Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Review of the movie Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part I

First some overall comments that do not include spoilers.

I thought this was one of the best adaptations of the series to the screen. I am glad they chose to split the story into two movies because the plot in the seventh book is so intricate that to try and condense it into a standard movie length story would oversimplify things to the point of eliminating the magic of the story.

If you have not read the series, the movie will probably confuse you. My husband has seen all the movies, but never read the books and he was confused by the movie. I had to explain some details about Horcruxes that I know were explained in the previous movie, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, (HPB), but that he probably forgot or maybe never really understood.

So if you are a casual fan of the series and have not read the books, I recommend seeing it with someone who has read all the books. They will then be able to explain things afterward to help you understand those things you missed.

Overall the special effects are wonderful and appear seamless. The tone of the movie is brooding and dark, but there are touches of humor to lighten the mood at times. There are odes to the darkness of World War II and attempts at race purification.

The acting is great and some of the stellar British actors involved in the series shine even when they have few lines and only a few moments onscreen. The child actors have grown into their parts and no longer appear uncomfortable in their roles.

After this point, I will be discussing aspects of the movie and for those who do not want to read spoilers, please stop reading this post now.


Movies by their nature as a visual medium are different than books as a vehicle for storytelling. Things that might need pages of description in a book can be conveyed with a few frames in a movie. There were many condensing of events to speed things along. For example, the death of Hedwig was done differently than in the book, but it worked and streamlined the narrative. Other examples of introducing information quickly was a line by Bill Weasley of being attacked by Fenrir Greyback, (since that event was not included in the movie version of HBP), and the radio news mentioning that Severus Snape was the newly appointed headmaster of Hogwarts.

I especially liked one of the beginning scenes where Hermione gave her parents a memory charm and erased her own image from family photographs. It was a sacrifice that moved me to tears.

The Seven Harry Potters scene included some great bits of physical humor. The twins, Fred and George, were only on screen for a short while, but they stole every scene they were in. I particularly liked Saint George quietly sipping his tea while watching his little sister kissing Harry Potter in the kitchen.

The scenes in Grimmauld Place were creepy as I expected. I do wish however, that we had been able to see the transformation of Kreacher after being given Regulus' locket. I thought that was one of the most touching aspects of the whole series.

Imelda Staunton gave another cloyingly evil performance as Dolores Umbridge. I also liked the casting of Nick Moran as Scabior. He looked dangerous and had a Bad Boy look about him which made him ever so watchable.

The one thing that bugged me about the sequence at the Ministry of Magic was the delay of the Trio leaving the building once their Polyjuice Potion disguises wore off. Yes, it was funny that Ron Weasley had a woman who thought he was her husband and she wouldn't let him leave. However, Harry was standing there without anything covering his face and didn't try to disguise himself. Really? Come on. He's Undesirable #1, he's in the belly of the beast and is just waiting for his friend to extricate himself from a woman's arms? Really?

I had to re-read that passage and realized that the effects of the Polyjuice Potion held until after they left the Ministry. :shakes head: So that's one scene I don't really understand the different choices made by the screenwriter and director.

I mean, the Trio should be practicing CONSTANT VIGILANCE. Harry should have covered his face and pretended to cough. He should cough enough to get people to want to avoid him, but not enough to bring unwanted attention to himself.

The splinching worked, but my husband was wondering what "splinching" meant. I had to whisper the explanation to him.

I liked Xenophilius Lovegood, his strange house and the animation sequence telling the story of the Three Brothers. I thought that worked well. The animation reminded me of the Tim Burton style.

I loved the scenes in Malfoy Manor where Lucius Malfoy looked like a broken man. His choice years ago to become a follower of Voldemort had taken its toll. He was now a prisoner in his own home with unwanted guests that he could not evict.

Tom Felton as Draco also looked as if he regretted becoming a Death Eater. He had followed his father's footsteps, but there were signs that he did not like what was happening. The Evil was just a bit too much for him. Or so it seemed.

I was glad to see Dobby once again. He had been a part of other books, but this was his first reappearance in a movie since Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. Dobby was one of my favorite characters. He was odd, but fiercely loyal to Harry Potter. The one thing I did not understand was the clothing he wore. Dobby was a free elf. He should have been wearing something other than a nasty pillowcase. He could worn a flower print shirt, a strange necktie, and paisley printed shorts. Instead they just gave him clunky shoes to wear to designate his free elf status. Bah! Dobby was free, he deserved clothes.

Beyond that minor wardrobe related criticism, I loved the scenes with Dobby. He was a great character who helped rescue Harry and his friends. The death of Dobby was something that made me cry both in the reading of the book and in the movie. His sacrifice on behalf of Harry Potter was touching.

I am glad that the movie ended there as well as Voldemort grave robbing from Dumbledore's tomb. It shows where both sides in the war are at this point in time. It will also allow for the action/adventure sequences of Gringotts, Aberforth's confessions about Dumbledore, Snape's death and deathbed memories, the sacrifice in the Forbidden Forest as well as the ending duel to be shown in detail for great cinematic glory. Part II should be a wonderful ending to a marvelous series.

For those who are just fans of the series, I would love to hear your thoughts on the movie in the comment section.

SHIPPING Thoughts from a recovering Harry Potter addict

Now onto the matter of Harry and Hermione's relationship in this film. For those who were not a part of the online Harry Potter fandom, you will not understand how a movie scene that was not in the book could be potentially controversial.

It is only because I was a part of the fandom and participated in the online debates that I realize the dance scene could be like chum to sharks. It is likely to set off a feeding frenzy. The most vituperative subject of debates in the online fandom dealt with romantic relationships, also known as "shipping."

I looked at it as a communal attempt at in-depth literary analysis. It was not the passive writing a paper for a professor and hoping to get a good grade. No, it was putting forth your thoughts in public and having others challenge your assumptions and then offer up their own theories. Sometimes it was just getting kudos or cyber stinkbombs sent your way.

I argued on behalf of the Harry/Hermione ship. I also argued that I welcomed a Love Triangle between the Trio. That was something many Ron/Hermione shippers simply did not want to contemplate. They thought it would be too painful and that Harry wouldn't want to risk hurting his friend Ron.

