Sacrifices aren’t just for on Halloween, you know. The powers that be need to know that you are serious about your tributes.

So, make a pretty wreath from the bones of your enemies and place it on Grandma’s grave. She will like to know you’re thinking of her even after Halloween is over. And while you are at it, say a prayer to St. Dymphna. Her story sucks. Look it up if you dare.

All-Saints-Day-Erspamer.jpg

Character Study - The Orginal Final Girls

“The Final Girl”  is a phrase for slasher movie heroines who gets to kill the big bad and survive at the end. Long before we had Jamie Lee Curtis and slow moving serial killers, we had Victorian pillars of virtue who got to kick a little ass in their own way. Okay, so they don't really fit the true description of the "Final Girl" trope, but let's give a hand to the earliest of the horror story heroines who didn't just faint and wait to be rescued.

The Woman in White: Marian Halcombe

The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins isn't really a horror story, it's more of a psychological mystery about how women's lives were effected by greedy men a time when they had very few legal rights. Collins, a good friend of Charles Dickens, also managed to fill the story with a number of murders. Marian is one of the heroes of the tale. The less-wealthy and therefore less-eligible for marriage female character compared with Laura. Laura is Marian's beautiful and sweet half-sister, the perfect Victorian woman. She is also the antithesis of the headstrong and intelligent Marian. As her sister is caught between her love for the very-good art teacher Walter Hartright and the evil plans of murderous men, it's Marian who has to help Walter to unravel the mystery. She is the one who overcomes grief to take charge of a situation that women did not handle in that time. I do not want to give away the mystery, but Marian is fantastic female character and the book is one of my favorites.

Dracula: Mina Murray Harker

I will always defend Mina Harker no matter how anyone interrupts this book. I have read Bram Stoker's tale of horror many times and I say Mina was, by Victorian standards, a strong character. Yes, Mina is a demure lady who sweetly stands by as the start of the vampire's terror effects her life. But once Mina is aware of what is happening, she's the one who asks the right questions and wants to put a stop to it. She takes care of the ailing Jonathan Harker when he returns from Dracula's castle, she agrees to be the center of the dangerous climax, and she is one of the few characters that Van Helsing shows respect to. She's brave and loyal and not the stereotypical Victorian damsel.

The Phantom of the Opera: Christine Daae

Forget the musical where all she wants to do is cry and hide. In the original Gaston Leroux novel, Christine is trying to be logical and caring while protecting her childhood crush and adult love interest, Raoul. Yes, she has compassion and an interest in the Phantom (a.k.a. Erik). But she is also trying to be in control of her own life and find a way out of the trap her “music teacher” set for her (by tricking her into thinking he was an angel sent by her late father which is a psychological mess I’m just not going to get into). It's she that rescues everyone in the story through sacrifice and kindness, but she also has a will and a mind of her own. Even Raoul cannot control her or make her his little "housewife". In the book, Christine is, for lack of a better word, sassy. She does what she has to do in order to survive and keep others safe without compromising her own opinions.

The String of Pearls: Johanna Oakley

Another example of how the musical differs from the original book. The String of Pearls, later re-titled Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, was a penny dreadful primarily from the point of view of Johanna Oakley, the fiancee of a sailor who asks the help of his friends to find him. We don't know for certain who wrote this story that made the infamous Sweeney Todd and Mrs. Lovett the legends of nightmares and farce. What we do know is that, although not the greatest work in English literature, the fantastical story places the characters in several horrifying situations including the insane asylum and in the clutches of Todd himself. What makes Johanna a badass isn't simply her gathering the characters to help her find out the truth of what happened to her boyfriend, but how she herself finds out. She disguises herself as a boy and takes a job in Sweeney Todd's shop when no one else will investigate. C'mon. For a woman in a novel written in 1846 that's pretty cool.

 

 Pictures: Top Left hand Side: Marian of The Woman in White, Bottom (from left to right): Mina of Dracula, Christine of Phantom of the Opera, Johanna of The String of Pearls

Pictures: Top Left hand Side: Marian of The Woman in White, Bottom (from left to right): Mina of Dracula, Christine of Phantom of the Opera, Johanna of The String of Pearls

Sahuaro Ranch Park

Another Arizona location which will appear in an upcoming FSF Publication is Sahuaro (Saguaro) Ranch Park.

