Sunday, April 26, 2015

Book Review: The Tempest

Title: The Tempest
Author: William Shakespeare
Genre: Play, Comedy, Fantasy, Classics


Once upon a time, Prospero was the Duke of Milan, a man of peace and learning. But he neglected the duties of government, turning them over to his greedy brother Antonio, who desired to be ruler in name as well as action. Conspiring with the King of Naples, Antonio stripped Prospero of his dukedom and set him afloat on a rickety boat with his baby daughter Miranda, hoping they'd sink into the ocean and die.

Twelve years later, Antonio and the King of Naples find themselves on an unhappy sea voyage of their own. Returning from the wedding of the king's daughter, they encounter a tempest of such ferocity it threatens to tear the ship in half. But this storm is not what it seems. In his exile on a strange magical isle, Prospero has mastered sorcery, ensnaring powerful spirits to do his bidding. It is he who has created the tempest. But now that he has his enemies in his power, will he exact his revenge? Or are there other schemes he has in mind?


Shakespeare delivers the storm all right.

The tempest springs at us from the very first page of the play. The wind howls, the ship cracks, the crew screams, and one beleaguered boatswain tries to hold everything together. It is a scene of high action and drama. Yet Shakespeare still has time for comedy. The nobles chose this particular moment to traipse on deck and demand to see the captain. When the boatswain indelicately tells them to get out of the way and let him work, some of the nobles (Antonio, hint, hint) start cussing him out like... well, a sailor. Gorgeously lewd insults go flying right up until the ship seemingly breaks and everyone flies into a panic.

Miranda watches the storm
In the space of about three pages, Shakespeare shows why he's a master writer, combining action, drama, and comedy in an opening scene that hypnotizes the audiences. It's just too bad he couldn't maintain that level of skill. The tempest is actually the highest point of action in the entire play. It could almost be considered the climax--except it happens on page 1.

It didn't have to be this way. In the calm that follows the storm, Shakespeare sets up three different plot-lines. Ferdinand, the king's son, has gotten separated from the rest of the nobles. He sees Miranda and falls in love. But Prospero is determined to challenge that. Meanwhile, the King of Naples is stricken with grief, thinking his son dead. While he makes search of the isle, Antonio calculates that if king and son are dead, there may be an opening on Naples' throne. At the same time, Caliban, the disgruntled slave of Prospero, wants to murder his master and seizes the first opportunity he gets.
Prospero does not approve of Ferdinand
All these plot-lines should have twisted into a perfect pretzel of warm, delicious conflict. Instead, they fizzle and fall flat, like a weary, half-filled two-liter soda bottle three days after a party.

I blame Prospero. The magician is too powerful. His spirits overrun the island, and very little escape their eyes. Still, this wouldn't have been a problem if his character, which started off so dominating, had retained just a little bit of that backbone.

There must have been a deleted scene, halfway through the play, where Prospero hears from one of the spirits that he's only got 24 hours to live. Suddenly, he starts making nice with everyone, forgiving characters that don't need forgiving, and wrapping everything up. By the end of the play, a character who started off chastised powerful spirits is reduced to begging the audience for the applause.
Ariel, one of the many spirits Prospero captures
That's not to say there's nothing to like about The Tempest. The setting is fantastic. The island is a place of wild and strange beauty, where spirits roam free and visions appear. It sparks the imagination. The characters also have potential. Prospero, brought down for being too negligent, reinvents himself as a controlling, powerful wizard. His daughter Miranda, who has grown up with no memory of the world outside the island, has her first encounter with humanity. Caliban--well, I could do a whole rant about him. (And I will.)

The potential was there. Shakespeare just wasted it. Sigh. This is the kind of story that makes me want to write torrents of fanfiction, just to plug up the plot holes and come up with my own, more satisfying conclusion.


The first fanfiction I'd write would center on Caliban. No question about it.

Who is Caliban?
Caliban is the illegitimate son of a deceased witch. That much is clear. What happened next is a matter of opinion. According to Caliban, he was meant to be the rightful ruler of the island until
Prospero tricked him, made him his servant, and confined him to one lonely cave. Prospero claims he raised the orphan Caliban as a son and tried to educate him.

Whichever side you take, the relationship went south when Prospero caught Caliban attempting to "violate the honor" of his beloved daughter, which, according to a modern day translation, means he tried to rape her. Now, watched night and day by Prospero's spirits, Caliban is forced to carry firewood and do other menial tasks. Should he work too slow or complain too bitterly, Prospero will call upon those spirits to deal him a thousand torturous ailments.