I feel that love triangles can be powerful dramatic constructs. It has inherent conflict in its structure. There had been so many other love triangles used in the series that having a love triangle between Harry/Hermione/Ron seemed inevitable.

As it turns out, I was right. Jo Rowling used a Love Triangle within the Trio and it worked well, both in the book and in the movie. Ron was certainly jealous at the thought of Harry and Hermione becoming a couple. It showed on his face with black circles under his eyes when he wore the cursed locket around his neck and saw them talking together. Later, when he was challenged by Harry to destroy the Horcrux his fears were demonstrated by the torturous images shown by a piece of Voldemort's soul depicting his friends in a compromising position. Something that would drive him mad and perhaps make him use the sword against Harry and not the locket.

All of that was in the canon. However, there was a scene in the movie that was not in the book and it surprised me.

The Dance Scene.

Ron stormed off and left Harry Potter for his search for Horcruxes, Hermione chose to remain behind and not leave with Ron. Harry and Hermione are alone in a tent and are listening to music on a radio. Harry coaxes Hermione to join him in a dance. At first it is a light and breezy dance, a little awkward in the steps, but it ends with them in an embrace.

They could have easily kissed at that point. Hermione looked as if she considered kissing Harry then deliberately avoided succumbing to that temptation.

As I was sitting in the theater, I could not help but think how upset the Ron/Hermione shippers I had debated all those years ago would be with that scene. All it would have taken was one kiss and then the pairings Would Have Changed Forever. Harry would have realized that the woman for him was not his best friend's little sister, but his other best friend who had been by his side through countless adventures. A woman who had saved his life several times and had shown unwavering loyalty and sacrifice on his behalf.

There are countless number of Harry/Hermione fanfics that are nothing more than finding some kind of excuse to get them alone together so they can discover that they are attracted to one another. One kiss and then fade to black or possibly NC-17 territory. It all depends on the fic writer and what their intent is on writing the story of them becoming a couple.

In this case, if they had kissed it would probably have led to them being in bed together. These were two teens with raging hormones were alone together where no one could hear them, see them, or find them. They were also under the ever present threat of being found, captured and killed. That kind of wartime stress has led to many quick romances. In this case it would have been for two best friends discovering their attraction to one another. It would have changed the romantic pairings forever. It would also have been Ron's greatest fear when he destroyed the locket: Hermione had chosen Harry over him.

Another thing that surprised me about the movie was seeing Jo Rowling's name in the credits as a producer. She could easily have had that scene removed from the movie if she wanted. She had given a note to the screenwriter in HBP when there was a bit of dialogue of Dumbledore reminiscing of a long-lost girlfriend that said, "Dumbledore is gay." That nixed those proposed lines.

Rowling allowed the dance scene showing the possibility of Harry and Hermione becoming a romantic couple to remain in the movie. Why?

Was it a bone for Harry/Hermione shippers?

Or was it included because it was good drama?

I believe it was the latter, because I believe in the power of drama.

I am also certain that some stalwart Ron/Hermione shippers will find that scene offensive because of their years of arguing against H/Hr. That would make them not want to see even subtle hints of that romantic pairing.

Jo Rowling admitted in an interview published in Melissa Anelli's book Harry: A History that it could have gone Harry/Hermione.

"Now, the fact is that Hermione shares moments with Harry that Ron will never be able to participate in. He walked out. She shared something very intense with Harry. So, I think it could have gone that way." Page 266

Precisely. We were not delusional at all. We saw the romantic potential that could have been.

And now, there is even a poll (totally non-scientific) by MTV to see whether or not people wished it had gone H/Hr over R/Hr.

As I am writing this, H/Hr is winning.

Last night my twelve year old son asked me why Jo Rowling went with Ron and Hermione as a couple when he thinks that Harry and Hermione would have made a better couple. I sighed and then had to try and explain to him that Jo Rowling was using literary alchemy as the underlying framework for her story. Therefore Harry's girlfriends had hair color that went in the following sequence: black, white, red. (Cho, Luna - they did have one little date in HBP, Ginny) This was supposed to reflect the three stages of alchemy in order: nigredo, albedo, rubedo.

Hermione had brown hair, so she didn't fit in that schema.

Instead, Hermione was supposed to represent the element mercury and Ron was sulphur, both are needed in the alchemical formula to create gold.

For those shaking their heads, I point you to my friend John Granger's capable hands in understanding the usage of alchemy throughout the series. It was something I didn't want to acknowledge as constraining Rowling's dramatic choices, but as it turns out: John's original assumptions and predictions of Harry/Ginny and Ron/Hermione were spot on because those pairings work alchemically.

In case you were wondering, my son shook his head at my explanation. It wasn't what he wanted to hear.

What are your thoughts of the movie? Did that dance scene delight or bother you?


Tuesday, August 31, 2010

In Memory of Edward F. Dolan

Edward Francis Dolan, Jr.
February 10, 1924 - August 12, 2010

Over the years I have met many writers. Some work on their craft for years before achieving any publishing success. Some are published, but continue to work "day jobs" and dream of one day being able to work full time as a writer.

And then there was Ed Dolan.

He lived an extraordinary life. His first paid publication was an article when he was only sixteen years old. After serving as an infantryman in World War II, he returned home to California with a bride from England.

Edward and Rose Dolan

Ed wrote articles, short stories, and was an editor of a magazine for awhile. He wrote and performed approximately 800 television programs in San Francisco. His character named "Buckskin Dan" was popular in the 1950s.

Ed was chairman of the Speech Department at Monticello College in Illinois for awhile, and later taught English at Golden Gate University and at a private high school. He also was an award winning reporter for the Novato Advance newspaper.

In 1958, his first book was published, but not before tragedy had struck. A fire had destroyed the manuscript he had worked on for two years. He had to re-write the entire book from scratch.

Ed found his true calling in writing Hi-Lo juvenile books. High interest, low vocabulary books for reluctant readers. It soon occupied all his time and he had to give up teaching.

In the span of about fifty years, Ed Dolan had 120 books published.

One hundred and twenty books.

Five of them were published this last September. It was a series about careers in the military. Each branch had their own volume.

Ed was known as a 9-to-5 workman. If you wanted it, he would write it. He wrote nonfiction that encompassed a wide range of topics: sports biographies; biographies on historical figures; historical events; books on controversial topics such as capital punishment, child abuse, animal rights, drugs in sports, privacy rights, pollution, etc.

