Thalia’s Musings 4 update

Hey, everyone! Just wanted to let you know that I haven’t dropped off the face of the earth, and that I’ve started drafting the fourth and final volume of Thalia’s Musings.

Thalia's Musings
Image © 2012 Amethyst Marie

I’ll keep you posted with progress reports, release date estimates, etc. as I go. I want to get this volume to you guys as soon as possible, but I also want to make sure I give it the time and attention to detail it needs. Thalia is, after all, the Goddess of Happy Endings, so her series deserves the best ending I can give it. Looking forward to sharing it with you!

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Black Friday sale alert!

This Friday, November 28th, all Thalia’s Musings ebooks on Kindle and NOOK will be marked down to $0.99! Share the good news about our Lady and Muse Thalia with all your book-loving friends this holiday season! For those without e-readers, there are free Kindle and NOOK apps that will work on whatever device you’re using to read this blog post.

 

Click either of these images to go to the Thalia’s Musings “Shop” page, where you’ll find all the links you need. To my American readers, have a great Thanksgiving and a safe and sane Black Friday! To everyone else, enjoy watching America at its craziest!

So, I finally binge-watched Carmilla

This was supposed to be my Halloween post. I’ve actually gotten a few requests to review this literary vlog series. I kept putting it off because I knew once I got started, I’d want to watch the whole thing in one sitting. I was right. First, a little background on the source material.

Funeral, illustration by Michael Fitzgerald for Carmilla in The Dark Blue, January 1872. Image via Wikipedia.

Carmilla is a vampire novella by J. Sheridan Le Fanu that predates Dracula by twenty-six years. Aside from its place in the history of the horror literary genre, it’s noteworthy in that it features a tragic romance between the eponymous female vampire and the human female narrator. This isn’t subtext speculation or revisionist history. It’s right there in the 1871 text.

She used to place her pretty arms about my neck, draw me to her, and laying her cheek to mine, murmur with her lips near my ear, “Dearest, your little heart is wounded; think me not cruel because I obey the irresistible law of my strength and weakness; if your dear heart is wounded, my wild heart bleeds with yours. In the rapture of my enormous humiliation I live in your warm life, and you shall die–die, sweetly die–into mine. I cannot help it; as I draw near to you, you, in your turn, will draw near to others, and learn the rapture of that cruelty, which yet is love; so, for a while, seek to know no more of me and mine, but trust me with all your loving spirit.” And when she had spoken such a rhapsody, she would press me more closely in her trembling embrace, and her lips in soft kisses gently glow upon my cheek. – Carmilla, Chapter IV

So, yeah. Basically Carmilla was Twilight for Victorian girls if Edward was a woman and died at the end. It’s one of my favorite classical guilty pleasures. Laura’s intense attraction to Carmilla coupled with her fear and frustration at having these feelings in the first place is written as effectively as any Austen heroine’s. Although Carmilla meets the tragic end that all monsters must in classic Gothic horror, she’s a remarkably sympathetic character. One easily gets the impression that, contrary to Proto Van Helsing’s slander, her feelings for Laura become true love, not the inhuman lust she’s accused of. The end leaves it nearly certain that, despite Laura’s participation in Carmilla’s death, Carmilla’s forbidden love was returned:

It was long before the terror of recent events subsided; and to this hour the image of Carmilla returns to memory with ambiguous alternations–sometimes the playful, languid, beautiful girl; sometimes the writhing fiend I saw in the ruined church; and often from a reverie I have started, fancying I heard the light step of Carmilla at the drawing room door. – Carmilla, Chapter XVI

Carmilla the webseries replaces the Gothic castle of the original with a modern-day college campus. If you think “lesbian coed vampires” sounds like a great premise for a porno, you’re going to be disappointed. If you think it’s a great premise for a modern update that keeps all the elements that made the original novella awesome while updating the elements that have thankfully changed with the times, you’re going to love this webseries as much as I do.

carmilla and laura
Natasha Negovanlis as Carmilla, and Elise Bauman as Laura.

My first question about this update was how they’d handle the lesbian stuff. The answer is “Very well.” Although the mostly-female cast is certainly good-looking, the show obviously wasn’t shot or staged for the male gaze. The writing makes you care more about whether Laura and Carmilla will fall in love than whether they’ll make out. Laura’s queerness is taken for granted, not played for angst or drama. The same goes for the other queer characters. I say “queer” because the writing doesn’t specify whether any of these young women are lesbian or bi. No one in-universe seems to care. Nor does anyone find it shocking or incredulous that platonic friendships exist between queer women, or between queer and straight women. (Actually, I’m not sure any of these women are straight. But there are definitely women who are close to each other and don’t seem like they’re ready to make out the second you turn your back, something plenty of shows with supposedly all-hetero casts can’t get right.)