This large piece of land situated between a public library and a community college was, as the name would suggest, a ranch at the turn of the 20th century. Instead of tearing it all out to build a suburban neighborhood (which was the fate of many ranches in the Phoenix area including one that will play a major role in a new book coming out by our own Kira Shay), this one was preserved as a park.

When I was a kid, the playground equipment was pretty lame. It was a lot of concrete tubes and broken swings. However, you came as a kid for list of other reasons.

1) Peacocks. Those beautiful bastards were (and still are) all over the park. They run it, like a long feathered mafia that likes to poop on everything. And they were just too gorgeous not to stare at. It was also fun to watch them peck at the idiot children who got too close.

2) The trees. Holy crap! There were trees! Trees that grew things like oranges and pecans and were perfect for climbing which we all tried to do despite the very clear signs and stern security guards.

3) Snow cones. There was always a dude selling snow cones from a wheeled cart. I’m sure there still is.

4) Crashing a stranger’s wedding. The park is a popular location for weddings due to it’s well-tended rose garden and old fashioned atmosphere. The park was usually pretty good as keeping us kids away from the festivities, but that didn’t mean we didn’t try to take a peak. Interestingly, I would be the maid of honor in a wedding at that park in my adult life, probably being spied on by some kid I didn’t know.

5) The Houses. About 1/3 of the park is made up of the original buildings from the ranch, protected by historical laws. There are two fantastic Victorian style homes, a more common style ranch house, many shed/storage buildings, and an outhouse. I had been in these houses once or twice in my childhood back when tours were rare (now they are a pretty common part of the park’s income). When I was nine or ten, I met a woman who had lived in the house as a little girl. I remember her be a twig, wrinkled and a little bent, ancient to my eyes. She was standing in a room staged to look like that of a little girl and wore a beaded flapper dress. Despite her frail appearance, she snatched my arm and held me in place in order to whisper in my ear, “When I was your age, I had a pony.”

Other than being touched, which was one of my least-favorite things at that age, this somewhat un-nerving meeting made me happy because I was convinced the houses were haunted. Creep little old ladies were perfect for my own imagined ideas of the ranch. My friends and I would run around the houses in circles, peering in windows and marveling at shadows on the floors. I wanted so desperately to see a ghost in those hallways that I even once tried mashing pecans into oranges which had fallen off the trees (you weren’t allowed to pick anything) and left them at offerings. Yeah… I don’t get it either. I was a kid. I think I just assumed that pecans and oranges were a sign of good faith or something.

Honestly, and a little regrettably, I no longer think the park’s historic buildings are haunted. Every few Octobers, the local news will print something about volunteers seeing a man in a suit walking through the orchard or the proverbial “woman in white”. However, considering that they only peddle theses tales when they are good for business, I find them highly suspect. Sorry, nine year old me.

If Arizona or WWII history interests you, order your copy of Fair to Middling by Kira Shay here.

In Defense of The Turn of the Screw

Fine, Henry James! Just fine! You win! I give in! Turn of the Screw is a fantastic ghost story and I will defend it. . . but that doesn't mean I have to like it.

Brief History: Henry James wrote this novella after hearing the story of Hinton Ampner, an English manor that reported at least two ghosts from several occupants before being torn down. The Turn of the Screw is told as a memoir from a now dead (and unreliable) narrator. This narrator is a former governess who had the job of caring for Miles and Flora, the orphaned niece and nephew of a sexy rich man who has no time for them. At a home in the country, far from the uncle, the governess discovers the 2 delightful kids, but is curious as to why Miles has just been kicked out of boarding school. She also learns the cryptic tale of Peter Quint and Miss Jessel, the guardian's valet and kids’ first governess. Prior to their deaths, Quint had managed to worm his way into a scandalous relationship with the upper class Miss Jessel and become a corrupting influence over Miles. The mystery gets darker and darker as the governess starts to realize that the children at times portray secretive, almost adult-like attitudes. She believes she can see the ghosts of Quint and Jessel searching for Flora and Miles. Whether her story is truth or madness within her own head is never told, but I won't spoil the ending beyond that.