He wrote mostly for children, but he also wrote a book for adults titled: Legal Action: A layman's guide. He did his research by attending open court sessions and interviewing lawyers. This was around the same time that Nolo Press started providing legal guides for the general public.

Ed had been a member of Redwood Writers for nearly thirty-five years. He had served as our president twice and was a friend and mentor to many. He had been in great demand as a speaker at writers club meetings and conferences. He was asked back again and again, because he was knowledgeable, personable and a great entertainer.

He also kept meticulous records. He has notes, contracts and original manuscripts of all of his books. In one of his scrapbooks was this story:

The Kite and the Butterfly

a kite flew far up into the clouds.
it played with the wind.
it looked at the sun.

the kite saw a butterfly far below.
look at me, said the kite, see how high I am.
I can see far far away.
maybe I can fly to the sun.
don't you wish you were a kite,
then you could fly to the sun.

oh no, said the butterfly
I do not fly very high
but I go where I please.
you fly very high
but you are tied to a string.

Edward F. Dolan
1931, age 7

I am amazed at talent like that at such a tender age. It is easy for me to see why he spent his life as a writer. He simply had no choice.

Later in life Ed even wrote a book on kite flying.

He was also quoted in a news article about his career as a writer having said, "the desire to fly free is natural." The theme of the kite and the butterfly lasted throughout his life.

Ed Dolan passed away on August 12, 2010 at the age of 86. He had a hearty laugh and a warm presence. I am a richer person for having known him and for having him as a friend.



Sunday, June 27, 2010

Review Shadow of the Swords by Kamran Pasha

I find the power of the internet to be amazing. Last year due to a guest post on a friend's blog, I learned of the debut novel Mother of the Believers by Kamran Pasha. I enjoyed reading it, and posted my review on this blog.

A few weeks later, a publicist at Simon and Schuster emailed me and wanted to know if I would be interested in a review copy for another debut novelist. I gave her my mailing address and over the last year I have periodically received novels from different Simon and Schuster publicists, mostly in the historical fiction genre.

Some I have read and blogged about, others I have not.

The most recent book I received was a follow up novel by Kamran Pasha titled
Shadow of the Swords. I remembered from his author notes in Mother of the Believers that he was working on a novel about the Crusades. I would have bought this book on my own, but was delighted when I received a free copy prior to its official publication date.

On the publicity materials was a mention that he was available for interviews. After I finished reading the book, I contacted the publicist to see how I could interview him. I expected that I would be emailing him questions, but I was surprised to learn I could speak with him by phone.

After a few attempts at finding a mutually convenient time, Kamran and I spoke by Skype on the morning his book was released to the public. I owe having that opportunity to the power of the internet.

“(T)he rabbi knew that the marauders had ceased to think in terms of God or religion. They were like men possessed, driven by their own fears of death to kill…It was not about right or wrong, or the well-considered arguments of religious scholars. Terror was its own kind of madness and no reason, no faith, could shine a light into that darkest region of the human soul.” – Kamran Pasha, Shadow of the Swords, p. 239.

That madness is religious zealotry. It does not matter the faith of the zealot, because it is the fear and the fervor that overpowers the mind and allows atrocities to occur in the name of God. One of the most notorious examples of this kind of faith-based zealotry was during the Crusades.

However, the mere mention of that period of history can evoke emotional responses by people today:

Antagonism and defensiveness.

The choosing of sides.

The listing of atrocities perpetrated by Our Enemies that justified the actions by Our Heroes.

This entrenched mindset perpetuates itself in every new generation even though the Crusades began nearly a thousand years ago and those involved in the military campaigns have long ago been reduced to skeletons. The cultural wounds inflicted by these multiple wars between Christians and Muslims continue to cast long shadows over today's international politics.

Kamran Pasha’s new novel,
Shadow of the Swords, was inspired in reaction to the horrific events of September 11, 2001. As an American Muslim, he not only felt devastated by the human tragedy, but he felt an additional burden of knowing that the culprits of those crimes claimed to be acting on behalf of his faith.

He knew the terrorists' beliefs were a perversion of Islam and recognized the attacks would fan the smoldering flames of conflict between Christians and Muslims.

As a lifelong student of history and religion, Pasha wanted to write a story examining the roots of the animosity between Christianity and Islam. He chose the time period of the Third Crusade led by the iconic figures of King Richard the Lionheart on the Christian side and Sultan Saladin on the Muslim side.

Pasha breaks the age-old Good vs. Evil dichotomy by utilizing multiple viewpoints demonstrating that everyone sees themselves as hero in their own life story. Even if they commit atrocities, they will justify their acts under the guise of heroism.

The historical figure of Saladin is revered by Muslims and respected by Christians for his uncommon acts of chivalry, some of which are depicted in this novel. Two examples: sending his own physician to treat King Richard, who was dying from an illness; offering his own horse as a replacement when King Richard’s horse was killed on the battlefield.

Whereas, while King Richard the Lionheart has a legendary mystique about him, enhanced by tales of Robin Hood when he was away on Crusade, the historic figure is less sympathetic. To counterbalance this, Pasha created the character of Sir William Chinon to depict the chivalric ideal to carry the standard for the Christians.

Pasha was not content with just showing the epic scope of the battles led by Saladin and King Richard the Lionheart, he also examines the perspective of Jews in the Levant at the time and their relationship with Muslims and Christians. The historical figure of Maimonides, a rabbi and physician to Saladin, is featured prominently as well as the character of Miriam, an educated and high-spirited Jewish woman. Miriam serves the dramatic function of interacting with both Saladin and King Richard and allows the readers to see them as human beings and not icons of legend.

It is the intersection of the three great faiths of Judaism, Christianity and Islam that gives the novel its strength and heart. To understand where we are going, it is important to know where we came from. There is a lot of commonality in the Judeo-Christian-Islamic religious traditions, hopefully Shadow of the Swords will help readers focus on those unifying areas more than the differences which divides us.

Edited to add: I had intended on writing a summary of the discussion I had with Kamran. My digital recorder started giving me fits. Modern technology can be a wonderful thing, until it has develops a mind of its own.