My second question was how they handle the vampire stuff. (SPOILERS AHEAD.) This Carmilla is indeed an actual vampire. Her backstory is nearly the same in this series as in the original novella. And, like any good postmodern monster, she can and does choose whether to use her curse for good or evil. In this incarnation, she’s covertly helping the young women she’s supposed to lure to her dark mistress. Which was always my theory about the original. Think Snape as a double agent for the Death Eaters. Now that I think of it, that’s a pretty good way to sum up this Carmilla. She’s FemSnape.

My third and most important question was whether Carmilla and Laura would live (or un-die) happily ever after in this version. I don’t have a definitive answer for that yet since the series is still running, with updates every Tuesday and Thursday. But the way the first 31 episodes have gone, I’ll be surprised and heartbroken if they don’t.

Want to check it out for yourself? Click here to go to the YouTube page, or watch the complete playlist embedded below. Click here to read the full text of the original novella on Gutenberg, available in-browser or as a free e-reader download.

10 Books That Made An Impression On Me

You’ve probably seen this challenge on Facebook already – list 10 books that have made an impression on you. When one of my friends tagged me last weekend, I decided to narrow it down to ten by focusing on books that I feel have influenced me as a writer. Here’s what I came up with, listed roughly in the order in which I first read them. All images link to listings on Barnes & Noble’s website. Continue reading “10 Books That Made An Impression On Me”

The Fire Wish: Scheherazade Meets The CW

Reviewing Royal last week put me in a YA fantasy mood. Hence this review of The Fire Wish, a new release by debut author Amber Lough. TL;DR – You’re either going to love it or hate it. I loved it.

The Fire Wish (Jinni Wars #1), by Amber Lough. Click image for Amazon listing.

The Fire Wish is about two teenage girls in a mythical version of ancient Baghdad who switch places with each other. Jasmine Zayele is a reluctant princess who wants to escape an arranged marriage. Ariel Najwa is a Jinn spy-in-training fascinated by the human world and its inhabitants. If this sounds too cheesy to you, abandon hope all ye who enter here. If you’re as much of a sucker for this kind of story as I am, grab your long skinny fork thing and join me at the fondue fountain.

My favorite thing about this book is the Jinni world Lough has created. I’m not as familiar with Middle Eastern mythology as I’d like to be, so I can’t tell how much is adapted from that and how much is Lough’s own imagination. But it’s pretty obvious that the Jinni spy headquarters is influenced by Lough’s experience in US military intelligence. There are intelligence files, security clearance levels, walls filled with magic screens, and, of course, secret missions. Najwa, the Jinn spy candidate, was the more interesting of the two protagonists to me, though ironically she spends most of her time exploring the surface and trying to become Part Of Our World. Najwa could be the only protagonist and I’d still want to read this book.

Not that I don’t like Zayele; it’s just that her story starts out way more familiar. She’s a plucky tomboy in a patriarchal society that wants her to be a proper lady and marry the nice prince her family picked out for her. To be fair, she has some legit reasons for not wanting to get married. She’s still a few months away from her sixteenth birthday, and marriage would mean leaving her blind brother at home without her care. And, hey, it doesn’t matter if a guy is a prince, a musician, a scientist, and a total hottie. If a girl isn’t interested, she isn’t interested. Move along.

Is it really a spoiler that Najwa is interested? Or that Zayele ends up falling for the ripped, leather-clad, Special Ops Jinn-next-door that Najwa totes friendzoned? It’s predictable, but it works. Prince Kamal is a great match for cautious, curious, scholarly Najwa. Atish, the Shaitan warrior, is everything impulsive, decisive, headstrong Zayele could want in a guy.

But, cute pairings aside, The Fire Wish manages to avoid being a romance novel disguised as a fantasy. Most of the focus is on the war between the humans and Jinni, how people think the war started vs how it really did, and both sides’ behind-the-scenes efforts to gain the upper hand. It’s an intriguing setup, and I’m looking forward to seeing what happens with the Jinni War in the inevitable sequels.

If a made-for-the-CW magic carpet ride sounds like your idea of a good time, click the image above or this link to enter A Whole New World.

Green Gables Fables: Anne Shirley, Vlogger

It seems The Lizzie Bennet Diaries has started a trend. Vlogs based on classic literature and starring cute redheaded girls seem to be popping up everywhere. The latest one to suck me in is based on the series that pretty much defined my adolescence, Anne of Green Gables.

Anne Shirley, 17-year-old Canadian foster kid and vlogger

It’s remarkable how very little about the original story is changed in Green Gables Fables. Anne is an orphan who’s spent most of her life in neglectful foster homes. She’s just been taken in by Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert, a middle-aged brother and sister who’d asked for a boy and got Anne because of a clerical error. Anne clashes with Marilla’s best friend, Rachel Lynde. She goes to a new school and meets lots of new friends and frenemies, including a boy named Gilbert Blythe. She bonds quickly with Matthew and slowly but surely with Marilla. And she’s obsessed with her BFF, Diana Barry.