As a writer, I can't help but think that Shakespeare created Caliban to fulfill one specific purpose: to make damn sure that the former Duke of Milan and his beautiful daughter didn't have to do one lick of housework. After all, how could we maintain the illusion of the nobles being noble if they had to do chores like the rest of us? (At one point, Ferdinand, the King of Naples' son, is made to carry firewood for half a day and the ways he moans and complains, you'd think he'd been tasked with the Seven Labors of Hercules.) Prospero can ensnare spirits, but, being spirits, they can't interact with the physical world. And thus Caliban is needed.

Is Caliban a monster?

But Shakespeare couldn't have the audience actually feeling sorry for the guy, so he threw at Caliban as many horrible characteristics as would stick. His mother is an evil witch. He's a bastard. He's presumably deformed and smells like a fish. And just in case all these things don't show him to be the bad guy, Shakespeare had him do the one thing that cannot be forgiven: try to rape Miranda.

But now he's gone too far, because there's no way a loving father would allow a rapist to live in the same house his virginal daughter. Still.... someone has to bring in the bloody firewood! Fortunately, Prospero controls powerful magic spirits and orders them to watch Caliban every moment of the day. If Caliban should be lazy or utter an unkind word, the spirits will wrack his body with all sorts of hell-pains. And since Caliban is the bad guy, no one can complain.
Is Caliban evil?

As a modern reader, I find this oddly reminiscent of George Orwell's 1984. Caliban is monitored day and night by an oppressive authority figure; the slightest sign of insolence will get him hooked up to the pain machine, so to speak. Yet unlike Winston, he shows considerable spirit, staring his master in the eye and insulting him to his face. Even Caliban's desire to murder Prospero can be seen as an act of rebellion.

But however sympathetic I am to Caliban's current situation, you can't say he's a good guy; he tried to rape Miranda, after all. The thing is, we don't know anything about the attempted assault. Kindly remember that Miranda's the only female on the island. Maybe Caliban expected her to be his wife; when Prospero refused the union, Caliban took matters into his own hands.

Or maybe it wasn't rape at all. Maybe they genuinely fell in love. Yes, Caliban is described as a monster, but what if the Italians who described him were racist and deciphered his weirdness to be ugly? Of course, Miranda says she hates Caliban, but what if she's just saying that to please her father? What if he's shamed her into thinking that loving this man is wrong? Or, taken a step further, what if the spirits her father employed altered her memory?

Is Caliban misunderstood?
And now you begin to see what I mean about fanfiction? I could easily come up with 4 or 5 scenarios that makes Caliban, if not the good guy, at the very least a Byronic hero. And that's just the backstory. What happens to him after the play, when Prospero releases the spirits and Caliban is finally free? We're left to wonder...

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Weekly Update:4-25-15 Never-Coming Rain, Never-Ending To-Do Lists

This whole week has been teasing us with the possibility of rain. Overcast clouds blew in and squatted in the sky. The temperature dropped below 80. I put on a long-sleeved shirt and dug out my Japanese umbrella from under my bed.

"It's going to rain," my uncle told me on Tuesday. "It's in the forecast."

But Tuesday passed without a drop of water, and Wednesday and Thursday my umbrella stayed dry. Then, on Friday a light patter of rain formed puddles of the sidewalk for about and hour and stopped. And so far that's it. The clouds just sit, while the backyard turns brown and the fountains look like sad concrete pits.

* * *

The first thing I did on Monday was make an impossibly long "To Do" List. It took up an entire page of my yellow legal pad, and that was without adding everyday chores like walking the dogs, making dinner, or emptying the dishwasher. I really didn't think I'd get much done. However, going three days in a row without substitute jobs meant I had extra time to get done the following:

* kept up with Nanowrimo (Currently at 43,000 words)
* read Faust, Part 1 by Goethe
* scheduled Author Visit at Brea Library August 22nd, 11AM, for Michelle Knowlden and I to promote our books
* gave Kaleo (my illustrator) list of errors found in synopsis on the back of the book
* discussed topics for our talk with Michelle
* strategized Book Launch Party (June) with Helen and Kaleo from Brea Library Writer's Club, using suggestions from online
* did a critique for Brea Library Writer's Club, critique for OC Inklings, and Beta read for Michelle
* 2 sub jobs (Mon and Fri)
* worked on blog book review of the Tempest and LA Fest of Books

I don't know if that sounds particularily impressive or not, but for me, it was a lot to accomplish and I'm pretty proud of it. Unfortunately, that barely knocked off half my list, leaving me the weekend to:

* get a sale permit/ certificate of resale, so that I can legally sell my books at my events
* invesitagate alternate distribution options through Ingram's Spark and Quality Books
* start to proof my books for grammar and spelling
* send the library promotional material for their posters of my event
* finish/ post Tempest blog

And that's just the tip of the iceberg. It doesn't include things like grocery shopping for the week, tidying the God awful mess I've made in the living room with all my papers, keeping in touch with family and friends, etc., etc.