I discovered a website that has an online podcast interview of Kamran Pasha discussing Shadow of the Swords. Check it out on writerscast.com .


Sunday, June 13, 2010

Review of Spotlight by John Granger

With the impending media frenzy over the release of the movie Eclipse, the third installment in the Twilight saga, I felt it was high time for me to finish my long overdue review on John Granger's book Spotlight: a close-up look at the artistry and meaning of Stephanie Meyer's Twilight saga.

I first discovered John Granger due to his analyses of the Harry Potter series. He has a shrewd and learned eye regarding literature and delves deeper into underlying symbolic meanings better than anyone else I know.

He has now taken his formidable talents and trained them upon the Twilight saga. I had taken my own crack at the series last year with a blog post, trying not to include too many spoilers. My analysis dealt with wish fulfillment regarding romantic partners as well as how traditional vampire lore was subverted as if Stephenie Meyer was squeamish about certain unsavory aspects to the legend and preferred to sanitize things to make her "good vampires" more palatable.

John went much further in his analysis.

He describes how conscience and free choice is the underlying theme of the series. He not only uses his own argument in analyzing the text to come up with that conclusion, but he includes excerpts of interviews with Stephenie Meyer that back up his claim.

Reading John Granger's work is never a passive affair. He challenges your underlying assumptions as well as your intellect. While I do not always agree with all of his points, he makes me consider things I would not otherwise and for that I am grateful.

Granger introduced me to the topic of literary alchemy. He takes what seems like an arcane and trivial subject and demonstrates why it is not only important, but how it triggers an unconscious response in readers.

His writings on this subject have not only helped me recognize these patterns when they appear in literature, but to understand their underlying meaning.

While it is uncertain if Meyer made deliberate choices of including literary alchemy symbolic elements or if they were incidental, Granger explains the impact of these patterns on the narrative.

Granger also spends a lot of time examining the influence of Meyer's faith has on the series. These books may not seem to be the Great American Mormon Novel, but Granger argues that to understand the literary choices used by Meyer, you must first understand how her faith influences her worldview.

One example is Granger's argument regarding the naming of the character Rosalie Hale as being a pointer to Emma Hale Smith, the first wife of the founder of the Mormon Church. He includes other examples of how some seemimgly minor details are instead carefully constructed choices used either to defend or to criticize the history and practices of the Church of Jesus Christ and the Latter Day Saints by Stephenie Meyer.

Granger provides an in-depth analysis of the Twilight series and is willing to go beyond mere plot points to understand the scaffolding involved at creating what is widely recognized as being a literary phenomenon. He argues passionately that the success of the Twilight series is not a fluke, but because there is great substance behind the story.

For an ongoing discussion about his thoughts on the Twilight series, you should check out his blog at Forks High School Professor or at his Hogwarts Professor blog.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Sponsor a Young Writer and Attend a Fabulous Writers Conference for FREE

I am reposting this message on my blog on behalf of my friend Verna Dreisbach. If you live in Northern California or if you know any writers, both young and mature writers, who live in Northern California, please spread the word.

I would love to see this conference be a rousing success.


Dear Colleagues and friends:

As some of you may know already, this summer Capitol City Young Writers will be having a writers conference on JULY 17, from 9:00 - 5:00 p.m. at San Domenico School in Marin Count, CA, which features the keynote speakers, philanthropist/screenwriter, James Redford (Robert Redford's son), Jane Friedman (publisher at Writers Digest), and author of The Last Unicorn (and more) Peter S. Beagle.

I am pleased and honored to be a part of this conference, which was originally intended for middle school and high school pupils only. However, we’ve recently discovered that a number of interested pupils cannot afford the conference fee. Though CCYW would love to sponsor all of those aspiring writers, we are a non-profit. And the purpose of this conference was not only to give young writers an opportunity to meet and learn from these terrific speakers, but also to raise money for scholarships and future activities for them.

Therefore, we have decided to open up the conference to other interested adult writers in this way: Anyone who sponsors a student gets to attend the conference for free, on a first-come, first-serve basis. In other words, for 100 dollars (cost of registration) you get to attend the conference and break-out sessions, have lunch with the speakers, and also allow us to sponsor a high school or middle school child to attend. (All high school and middle school pupils who attend also get a free book)

(If you cannot attend the conference, but would like to sponsor a student, you may purchase a gift registration for another person to attend for 100 dollars, or sponsor a pupil alone for 100 dollars.)

In addition to our three keynotes and the following writers, screenwriters, filmmakers, journalist and other arts professionals will be speaking:

Authors David Corbett, Deborah Grabien, Seth Harwood, Gil Mansergh, and Patricia V. Davis.

San Francisco Chronicle journalist, Leah Garchik

Marin IJ journalist, Vicki Larson

Peabody-winning director, Paul S. Kaufman

Radio show host, Michael Krasny

Literary agents, Peter Beren and Verna Dreisbach

Stanford University acting professor, Kay Andreas

Books Inc. manager, Nick Petrulakis

Song writer for the ‘Jefferson Starship’ (and more), Jeannette Sears

Senior editor of Redroom.com, Huntington Sharp

Litquake organizer and author, Ransom Stephens

WordJourneys.com editor-in-chief, Bob Yehling

California Film Institute Producer of indy film, ‘Touching Home’, Jeromy Zajonc

More information about our speakers is at: http://www.capitolcityyoungwriters.org/Writers__Conference.html

A complete list of break-out session topics will be listed by June 14. Registration information is also available on the same conference page of the Capitol City Young Writers website

I hope I have been able to capture your interest and support for this wonderful organization and conference. It’s the first of its kind, and we hope to make it a success so that it becomes a yearly opportunity for young people.

Please help support this worthy endeavor!

Don’t delay ─ come register for Capitol City Young Writers First Annual Conference at: http://www.capitolcityyoungwriters.org/Writers__Conference.html

Thank you all kindly for your attention,

Verna Dreisbach
President and Founder
Capitol City Young Writers

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Review: The Widow's Husband by Tamim Ansary

In my last blog post, I embedded video from the keynote address that Tamim Ansary gave to the Redwood Writers Conference in October 2009. During the introduction, I mentioned that he also had an historical novel that covered the ill-fated occupation of Afghanistan by British forces in the 19th century.