Analysis: How do you make creep-tastic children even creepier? Never fully tell the reader why they are creepy. The question stands throughout the story as to whether the ghosts are real or a delusion brought on by Victorian repression. I seriously could not even begin to analyze this story. It's been hashed out a billion times in the last century. Questions of if the ghosts weren't real, why did the children behave the way they did? Were they abused by the previous governess and Peter Quint? And if there were no ghosts, why does the ending occur the way it does? However, if the ghosts aren't supposed to be real, why did James state that he was inspired by a supposedly haunted house? Or maybe it's both - the ghosts are real and the governess is nuts.

Blame It on the Victorians: As a kid, I watched The Heiress with my mom and decided I hated Henry James. Let's face it, at the age of 10 you might not want the jerk to win, but you still want the main character to be happy. As an adult, I realized that James was trying to make a lot of points about women of money and men of morals in his world. He created so many characters who were misused by the people around them in ways that were very common of the time. In Turn of the Screw, you have an intelligent woman who honestly cares about the children in her care, but when she senses something is wrong their uncle won't believe her. The other woman on the property, the housekeeper, at least trusts the main character to a point. Also, so many of James's other novels are straight about society (What Maisie Knew is one of the first books about divorce from the point of view of the kid), but it practically a requirement that all Victorian authors write at least one ghost story. Ghosts were totally in fashion in those decades.

Last Thoughts: There are over 30 TV/Movie versions of this, many under different titles - and I've watched about half of them where it took me 10 minutes to realize that I was watching The Turn of the Screw. . . again.

Character Study: The Typecasting of Vampires

I confess that I tend to stick with older vampires novels then new. Yes, I did read Twilight and, of course, the Vampire Chronicles (Anne Rice- I salute you). However, I get tired of the brooding, sexy vampire. Sorry Angel and Spike. You know I loved you once. 

So here is a list of truly monster ohs blood sucking fiends: 

Lord Ruthven of John Polodori’s The Vampyre is sort of a cheat for this list. Yes, he’s a sexy monster, but he is not brooding. He is a confident and devious hunter who the reader never feels pity for. He had been created the same opium-induced night one of my idols, Mary Shelley, first conceived of Frankenstein and his creature. Rumor has it that Polidori based the predator of women and men upon his “friend” Lord Byron. It makes sense. Both had a habit of using people up for their own pleasures.

Any vampire designed by Gueriermollo del Toro makes this list because they are ugly, gruesome harbingers of death. Enough said. 

Lilith, first wife of Adam from Hebrew mythology, is imagined somewhat vampiric in this bizarre tale by Victorian fantasy writer George MacDonald. The book takes place in a version of purgatory where Lilith feeds of the innocent along with her blood sucking tiger. She is beautiful but seems so awful as to be unredeemable. And yet Adam and Eve who occupy the same the world are in a battle to save her. It’s all very allegorical and philosophical, yet makes Lilith pretty darn scary.

The 1922 silent film Nosferatu introduced the world to Count Orok, the twisted, pointy eared equivalent of Dracula (there was a copyright battle with Bram Stomer’s widow). He is a legendary beast, designed by the oldest vampire folklore. He is not handsome or suave. He is a demon with a plan, not a lovelorn and conflicted baddy. 

The Superstition Mountains and the Elvis Chapel

East of Phoenix is the mountain range of legend. A place of Apache legend, lost gold, and Elvis. 

The Superstitions were once thought by the Apaches to contain a hole to the underworld (which may be why a retirement community was built so close to it). The range is beautiful and popular with hikers, for reasons I will never get. People die or disappear on those hikes all the time. I think it’s the rattlesnakes. They’re more devious than people realize. 

Okay, it’s probably not the rattlesnakes. It’s probably the ghost. That’s right - I said ghost.  

The most famous tale of the mountains (and the main reason so many people get lost up there) is that of the Lost Dutchman Mine. Jacob Waltz (who was German not Dutch but whatever) died in 1891 claiming her had discovered a crud-ton of gold in them thar hills. Gold which no one has ever found. Dun dun duuuuuunnnnn! 

This story is so popular that there is an entire pioneer museum dedicated to it. Okay, the museum is really about the history/geology of the mountains, must most people go for the Lost Dutchman exhibit or the Elvis Chapel.

I kid you not. The museum includes several buildings and equipment from the mining town days of Apache Junctuon, this little white church was moved to the museum strictly because of the role it played in the film Charro! If you go, you may pray as much as you wish to a cardboard cutout of the King of Rock and Roll. If you show true reverence he may grant you a pair of new blue suede shoes.