The life of a writer, my friends.

Better get to work.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Weekly Update: 4-18-15 Reading and Writing

My proofs came the day after Easter.

The beautiful book feels hefty in my hand. It's real. It's an actual object with my words inside. Granted, it's not the final copy. I still have to go through it one final time for spelling and grammar errors, as well as making some minor changes to the cover.

But having it makes it seem much more urgent for me to get everything ready for the big June release date. My Brea Library Writer's Group has talked to me about throwing a launch party, which I think would be a nice way to celebrate my accomplishment, as well as dip my toe into promotion. I've never even been to a launch party before, let alone thrown one, so this is all very new to me. I'm drawing on my support system, by asking other writers how they throw launch parties and by recruiting people in my writer's club to help me.

* * *

April is Camp Nanowrimo, which means I'm once again tackling 50,000 new words in the space of a month. As per usual, I spent the month before brainstorming and had a vague outline of where I wanted the story to go. Normally, I just use the time to write out sections of The Originals, the sequel to The Changelings. But this month, I decided to try something new with Counterfeit Diamond.

Counterfeit Diamond: When an earthquake causes a tower to collapse, Edda, a poor native urchin, discovers a magical diamond that changes her appearance. Re-creating herself as Diamond, she's able to blend in with the wealthy foreign merchants. But a talking raven knows her secret. Set in magical version of late 18th century Indonesia.

The first week was agony. The second week was a massive pain in the rear end. I was consumed by doubts. Despite having researched the setting on and off since summer, I still felt like I had no idea what I looking at and felt the urge to start researching with a vengeance. Also, the beginning rambled on too long and dealt with themes like racism and colonialism, that nobody wanted to read about, and I didn't particularly want to write about. I couldn't figure out the action scenes. I hadn't developed the raven character. It was all a mess. I could see in my mind the story sucking up all my time, never finding an audience, and being a terrible disaster.

Then, this week, it inexplicably got easier. Maybe it was because, after boat loads of set-up, I finally got to the good part or maybe I just let go of expectations. I'm at about 33,000 words, right where I need to be, and I have no idea where the story is going, but that's not the point. I stopped angsting and just wrote and it seemed to get easier after that.

* * *

Or maybe Shakespeare helped me to write.

Preparing for this summer's Shakespeare by the Sea production schedule, I decided to read The Tempest. Well, that was part of the reason for reading it. I was also feeling stupid, which is a natural hazard when you sub for high school students. I kept thinking, back when I was in high school, in addition to reading all the assigned books, I found time to squeeze in classics like Dracula, Wuthering Heights, Lost Horizon, The Ox-Box Incident, The Man and the Iron Mask, and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. And what had I read this year? Practically nothing.


Reading put me in a dreamy mood. I wanted to write Shakespeare fanfiction and I did (oddly, about Romeo and Juliet). Initially, I felt guilty for dropping my preordained writing schedule and indulging in a spontaneous flight of fancy. But I think Shakespeare re-wired my brain, because after that, I became more focused and passionate about my writing and the rest of the week proceeded smoothly and productively.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Weekly Update: Easter Family Reunion

It felt strange being back at home again, even if it was only for three days.

By the time I arrived in Victorville on Thursday night, everyone was already there. My sister-in-law Shantel had flown in from Oklahoma to visit her grandfather before he died. She'd brought her one year-old-son Tyson, whom I'd seen twice before in all my life. I wanted to spend time with him, but so did everyone else.

My sister Jaime and her wife Paola drove in from Seattle, bringing their new dog Selina in tow. The black fluffy chow mix made fast friends with toy poodle Lincoln and formed an uneasy alliance with the old pitbull Shadow. While the dogs slept in the yard, Tyson ran around the house with Jaime and Paola, having already made friends with them. My mom, of course, had fallen in love with her new grandbaby. I had to somehow squeeze myself into the mix.

Selina sleeps through all the fuss.
I wanted to spend time with the adults, too. But Shantel was caught between funeral arrangements and meeting old friends. Jaime and Paola were constantly going back and forth between their two families. Mom was running all over the place, and Dad was trying to get everyone committed to a single activity (ultimately failing). Sometimes it felt like our family was pulling apart like taffy, literally stretching to accommodate the different geography. It was hard to realize that I was now on the periphery, instead of in the center.