Here is my review of that novel:

Good historical fiction transports the reader into another place and time and serves to bring the past back "to life." It allows the reader to understand historical events, that often appear larger than life, to be brought down to a human level through the eyes of a character.

In The Widow's Husband we see life in a small village of Char Bagh in rural Afghanistan in the 19th century. The concerns of family, community, as well as having enough food stores to last through winter is recognizable, even if the names and customs are unusual to our "western" ears. The routine of rural life in Char Bagh is disrupted by the arrival of a stranger. Hospitality is extended to the man and it soon becomes apparent that he is not a normal traveler, but is instead a mystic. This holy man attracts pilgrims from miles around. Soon the reputation of Char Bagh is even noticed by the British military who have settled in Kabul which then threatens the peacefulness and stability of the village.

The novel shows how the British colonized Afghanistan: bribery and force.

Attempts by the British to interact with the Afghan people without attempting to understand their customs and traditions led to the inevitable clash depicted in the novel when the people revolted in response to the mistreatment of their women and girls.

The Widow's Husband serves to illuminate events from history and allow us to draw parallels to current events from our own military campaigns and why it is important to be there with the consent of the people.

The novel can be purchased as an ebook from Scribd.com or a trade paperback version is available from the publisher.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Video from Redwood Writers 2009 Conference

Hello everyone,

It has been a long time since I last posted to my blog. I have been busy and to demonstrate this, I will share with you the fruits of my labor.

I finally discovered how to make a video and upload it to Youtube. I figured that since there are millions of videos on that site that I should also be able to accomplish this task as well.

Last fall my writers club held a writers conference in Santa Rosa, California.

I was fortunate to introduce our keynote speaker Tamim Ansary. He is a well respected writer in the San Francisco Bay Area, a bestselling author, and an endearing speaker.

I loved his books West of Kabul, East of New York and Destiny Disrupted: A History of the World through Islamic Eyes. They are profound and insightful and told in a readily accessible manner.

For those wondering what I look or sound like, you can watch me in action as I introduce Tamim Ansary.

Due to time limitations on Youtube, I broke his talk into four parts.

Part I

Part II

Part III

And Part IV

Friday, April 16, 2010

My New Website

I am pleased to announce that I have now have a website. You can find it at:


Please note the letter C between my first and last names.

There are many Linda McCabes in the world, and I am one of them. There is another Linda McCabe who has the simplified URL that lacks the middle initial.

Please check it out and let me know what you think. It is a work in progress and I will be expanding it in the months to come.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Q&A with Author Elizabeth Aston and a Contest

In my previous post I reviewed the new book Writing Jane Austen. I was given the opportunity to interview Elizabeth Aston and came up with some questions that I hope you will enjoy. I tried hard to not include any questions that might be considered spoilers.

Q. Elizabeth, I noticed on your website that both your parents are fans of Jane Austen and that you were named after Elizabeth Bennet from Pride and Prejudice. Given such a family history, I wondered at what age were you first exposed to Jane Austen's work and whether it a movie/television adaptation or was it a book?

A. My first encounter with Jane Austen was when I read Pride and Prejudice at thirteen. Everyone had assumed that, because I was named after Elizabeth Bennet, I must have read all of Jane Austen, but I just thought, yuk, who wants to be named after a person who never even existed? My brothers get named after their grandfathers, and I get called after a character on a page!

Anyhow, I finally picked up the book, and, like Georgina, I was utterly enchanted and completely hooked. I went straight on to read all the other novels, and was desolated that she had only written six of them.

Q. Georgina is reluctant to read anything by Jane Austen and when she finally starts she goes on a reading binge barely sleeping until she has finished all six novels. Have you ever had such an experience with any novelist where you gave up normal day-to-day living experiences in order to finish a book or books?

A. With Jane Austen - see above! And I remember, as a student, walking down the street in Oxford, bumping into people and lampposts, reading a John Fowles book called The Magus. Yet, when I tried to read it again a few years ago, I couldn't even finish it. And I neglected work and family when I discovered Patrick O'Brian's Aubrey and Maturin novels - there are twenty of them. A psychologist did a study of what happens to your brain wave patterns when you're truly 'Lost in a Good Book', and discovered it actually is an altered state of consciousness. That's what makes it such a joy to pick up a book that carries you away, so what you're reading is more real than the world around you.

Q. Writing Jane Austen seems to loosely follow the Joseph Campbell model of a reluctant hero(ine) given a Call to Adventure that is initially refused and then the courage and strength of purpose is summoned to accomplish a seemingly impossible task. Writing a publishable novel in three months seems on its face to be an impossible task, that does not include the added complications of having to perform historical research and have it match a literary style beloved by millions worldwide. Have you ever tried to write in the NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) style where the goal is to turn off your internal editor and crank out word count? If so, can you tell us how you liked that kind of creative exercise.

A. No, I've never tried NaNoWriMo, but I spend my writing life trying to turn off the critic who sits on my shoulder and snarks at me, sneers at whatever I've written and jumps on every typo. I like to write a first draft with the carping one gagged and blindfolded, which means writing fast and, usually, without being able to read what I write while I'm doing it. I scale down the text on the screen to such a small size that I can't make out the words. Or, if I'm using speech recognition, which I do when my hands and wrists start aching, I just shut my eyes. I absolutely believe that the story you're writing is already there, and you have to get out of the way and let it get written. Then comes the critical and editorial work, you can't have one without the other.

Q. Part of the character transformation in this book for Georgina is for her to overcome her prejudice against Jane Austen's books based on others' opinions without her having formed her own empirical opinions. You not only show Georgina's negative statements, but you use an uncomplimentary quote from Charlotte Brontë and have a character say "Ditsy heroine gets alpha male, sends under-educated women into swoons of fantasy eroticism." Am I wrong in thinking that your novel was in part a vehicle to dismantle these kind of criticisms you've heard over the years and rebut them point by point?

A. I consider Jane Austen one of the very greatest of English novelists, in fact, I'd probably put her top of the list. So it amuses me when people dismiss her as 'just a romantic novelist', or a writer whose milieu is so restricted and feminine and domestic that it has nothing to say to most of the world. But in Writing Jane Austen I wanted to play with various reactions to her, from readers, academics and fellow writers, rather than to rebut any particular criticisms. As Jane Austen knew better than anyone, laughter is powerful.