Both the mountains and the Chapel will play a roll in a new upcoming book from FSF Publications .

 

In Defense of The Pit and the Pendulum

Brief History: Once, a long time ago in a land called the United States, Edgar Allan Poe was reading a very historically inaccurate book about the Spanish Inquisition and thought, “I’m going to put that in a story.” The tale's unnamed narrator describes his trial as a blur and without much detail. The reader does not even learn of what crime he's accused. A majority of the story takes place within his cell, his own private torture chamber. Each time he passes out he discovers new horrors have been added, leading up to the titular pit and the pendulum.

Analysis: This was a horror story not because it was supernatural or spooky, but because Poe described each and every emotion the narrator experienced with such truth. The situation is terrifying the reader experiences the situation alongside the tortured man. Also. . . rats. Rats are gross.

Blame it on the Victorians: This was written in the earliest years of the Victorian era, yet it should be pointed out that this time period was both extremely morbid and not interested in historical accuracy. Poe's people.

Last Thoughts: The Roger Corman movie version written by Richard Matheson and starring Vincent Price really has nothing to do with the original story. . . But I loves it!

Remember: Nobody expects a Spanish Inquisition!

Character Study - Hollywood and Ghosts

For this first list, I'm mainly looking at a couple of ghost films. There's a reason for this. Keep reading and you'll see. Also, I only picked films that as a writer I could also recommend watching for character study reasons.

Hollywood and the history of film in general has a strange relationship with ghost stories. Today we think of ghosts falling into the genre of horror with box office and critical successes like The Conjuring, the Others, and the Sixth Sense. But it was not always like this. 

Ghosts in silent and early talking film were usually comedies. The spirits were slapstick foibles meant to be an excuse for the hero to do silly double takes. This continued into the 1930s and 40s where witty ghosts humorously tortured the only human who could see them such as in the Topper films.

The other type of early ghost films would be more serious mysteries or dramas where the ghost turned out to be a living man in a mask. Think Scooby Doo where the owner of the abandoned amusement park actually kills people. There were naturally some exceptions, but most of those were not from the United States, for example Swedish film The Phantom Carriage (1921) which inspired Ingmar Bergman and Stanley Kubrick to be creepy.

So what changed ghosts from being comic fodder and murderers in masks? In 1941 Irish author Dorothy Macardle published Uneasy Freehold, an atmospheric and eerie ghost story that sold extremely well. Three years later it was made into a film under the U.S. title, The Uninvited. It’s the story of a brother and sister, Ray Miland and Ruth Hussey, purchasing a gorgeous house atop an English cliff. In doing so, they get to know Stella (Gail Russell), the daughter of the people who built the house. She is drawn to the house, even in adulthood, and the new owners must solve a mystery to save her life. 

But this is a character study and I promised you ghosts. What makes The Uninvited a shift in the genre was the way it handled its ghosts - one who cries and one who brings the cold. I don’t want to give away the mystery, but let’s focus on how these 2 ghosts have distinct personalities while barely showing them on screen.

The ghost who cries is, besides clearly being depressed, is established as gentle and having a clear connection to Stella. The ghost who brings the cold is established as violent and bitter. All of this is shown to the audience/reader through actions and sounds, not facial expressions or jump scares.

As a writer, showing instead of telling can be one of the most difficult tasks. But it creates a better bond with the character for the audience. They get to figure out the character on their own and that stirs up emotions. 

The Uninvited is somewhat forgotten now, despite it causing a shift in how to make ghosts scarier and complex without the cornball. Comedy ghost movies were still prominent in the 1940s/50s, but by the 1960s movie goers got goosebumps from films like Carnival of Souls, The Haunting, and The Innocents.

There was one where they combined the two idea: The Ghost and Mrs. Muir (1947), based on the book of the same name (but I confess the movie was better). In this film the ghost is a prominent character who establishes his personality the first time he laughs to frighten potential buyers away from the house he haunts. While this gruff sea captain spirit provides chills at first, he also is a part of the comedy of the story and his relationship with Mrs. Muir, the independent single mom who moved into his house, reveals his softer side. This is not a horror movie, but the ghost is not a joke. He's a former human who still has clear emotions and motivations.