It all translates really well with a few modern updates. The series, of course, is ostensibly Anne’s vlog. Her epic fight with Rachel Lynde happens over an insensitive tweet. Diana meets Anne through Tumblr, a setting which makes their occasional lapses into Victoriana and referral to each other as “bosom friends” seem oddly believable. The infamous slate broken over Gilbert Blythe’s head is a magnetic locker board (thank God it wasn’t a tablet!).

What really sells this webseries is that it keeps the heart of the books. Anne Shirley is exactly as Anne Shirley should be. She’s a charming, talkative, nerdy, melodramatic, imaginative kid who’s been dealt some really bad luck, but who continually rises from the depths of despair to find kindred spirits who will love her as she is and to make the world a little more like she imagines it.

And she prefers to be called Cordelia.

Want to check out Green Gables Fables? Click here to go to the YouTube channel, or watch the playlist below.

Update for Unraveled

Unraveled (Thalia's Musings, Volume Three)
Unraveled (Thalia’s Musings, Volume Three)

Unraveled (Thalia’s Musings, Volume Three) has been sent out to my wonderful volunteer beta readers. Well, “volunteer” might be less accurate than “hand-picked and drafted.” But anyway, I can’t tell you guys how excited I am that the book is finally at this stage! Due to numerous real-life complications, it’s taken me about a year longer than I’d originally intended. I appreciate my readers’ loyalty and patience.

Keep watching for release dates, cover reveals, and all that. 😀

Thug Notes Be All Up In Y’alls Librizzle. Word.

Yo. This here Sparky Sweets, PhD. Join me as I drop some of da illest classical literature summary and analysis that yo ass ever heard. Educate yo self, son.

~ Thug Notes Facebook Page

Gentle readers, this week it is my pleasure to introduce to you a charming and insightful program devoted to bringing classic literature to the masses, aptly entitled Thug Notes.

Promo for review of The Hobbit. Image via Facebook.

Each episode of this webseries opens with a stately, elegant theme reminiscent of Masterpiece Theater. We join Sparky Sweets, PhD (played by co-writer Greg Edwards) in an elegant library filled with timeless literary classics. In the first half of the episode, Dr. Sweets summarizes the selected volume for his gentle viewers. In the second half, he delivers a brief yet impressively thorough analysis of the book’s themes and literary background, highlighting key quotes from the book and sometimes its literary influences onscreen. All of this is accompanied by delightful stick figure composite animated illustrations. The highlight, of course, is that with the exception of verbatim quotes, Dr, Sweets’ reviews are conducted entirely in the vernacular commonly associated with organized crime in urban America, i.e. “gangsta.”

Selected volumes may include  classic fantasy like The Hobbit, in which dwarves enlist the aid of Bilbo Baggins because “some dragon be shackin’ on their turf,”

Greek epics like Homer’s Odyssey, in which “[Bleep] be gettin’ real up in the kingdom of Ithica,”

Or even romances like Pride and Prejudice, in which Dr. Sweets says of Mrs. Bennet, “I ain’t sayin’ she a gold digger, but Bingley sure as hell ain’t no broke [bleep].”

You may recall me mentioning that the stereotyping of persons of Latin American ancestry as “thug” or “ghetto” is a cause of exceeding great displeasure to me. Such stereotyping is no less displeasing when applied to Americans of African ancestry. However, when a negative stereotype is satirized and subverted by a skilled comedian, that is quite another matter. Edwards and his co-writers are evidently people of excellent intellect, education, and refinement, a fact made all the more prominent by Sweets’ exaggerated thuggish persona. While the language and at times the subject matter of these reviews are unsuited for the workplace, Thug Notes are a worthy pursuit if one wishes to combine education with entertainment. Click here to peruse them at your leisure.

Concerning (Girl) Hobbits: 5 Gender-Flipped Classics

“Book” by Sam Howzit. Image via Flickr.

Last month, Slate writer Michelle Nijhuis wrote about reading The Hobbit aloud to her 5-year-old daughter and, at her daughter’s request, making Bilbo a she instead of a he. Nijhuis had some interesting observations and insight about the way male and female leads are often portrayed in fiction, and about how imagining the same character with a gender reassignment can provide some balance.

I found out about the Slate piece this past weekend because of this article in Barnes and Noble’s blog, in which Kat Rosenfeld speculates about gender-flips in other classic novels. Since I’m bored and I can’t think of anything else to write about this week it struck me as a thought-provoking writing exercise, I’ll play along.  Here are five literary classics I’ve reimagined with some switches in preferred pronouns. Unlike Rosenfeld’s list, I’m imagining these stories with absolutely nothing changed except the gender of one or more major characters.

1. PRIDE AND PREJUDICE
Who gets flipped? The whole cast

Continue reading “Concerning (Girl) Hobbits: 5 Gender-Flipped Classics”