Q. As a writer of six Jane Austen styled sequels, I would assume that over they years you have heard many negative comments about Jane Austen's writing. What is the most common criticism and what do you think was the most unfair statement ever made about her work?

A. I hate the sweeping condemnation that her novels are just about money and class. I do appreciate that if you don't have much of a sense of humour, and you don't do irony, then Jane Austen is never going to sing for you. I think the famous criticisms of her by Charlotte Brontë and Mark Twain are very wide of the mark.

Q. You even include criticism in your novel of the sequels written by modern authors. You use the terms "definitely second-rate" and "downright lewd." Are you poking fun at yourself or at other writers who have written Austen inspired sequels? Or both?

A. Oh, both.

Q. Your novel includes depictions of Austenmania replete with bus tours, shops dedicated to Austen styled memorabilia and costume balls recreating the dances of the time period. What is the strangest collectible object by Janeites that you've seen? And have you ever been to a costume ball like the one you depicted?

A. As I mention in the book, some of the Colin Firth wet shirt key rings and so on, on sale at Chawton, strike me as bizarre. And I'm not too sure I'd want a lock of her hair, I think from a mourning brooch, that was recently put up for auction. Yes, I have been to a ball like that and it was delightful, but no Darcy lookalikes present, sadly.

Q. There have been many adaptations for television and for movie theaters of Jane Austen's novels. Do you have a favorite? Least favorite?

A. Mostly there are particular scenes or actors that stand out, rather than having a favourite. I loved the dancing scenes in the BBC version and I thought Olivier made a good Darcy in the film version from 1940.

Q. Livia Harkness exploded off the page as shrill and thoroughly unpleasant person. Kudos on that brilliant characterization. Not trying to get you in trouble with your own literary agent, but I'm wondering if Livia was inspired by unreasonable task masters as literary agents for perhaps one of your author friends. Or was she an echo of a Jane Austen character? Or some other inspiration?

A. Livia Harkness was one of those characters who appeared from nowhere. Yes, I'd like to think she had some of the malevolence of some of Jane Austen's wickeder creations, and no, my agent isn't at all like that. But, now I come to think of it, I do know one who does bear a passing resemblance to her, in spirit if not in looks.

Q. With your surname being Aston and your writing topic is Jane Austen, I thought the Aston/Austen similarities might be the cause of some confusion. Am I right and if so, could you please share any amusing anecdotes about that type of name confusion.

A. Some people have thought I chose Aston as a pen name because of the similarity, but in fact it's my married name, which I don't use outside writing. I did once give a talk where I got introduced as Elizabeth Austen who was going to speak on Jane Aston.

Q. There are several mentions of Harry Potter in your novel. Are you a fan of J.K. Rowling's work as well?

A. Definitely.

Q. Did you know that there was a listing of Love and Friendship (sic) by Jane Austen on Amazon.com? It appears your novel has had an impact already.

A. Ah, that will be the story Jane Austen wrote as a girl: Love and Friendship (sic). That's why I chose it as the title for the newly discovered book by her.

Thank you Elizabeth for your detailed answers.

Now for the contest. I have a few copies of this book, (trade paperback), to give away.

I would love to read comments about a book/series of books that you could not put down until it was finished. Did you stay up late into the night or did you neglect eating? Alternately you can give me your thoughts on Jane Austen.

Please include your email address so that I can contact you later for your mailing address. Feel free to use the emailhandle at internetserviceprovider dot com type of naming scheme to avoid having your email culled by automated computer robots.

This is my first contest and I am limiting it to the United States. Just so I don't get eaten alive by postal rates.

Please feel free to spread the word about the contest to your friends, other websites or blogs.

The contest will end at Midnight PDT on Saturday, April 24th.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Review: Writing Jane Austen by Elizabeth Aston

Saying the name "Jane Austen" elicits powerful reactions in people. Some dismiss her novels out-of-hand as being nothing more than stories about the idle rich whose sole interest was seeking a marital partner with a largest estate possible, while others rave about her timelessness in creating rich characters and complex plots steeped in irony.

Love 'em or hate 'em, Jane Austen's works are popular. A sign of that popularity is that her novel Pride and Prejudice ranks among the top ten free downloads on Apples iPad. (One benefit of ereaders is that you can get the works that have passed into the public domain for free.)

In the interest of full disclosure, I will admit that I am not a big fan of Jane Austen, I have read only two of her novels. I finished re-reading Pride and Prejudice on my shiny iPad before writing this review.

One of the things that I dislike in Austen's literary style is the telling/showing ratio. Today's market forces makes authors show feelings and emotions more in action as well as dialogue and not have it explicitly told to us in the narrative. Similarly, Austen's use of dialogue many times involved mini speeches that are paragraphs in length rather than today's shorter bursts of back and forth verbal volleys.

I have not blogged about Jane Austen before, so I was a bit surprised to be sent a review copy of Writing Jane Austen, but the cover looked interesting so I decided to give a chance.

Elizabeth Aston has written six novels set within Jane Austen's Mr. Darcy universe. Her latest novel, Writing Jane Austen is set in 21st century Britain and features a young female protagonist who is an award winning and critically acclaimed author named Georgina Jackson. Georgina's debut novel while celebrated in literary circles did not sell very well at all. She is also in a writing slump and cannot get past the first chapter of her second novel. Forty eight different versions of chapter one to be exact.

It is at this point she is presented with the opportunity of a lifetime: to finish a recently discovered uncompleted novel by Jane Austen.

Georgina is horrified because she has never read anything by Jane Austen and has never wanted to. She also is intimidated because she knows that Jane Austen has fervent, rabid fans. How could anyone try and imitate the literary style of Jane Austen? That would be impossible. It certainly could not be done in three months time which is what her shrew/harpy of an agent and her publisher give her.

Georgina hesitates, but a financial crisis forces her to take up this Literary Call to Adventure.

I found the novel to be a light, breezy read that is laugh out loud funny. Georgina's literary agent, Livia Harkness, explodes off the page as someone I would never want to meet in real life.

Aston shows how Jane Austen's works are continuing to have an impact: from academic treatises to themed tours of the city of Bath to trinkets. Almost as if her fans are making a pilgrimage to sacred sites and the venerating of saints' relics.