Now let’s get to 1 modern film from a director who was inspired by The Uninvited: Guillermo del Toro ’s Crimson Peak. Again I am only focusing on the ghosts as a character study.

Within the film there are multiple spooks but only some are really given clear personalities. Both are seen on screen, but their character traits are based on what isn’t told outright. The first is the ghost of the former mistress if the house, Lady Beatrice, who had been killed by an ax while taking a bath. She is described as a harsh, strict, and abusive woman, yet this could come across in a description of her ghostly face. The way she sits in the bathtub with wrists up suggests her uptight attitudes. Her only words in the film are accusing and in no way helpful to the main character.

The other ghosts who gets to show some personality are three young women named Pamela Upton, Margaret McDermott, and Enola Sciotti. Instead of explaining their traits as presented in the film, watch it for yourself. Pamela Upton and Enola Sciotti have the most revealed about who they were when they were alive. What character traits do you find?

Have a Nice Trip - See You Next Autumn

Throughout September and October, the Vaughn blogs are going to change-up in honor of that most wondrous of times - the celebration of Halloween.

Some of the blogs will be the In Defense Of theme of the fairy tale blogs, but will focus on ghost stories and horror movies.

The other half of the blogs will be a part of a shameless promotion of a new book coming from FSF Publications, Fable of the Immortals. The book takes place in Arizona at several locations with their own superstitions and creepy stories and there will be blogs about traveling to these spots.

*Side note: There isn't really Autumn in Phoenix. There's slightly cooler weather and by November the wildflowers start to die. If you have some way to send Autumn to us, please do. Most people here think it only exists in Hallmark movies and Joann craft stores.

 

In Defense of Jenny Lind (still a fairy tale topic, I swear)

This is a little change from the usual blog. Recently, many of my friends have been renting the Greatest Showman. I saw this movie in theaters with my boyfriend, who knew I'd want to pick it apart and felt it might be best if I only annoyed him about it. But no. There is one element which I must share my irritation over with the world -  how they portrayed Jenny Lind. *Side note: Even though the movie is a beautiful lie and a fairy tale itself, I do still own the soundtrack because I can never resist Wolverine singing. Ever. It is the weakness some evil villain will find a way to use against me someday, I know it.

Brief History: I am going to keep this super brief, but know that you can find out more through the books at our local library. Jenny Lind (born 1820) was a Swedish Opera singing child prodigy who almost destroyed her career before it began because her parents never thought to get her proper training. Luckily, a teacher stepped up, found her, and saved her voice. In her 20s, she toured Denmark, Germany, England, and Austria where her fame once again sky rocketed. She had several supposed relationship that did not turn out, usually because of her career and travel. The one that will be notable for this blog is one I have mentioned before. Hans Christian Andersen asked her to marry him and was refused, which some historians believed inspired several of his fairy tales (see Nightingale and the Snow Queen for both positive and negative depictions).

In her late 20s/early 30s, Lind was invited to New York by the great humbug himself, P.T. Barnum. I could tell you so much about Barnum right now, so much that would upset the character created by Hugh Jackman, but plenty of blogs and list videos have already been dedicated to that topic. I'm simply going to focus on what he did which effected Lind. First of all, Jenny Lind had never been particularly keen on her own looks. Yet, when she arrived in the U.S., she discovered her own face everywhere. This was because Barnum had advertised her arrival by printing a mask of the "Swedish Nightingale's" face in the newspaper. Seeing so many New York children walking around with a print of her face made her dislike of Barnum start pretty much right away.

Thanks to Barnum's hype of his newest attraction, he had to auction off tickets to her show and the U.S. and Canada developed "Lind mania". Look it up! There are almost a dozen places and objects named after her in North America alone. She hated the publicity, but still agreed to go on tour. After nearly a hundred concerts with Barnum (a lot the money from these that she earned went to different charities she selected), she was so sick of Barnum's crap that she finished the tour on her own with her soon-to-be husband, a pianist named Otto Goldshmidt. When the tour was finally over, she and her husband went back to Europe and only occasionally put on concerts (usually only charitable events because she pretty much invented the celebrity charity concert). Besides still singing, she raised 3 kids and became a singing professor at a college.