But, you know, right as I was at the height of feeling frustrated and miserable, I just chased around the baby and the new dogs. And that helped me feel like part of the family again. This Easter weekend had moments of stress, moments of frustration, moments nostalgia, moments of laughter, and moments of peace. In the end, it was all about family.

* * *

We knew Tyson was probably too young to dye Easter eggs, but we'd already bought the egg dye and we had nothing better to do. I went to work boiling fifteen eggs. (Or rather, sticking them in a pot of water on the stove and forgetting them until Dad yelled that the pot was boiling over.) There were six adults and one little baby, so I reasoned we'd each have about two eggs each.

Unfortunately, Tyson decided that all the eggs were his. He grabbed them and dropped them into plastic cups.

Sometimes Tyson dyed two eggs at once.
The dyes splashed on the table. Jaime had the enviable task of both holding Tyson up and trying to clean the mess with a white cloth that very quickly became multi-hued. The whole time, Tyson stared at the eggs with the intense expression of a tortured artist.

It was also Paola's first time dying eggs. Not that Tyson cared. He took her still-drying eggs from their cardboard holder and dunked them into new colors with his bare hands. I managed to protect my one egg that I'd patterned with bunny heads. But almost everyone else fell prey to Tyson's artistic vision.

Admittedly, his eggs came out looking pretty good.

* * *

For the last two weeks, Mom kept telling me we'd have to figure out what to do for our Easter meal, but the conversation never progressed beyond that point. Suddenly it was the Saturday before Easter, and we needed to go grocery shopping. Mom was harried.

"Make a brunch menu,"she told me as she ran out the door. "Ham!" she added as an afterthought. So, aside from the dead pig centerpiece, I had complete creative control over our meal, which is, honestly, just the way I like it.

That was how, at 6:30, before I'd even gotten dressed or made my morning coffee, I found my self finger-deep in sticky dough, rolling out homemade chocolate scones. They came out warm from the oven and everyone ate them as a kind of pre-brunch snack--including Baby Tyson.

I think he approved!
But I had only just begun to cook.

My Easter brunch menu included blueberry crunch coffee cake, made-to-order omelets, French toast, the obligatory ham, scalloped potatoes, and both fruit and vegetable salad. The vegetable salad was a simple mixture of spinach, cucumbers (soaked in salt water to take out the bitterness), and sliced orange and red bell peppers, with optional toppings of almonds and dried cherries and a Bordeaux cherry vinegarette. (I used the thick, syrupy vinegar I bought at Taste It!) I mixed blueberries, kiwi, mango, mandarin oranges, and pineapple to make a rainbow-hued fruit salad.

The Fruits and Flowers of my Labor
Somewhere in between sticking the potatoes in the oven and mixing up the salad dressing, I took a detour outside into the brisk morning air, maneuvered around scampering puppies, and picked the biggest roses from my dad's garden for the centerpiece. (I considered picking the irises, but only two were blooming and I didn't want to cut them.) I accessorized the table with two eggs (one stone, one hard-boiled) and crystal glasses with napkins inside made to mimic the flowers' shape. It was simple, but very spring-like.

It took 4 hours to prepare this elegant feast and all of about 20 minutes to consume it. This didn't bother me, though. I had fun playing restaurant and I think I pulled off a pretty darn good brunch. And the best thing was that Mom and Dad happily did the dishes, leaving me with all the cooking fun and none of the clean up.

* * *

My brother Tyler, who's in the army, had been in the field for the last few weeks, making communication impossible. So when his name showed up on Mom's cell phone Saturday night, it was a bit of a surprise. Mom was brushing Tyson's teeth, but as soon as she'd learned I was talking to Tyler, she yanked the phone out of my hand mid-sentence and unceremoniously left me with the baby. (Who, by the way, promptly grabbed my toothbrush and popped it in his mouth.) Tyler said he'd take a plane to Victorville. We'd see him for Easter.

He came in the middle of the afternoon, still in his fatigues and looking very brown-baked from the sun. We got about five minutes to talk to him before Shantel grabbed him to take him to her grandfather's wake. While Tyler would be home for a couple more days, I was going down the hill.

"See you in two years," my brother said.

Sadly, it wasn't a joke. Tyler's scheduled to be stationed for Korea for at least a year, possibly two. And since it was hard to visit him in his base in Oklahoma, this was it. We hugged and said goodbye and that was all. The brief family reunion had come to an end.