The story is has a delightfully quirky tone and shows the stresses of pressure put on someone to create magic with the written word.

I think fans of Jane Austen will find many Easter Eggs hidden within the text. I recognized a character insertion of Miss Bates from Emma and feel that there are probably more such delights to be discovered by "Janeites." Those who are not big fans of Austen will also enjoy the novel.

Overall, I recommend this book. This would be a good summer beach read.

Tomorrow I will post an interview with the author as well as give details about my first ever contest. I will be giving away a few copies of the book Writing Jane Austen.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

The Lightning Thief: My Review

I have read some online reviews from fans of the book who are savaging the movie makers by deviating from any aspect of the book. I do not share that criticism, although I do think there were some alterations that I would not have made.

Yes, the movie is different from the book. Duh. All movies that are adapted from novels have to change to meet the needs of the medium.

The storyline was streamlined from the book, and there were some changes, but overall it stayed pretty faithful to the story.

Yes the actors are older than the characters in the stories, but I always thought that a twelve year old battling the Minotaur was more than should be expected of a child. Demigod or not. Having Percy and Annabeth being older seems more believable.

My son thought Annabeth should have been blonde and with a ponytail as she is described in the book. :shrugs: Not a big problem for me.

I am going to try and be light on spoilers that would reveal plot twists for those who are interested in seeing the movies or reading the books.

To me, it appears that the filmmakers are unsure as to whether or not they want to make any further movies in this series. The box office haul will probably determine whether or not any sequels will get the green light. Therefore certain plot elements were eliminated which I think should have been included because it minimized the overall meaning of the Most Evil Plot of stealing Zeus' master lightning bolt.

Bummer. The implications of that theft and what it Could Have Meant to Western Civilization and to the Fate of the World as We Know It is what drives the rest of the series. Until the end of Book 5 (The Last Olympian) when that Most Eeeevil threat is finally defeated for once and for all.

It also means that it would be the fulfillment of a vague but ominous sounding Great Prophecy that was given probably about fifty years earlier by the Oracle of Delphi.

That Great Prophecy was not mentioned, nor even alluded to in the movie. Instead there was a different explanation as to why the Greek gods and goddesses did not have contact with their demigod children. Personally, I found that explanation given at the end of the movie by Poseidon to be lame.

Because it also contradicted a few of the underlying aspects of the story as established in the books, such as the demigods going to Mount Olympus at the Winter Solstice which is when the theft occurred.

So no explanation of how the theft occurred is provided in the movie. Just the revelation of who the culprit really was and a paler reason as to the motive was behind the theft than what was in the book.

The moviemakers also did not include the Oracle of Delphi being a strange resident in Camp Half-Blood. If any sequels are made, then the Oracle will have to be included and the omission of it in the first movie will not be really seen as a gaping plot hole.

Without the Oracle, there was no prophecy given for the quest that Percy went on. Instead, he set out on his own with two friends who insisted on going with him. They sought help from another camper who gave them a map, a shield, flying shoes, and a plan to find magical pearls to use in the Underworld. Magical pearls which in the book were given to Percy in another scene by other immortal beings.

I was not bothered by that difference, but I did not like the stage design for the cabins at Camp Half-Blood. Especially the cabin for the children of Hermes. In the book, that cabin is described as being overstuffed with campers to the point there aren't enough bunks for everyone, so sleeping bags are strewn around the floor.

In the movie we only see Luke in that cabin and he's playing high tech video games. I did not understand why they chose to make that difference other than there were fewer extras used in that scene.

I liked that they changed one action/adventure sequence from the Arch in Saint Louis to being at the Pantheon in Nashville. That was pretty cool having a Greek temple in the movie rather than an arch.

I thought showing letters moving around was a good visual for audiences to understand how dyslexics have difficulty decoding the written word. That was easier for filmmakers than the author to get across in his books.

I also liked Hades having an Alice Cooper look about him. He was compared onscreen to Mick Jagger, but I think Alice Cooper was more appropriate. Hades was still funny as he was in the book, but for different reasons.

There was also no showing of the Isles of the Blessed or Elysium Fields. This made the Underworld look like unrelenting hell. They also missed out on showing the EZ Death lines. I preferred the updated today version of Charon in the book to the more classic version of Charon which appeared in the movie.

There was something that did bug me. A continuity error.

Persephone should not have been in the Underworld when Percy arrived. She wasn't there in the books because it was the Summer Solstice and she would be above ground.

So the screenwriter changing some aspects of how Percy escaped should have seen the fact of why she was not there.

Because her presence there at that time of the year is not compatible with Greek myths.

However, if they really wanted her there, they needed to give a justification as to why she was there. They could have had a line inserted with Persephone giving some kind of explanation of why she was there, but there wasn't.

And I don't recall Annabeth calling Percy "Seaweed Brain." Not once. Bummer. I like that term of endearment/derision said to our hero.

Overall, I enjoyed the movie and the humor. I hope it does well, and we will purchase the DVD as soon as it is available. I will also look forward to going to see The Sea of Monsters should it be filmed.

Oh, and for those going to see the movie, please do not leave as soon as the credits start to roll. There is another scene which is worthwhile staying for about a minute into the credits. It does vary from what happened in the movie, but...it is GREAT.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

My Love for Percy Jackson and the Olympians

I love Greek Mythology.

I have loved it since I read my first book on the subject when I was about nine years old.

The stories were larger than life. I enjoyed the drama and the tragedy.

I read as many books on Greek mythology that I could find. After awhile, I recognized that even though different authors told the same stories that they weren't identical. There were variations in the details.

It was then that I started cultivating my own preferences in regard to the legends. I tried reading Edith Hamilton's books, but I found them dull. She bored me, even if she is thought to be a great authority on the subject.

I much preferred D'Aulaire's Book of Greek Myths. It was the first book that made me stay up late into the night reading. I was in sixth grade and read until four in the morning. I have since bought that book several times over. I have given it as gifts, and have bought replacement copies when my loaned copy never came back.

The aspect that I liked best in their telling was introducing each god, goddess and hero separately with their own story. Then as you finished with one god, the narrative thread pulled you to the next story. I still love that book, and used it to introduce my own son to Greek mythology.