Analysis: [SPOILER ALERT FOR THE GREATEST SHOWMAN HERE] So why did I just give you the brief history of Lind's life? For those of you who have seen the Greatest Showman - what did I leave out? What? I forgot that very public kiss she gave Barnum that was reported in the newspapers and almost cost him is marriage? And I didn't mention what a bitch she was when he rebuffed her? THAT NEVER HAPPENED! The man turned her face into a paper mask as a publicity stunt. Would you make-out with someone who did that? No.

Blame it on the Theatre: Where does this myth of Lind and Barnum have a secret attraction come from? For once, Hollywood isn't to blame. Most films about Lind did not make Barnum her love interest. It wasn't until 1980 when a musical called Barnum came out on Broadway starring Jim Dale and Glenn Close (which I have to admit was probably fabulous). The film the Greatest Showman takes many plot points from this production, most notably Barnum falling for Lind, but choosing his wife. It creates great drama, but it does an injustice to Jenny Lind, who is barely remembered now. She was giving, talented, and once the biggest star in the world, but instead an entire generation will remember her as that bitch who almost ruined P.T's marriage to Michelle Williams. Dang it.

Last Thoughts: Despite all of my grousing, I was totally listening to the Greatest Showman soundtrack the whole time I wrote this blog - just not the Jenny Lind song because I hate it.

In Defense of the Nightingale

Brief History: In yet another of Hans Christian Andersen's rare happy ending stories, The Nightingale is about a Chinese emperor who demands a kitchen maid to ask a nightingale to appear in his court, because he was told that the bird's song is the most beautiful thing in his kingdom. He adores and favors the nightingale until someone gives him a mechanical bird that he obsesses over instead, so the real songbird leaves. Years later, the mechanical bird breaks and the emperor is dying, but the nightingale sings to Death personified and the emperor is granted a few more years of life. Some historians believe this was yet another of Andersen's tributes to his unrequited love for the Swedish Nightingale, singer and good-deed-doer Jenny Lind.

Analysis: Bad emperor! Bad! Stop prizing material possessions over mechanical ones. Need I say more?

Blame it on the Victorians: A part of this story may have been inspired by the growing industrialization which had started in England. Machinery was replacing what had been known as "cottage industry" and, although mass production made item easier to make and more affordable, the factories changed living conditions and social-economic issues. It also spread urbanization (which is fun to say - try it), which several of Andersen's fairy tales showed in a negative light. Looking at you, Little Match Girl!

Last Thoughts: The emperor was once played by Mick Jagger. Close your eyes. Imagine the cultural appropriation. The 80s were a confusing time.

In Defense of the Princess Who Never Smiled

Brief History: This is a philosophical Russian tale is about a Princess who literally never smiled. So her father declares that whoever can make her smile will be her husband (clearly, Dad just wanted her somber butt out of the house at that point). Meanwhile, a young working-class man suffered several years of bad luck which had been miraculously turned around by catfish, a mouse, and beetle whom he'd been kind to. While traveling near the castle, he was struck in awe of the princess who was watching him and fell in the mud. His animal buddies came to his rescue and the princess finally laughed. Seriously, imagine this for a moment. You see a fish flopping around on land with a little beetle and a little mouse, but all three are trying to help a grown man out of the mud. Yep. I'd laugh. So he marries her and they have a happy life. In other versions, she amused by the sight of him and his golden goose which causes all greedy people to stick to him, resulting in a conga line. In other versions, she breaks down laughing when she sees him struggling to carry a cow as a part of a promise he made. In 20th Century adaptations, the young man not only acts silly, but also tells the princess her own story which makes her realize just how silly she was as well.

Analysis: The main idea is usually that the man she falls for is not only funny, but kind. It's one of the few fairy tales where the princess ends up with a man who compliments her and makes up for something she was missing in her life. Also, her father seems to want her to be happy, not just use her for political gain. Sweet, but completely unrealistic.

Blame It on the Victorians: The 19th Century loved the German Golden Goose version better, which is probably the most ridiculous version of the tale. Apparently, the Victorians could only enjoy the story of a woman laughing if it was under the most absurd of circumstances. I'm not making bitter assumptions, I swear.

Last Thoughts: In Russia, smile never princesses

Character Study - Bantering

Dialogue is hard. You’d think it would the easiest part of writing, making people express themselves like  they do every time you talk.  But sometimes getting people to say what you want to move the story along is difficult to do naturally. One of the hardest parts of this is if you want multiple characters to talk back-and-forth in a way that the reader can see as quick to the point and sometimes funny. A lot of the time we call this banter which was very popular in movies of the 1930s and 40s. It was a good way to establish certain characters (especially independent and strong willed women in a time of strong social restrictions).

 But the idea of this kind of banter can go back even further and it exists in some books that are excellent examples"

Shakespeare’s "Much Ado About Nothing" includes Beatrice and Benedict,  a pair who both loath and love each other. Many of their quick witted conversations are some of the greatest jokes Shakespeare ever included in any of his plays. The speak back and forth seamlessly, which comes through so clearly in the writing many actors have explained how much fun they are to play. 

Of all the strange examples, Jane Eyre is full of excellent conversations, contemporary of their time. Jane and Rochester are not the pure angst they are usually portrayed as in the movie adaptations. The pair actually fall in love through speaking with one another. Jane is a character who makes her opinions known and Rochester's reactions to her blunt manner are give his character as more than dowdy and mysterious.

In modern writing, one of my favorite all-time writers of dialogue is Jim Butcher. The Dresden Files series is littered with interesting, paranormal characters in an urban setting. Many of the characters are contemporary and must speak in that way, however they also must talk about curses, monsters, and knights. Butcher weaves these topics into everyday speech with great skill and humor.

Lastly, this is no better teacher than your own ears. People watch. Listen. Write down conversations of complete strangers. Nothing will give you better ideas than that.

In Defense of the Fairies

Brief History: This story, most famously recorded by the French Charles Perrault, is about an awful woman with two daughters, one good, one bad. The younger, the good and beautiful daughter, met an elderly woman by the spring while fetching water. The younger daughter helps the woman to get a drink and the woman (who of course was a fairy) grants her the "gift" of spitting out diamonds and pretty flowers when she speaks. Yeah. . . that's what she does for mortals she likes. The awful mother of course insists that her equally awful daughter go get the same "gift", but when the older daughter arrives at the spring she finds a beautiful, richly dressed lady.  When asked for help to get a drink from the rich woman, the older daughter is very rude. This results in the lady (who is of course the same fairy) curses the older daughter with vipers and toads coming out of her mouth when she speaks. Mom decides that this is all her younger daughter's fault and the girl runs away before she could be beaten. A king's son found her, fell in love with all of the precious metals coming out of her mouth, and married her. Meanwhile, the elder daughter died alone in the woods.

Analysis: I know that the roses and jewels are supposed to be metaphorical of the kindness of the younger daughter, but I still say that the fairy was a jerk. How does the girl talk clearly? Would her spitting up of expensive shinies result in an economic inflation? What about the welfare of the snakes and toads coming out of the other daughter's mouth? Or would the number of reptiles being added to the forest population unbalance the ecosystem? The mind boggles.

Blame It on the Victorians: Once again, the Victorians shift the blame to the step-parents. In many later versions, the awful mother becomes the awful step-mother. Because the Victorians couldn't let dad's second wife have a break.

Last Thoughts: Seriously? How was that a gift? I think that fairy was the true villain. . . She's right behind me, isn't she?

*If you want know any of the places where some of my research comes from, just contact me.

In Defense of King Thrushbeard

Um...should I? Probably not. But I’m gonna anyway.  

Brief History: King Thrushbeard is the somewhat confusing German tale of a Mean Girl princess who thinks she’s better than every prince who comes calling. Each suitor she lists in her burn book with every minor flaw. She even insults the only guy she’s attracted to because she says he has a beard like a Thrush (did you see that coming?). Her fed-up father forces her to marry the next man who comes in, a peasant who takes her home to see how the other half lives. The new hubby insists she pull her weight so they can survive, but when she whines and fails at every task given she ends up getting a maid job in a castle. But not just any castle - King Thrushbeard’s castle. Did you see that coming? You did. Oh. Moving on. While working at the castle, the princess learns about suffering and the importance of being kind and decides she’s going to be helpful to her new husband. That having been said, she still has the hots for King Thrushbeard and feels humiliated when she finds out he’s getting married. Her husband shows up in fancy clothes and asks why she’s crying on her wedding day. Yep, her peasant husband was a clean-shaven King Thrushbeard trying to make her a good person. He grows back the beard and she becomes a decent queen. Sometimes it’s switched, where the king wears an even bushier beard as the peasant and shaves at the end of the story, because the beard is a key character.