I find the stories in Greek myths to be rich with honor, drama, hubris and pathos. Unfortunately, I have been greatly disappointed with movies trying to tackle this wealth of dramatic potential. It is as if the screenwriters and filmmakers do not know how to utilize the power of these stories and find themselves adding extraneous subplots that ruin the stories.

I hated the Harry Hamlin/Ursula Andress version of Clash of the Titans. I can't remember much of the plot, but I remember shaking my head repeatedly going, "No, that's not how it went." I also remember that the special effects were clunky and only slightly better than Godzilla versus the Smog Monster.

Then there was Disney's Hercules. I couldn't force myself to watch the whole thing. Hercules was somehow or another involved with Pegasus. Pegasus!

Ahem. Hercules had nothing to do with Pegasus. It was Bellerophon who rode on the back of Pegasus.

And then Disney had Hades shown as a comical character with minions of Pain and Panic.


Are you kidding me? Give me Deimos and Phobos any day. And make them fearful characters, not comic relief.

I found the story so painful I had to shut it off.

Given those bad experiences of attempts to translate Greek mythology into movies, I was reluctant to wade into those waters again. I knew what I liked, and pretty much left it alone for years.

Then came Percy Jackson.

The first time I became aware of the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series was in a bookstore and saw the cover of The Battle of the Labyrinth.

It was the word labyrinth which caught my attention. My friend Cindy Pavlinac loves labyrinths. Thinking of Cindy, I picked up the book and read the back cover. It is the fourth installment of the Percy Jackson series, which meant to understand what was going on in it I'd have to read three other books first.

And, well, reading the summation that the series dealt with Greek mythology was actually a turn off for me. Because of my previous bad experiences with movie adaptations of Greek myths. I was afraid it would be handled just as poorly.

I saw that book on several different occasions and I resisted buying it.

It was only when I saw a listing of the awards given to the first book in the series that I decided to give it a try.

I started reading the book with my son, and after about a week or so, I began reading ahead.

I read all five books in quick succession.

I will admit that the beginning of the first book seems a bit rushed and clunky, but once Percy Jackson is given the iconic Call to Adventure the story really takes off.

Rick Riordan chose to set this series in modern day with the premise that the Greek gods are real and that they follow Western civilization.

Greece is no longer the focal point of Western civilization, so Mount Olympus has moved.

The home of the gods is now atop of the Empire State Building in New York City. The 600th floor to be exact.

Likewise, the entrance to the Underworld has changed as well. It is under Los Angeles.

After having lived in Los Angeles for a few years, I have to say that was an inspired choice.

Riordan set up the idea the monsters from Greek myths were without souls, so they cannot really ever die. Instead they are archetypes that when given enough time can re-form. That allows Riordan the freedom to recycle the Biggest, Baddest Meanies of Greek myths in his stories. He uses the Minotaur, Medusa, Polyphemus and more.

Riordan weaves different stories from Greek mythology together in a manner that should inspire children to want to learn more about his source material. He obviously read up on the subject and even used some lesser known figures and stories.

My favorite part of his series was trying to puzzle out who different gods, goddesses, monsters and characters from the legends before they were positively identified in the text. There was once when I was reading to my son that I shouted out "Echidna!" two whole pages before she was named in the story.

It made me feel like a Greek myth trivia whiz.

Another aspect of enjoyment for me was how Rick Riordan saw the various gods and goddesses. Riordan and I seem to have similar affinities for the deities. I have always been drawn to Athena and her character is treated with respect and deference. Aphrodite? Not so much. Neither is Hera.

Ares the God of War is shown as a punk. Apollo is cool and wears sun glasses.

Poseidon dresses a lot like Jimmy Buffett.

The god who surprised me the most was Riordan's treatment of Hades. I never expected him to be that funny. And, Hades was being unintentionally funny. A difficult trick to pull off.

And now a movie has been made of The Lightning Thief. The previews look fabulous, even though the actors are much older than the characters from Riordan's stories. Riordan had Percy as being twelve in the first book and turning sixteen in the last volume.

Logan Lerman who plays Percy Jackson was seventeen, not twelve.

As a mother, I find it easier to believe that a seventeen year old could battle the Minotaur rather than a child around my son's age.

So that difference does not bother me. I also know that the filmmakers might want to appeal to teenaged audiences as well, so have an older teen will probably sell more tickets. Whatever works. Just be sure to keep the humor intact as well as the action in these stories.

Right now, I am looking forward to seeing the movie next weekend with my son who will be proudly wearing the handmade Camp Half-Blood t-shirt I made for him.


Saturday, January 23, 2010

Ozark Medieval Fortress: Opening Day is May 1st

I blogged previously about the building a medieval-styled fortress in the United States using 13th century technology.

Mark your calendars: The opening day of the Ozark Medieval Fortress has been set for Saturday, May 1st.

They have been feverishly working to get the site ready for that big day.

Here is a description of the project from their website:

Ozark Medieval Fortress is an educational adventure, inviting onlookers by showing and explaining the past: the extraction of boulders, shaping of stone, the assembly of a wall, woodworking transportation of materials by means of horse and cart. Educational visits and field trips are available will be reserved for children. Ozark Medieval Fortress is a fun, outdoor, living history book!

The scientific objective of Ozark Medieval Fortress is to build it in order to understand it. It acts to recreate in real life the procedures of construction, and the organization of a project from the 13th century. It is just like an archaeological dig in reverse, an open air laboratory. In order to insure the credibility and quality of the project, a scientific committee is in charge of studying and validating every stage of the construction.

I was given gracious permission by their general manager, Julie Cox-Sonveau, to publish recent pictures taken at the worksite.

A blacksmith fashions a tool.

Two workers moving a heavy stone.

A draft horse hauls stone and lumber from one area to another.

The start of a tower.

The artist's drawing of what the site is projected to look like this year.

An aerial view of the site.

The human "hamster wheel" is ready to lift heavy stone once the walls get high.

If you look closely, you can see a man inside the wheel powering it by walking. That technology dates back to the time of the Romans.

For more information about this incredible living history project, please visit their website. You can also find the Ozark Medieval Fortress on Facebook and Twitter.

The project is expected to take twenty years to complete, but I cannot wait that long to see it. I hope to be there at opening day. If so, I will have my own pictures to share.