Analysis: This Taming of the Shrew style story could be looked at in two ways. The first is the morality tale: the 3 ghosts of Heathers past coming to the princess to show her the error of her ways and all that. She goes from being sassy, but spoiled into full Disney princess who talks to mice. However, as several online articles have pointed out, her husband kinda gaslights her. For those of you unfamiliar with the term, gaslighting comes from a fantastic  play/movie about psychological manipulation. Yes, the princess is spoiled, but she was also strong-willed and wanted to be in control. In the end she’s a better person in a lot of ways, but she’s also becomes subservient to her husband. Plus, he did try to start their marriage on a lie. Not healthy. 

Blame it on the Victorians: Like Bluebeard, this was one of those fairy tales the English loved to put on as a Christmas Pantomime (right along classy stuff like Charles Dickens reading out loud from Oliver Twist). If you aren’t recognizing the reasons for the Victorians liking King Thrushbeard, go back to my blog about Bluebeard. 

Last thoughts: King rode through her pottery in one part of the story. I don’t care how much she needed to learn a lesson, no man should mess with a woman’s crafting! 

*If you want know any of the places where some of my research comes from, just contact me.

 

Halloween in June Results

I did it! Had Halloween in June! There were costumes and pumpkins. . . Actually, I couldn't get a decent pumpkin so I just stabbed some holes into the biggest orange I could find. And everyone I know said it was too hot for full costumes, so most people just wore bed sheets over their clothes. Then the cops were called because the neighbors reported that we were having a frat party and throwing candy at their children. The police showed up after we had turned off the lights in order to play with a Ouiji Board. We told the officers that there was nothing to worry about, unless they wanted to help us catch the demon we'd accidentally released. I laughed. The police laughed. The demon laughed. And then I don't really remember what happened after that. But I have to say, based on the way my house looked when I woke up, it must have been successful. Now, if I could just figure out who left behind their hat and severed head.

Character Study - Secondary Characters

Writing good sidekicks, best friends, and minor yet important characters is just as important as your main characters. Still, they fall into stereotypes so often that it sometimes wrecks the original mood of a book. So, here's a list:

Secondary character stereotypes to avoid:  

1. The Sassy Gay Friend: it’s always wonderful to create a diverse world filled with people of all backgrounds, but make then real. They become the comic relief  without any real substance.  This was something started by goofy 80s movies and somehow followed our culture into the new millennium. 

2.  The  Harassing/Overbearing Boss:  We all want to secretly stick it to "the man".  We want to pour our own frustrations from work into our books (yes, Young Skywalker, use your anger). But a character can go very quickly from being the usual boss you love to hate to a full blown character trope. The male bosses all become handsy and the female bosses are all bitches with something to prove. They have no family save for a spouse that everyone pities and no friends.  It’s fine if this character is only appearing for a few key moments within the story but if they are a reoccurring character you need to make them a little more human.

3. The Wise Wizard: Have you ever met a wise magic person? Neither have I? I think writers live this because it’s an easy way to move along a hero’s journey. What is a quest without a wise wizard? Less convenient, but might be a better story. 

4.  Talking Heads & Informative Bookworms: Exposition machines who do nothing by data dump need to be stopped - except Bob in the Dresden Files.

5. The Rogue: Oh, he's so sexy, but you know he's bad. Even Jane Austen managed to make most of her rogues well-rounded, but they can borderline onto soap-opera territory.

6. Muscular Barbarian: Make your characters figure out how to open their own damn doors. The D&D equivalent of the Hulk rarely gets to do much beside the occasional mighty chortle and break something.

7. The Bumbling Sidekick: This is really only acceptable in Disney cartoons or buddy comedies.

If you need some good examples, ask yourself "What the Dickens?" Any secondary characters in any Charles Dickens novel are always good first examples. Dickens created people in his books, not characters. No one, no matter how insignificant to the main plot, was ever purely good or purely evil. Some were very eccentric with ridiculous names, but the all still felt like people you could pass in a busy city in real life.  

And people watching. It's both a great writer's tool and a way to creep out the neighbors you don't want to socialize with anyway.