Friday, January 31, 2014

Fun Friday: The Taming of the Ill-Mannered Belle

I found one more rewritten Shakespeare scene I wrote for my class a few years back. I remember now I had so much fun with this one it made me want to rewrite the entire play in 1850 Richmond, Virginia.

The Taming of the Ill-Mannered Belle
by Katy Huth Jones

Lucius, a gentleman from southern Virginia
Trevor, his manservant
Blastus, his Negro servant
Mr. Benton Madison, a wealthy Richmond planter
Katherine, his oldest daughter
Bianca, his youngest daughter
Greeley, an old suitor
Horace, a young suitor

Act I, Scene 1  (The year is 1850.  Lucius and Trevor enter a busy street in Richmond, Virginia.)

LUCIUS: Goodness, Trevor, here we are in fair Richmond, garden of the South, about to fulfill my lifelong dream. You know how I've always longed to see this fair city, famous for its university, and now, thanks to Father's generosity, here I am-with his blessing and your good company. So, my trusted servant, why don't we stay here for a time that I might pursue a law degree, since my family is well-known for being successful and serious in whatever they do. I want to bring honor to my father by adding more virtuous deeds to his own, stacking them on top of his wealth. What do you think, Trevor? Leaving Roanoke for Richmond, I feel a little like a thirsty man who turns from a puddle to a vast lake he can drink from.

TREVOR: Pardon me, Master Lucius. As usual, I'm in complete agreement with you about everything, and glad that you wish to study law. Let me add that I admire your virtue and your moral discipline. That said, let us not become so focused on improving the mind that we neglect matters of the heart.

LUCIUS: Thanks, Trevor. That's good advice. Now if only Blastus would get here, we could find a nice boarding house to stay so the new friends we make in Richmond will have a place to visit us. But, look. Who are all these people?

TREVOR:  Maybe it's a parade to welcome us to town, master.

(Lucius and Trevor stand to one side. Benton enters with Katherine, Bianca, and two suitors to Bianca, an old man named Greeley and a younger man named Horace.)

BENTON: That is quite enough, gentlemen. My mind is made up. I will not permit my younger daughter to marry until I have found a husband for her elder sister. Long have I regarded both of you as friends. Therefore, if either of you wish to marry Katherine, he shall have my permission to court her.

GREELEY: Cart her, you mean. She's too much of a wildcat for me. How about you, Horace? Are you still interested in marrying?

KATHERINE: (To Benton) May I ask, sir, if it is your intention to make a stale of me among these mates?

HORACE: Mates, did you say? You will never find a mate until you improve your temper, young lady.

KATHERINE: You need not worry about that, sir. The only possible interest I would take in you would be to beat you about the head with a fencepost, paint your face with blood, and make a fool out of you.

HORACE:  Deliver us from all such devils, good Lord!

GREELEY:  And me too, good Lord!

TREVOR: (Speaking so that only Lucius can hear) Don't call attention to yourself, master. This will be entertaining to watch. This young lady is either stark raving mad or incredibly strong-willed.

LUCIUS: (Speaking so that only Trevor can hear) But her sister's silence show her to be mild-mannered and well-behaved, as a perfect Southern lady should be. Let us follow her example.

TREVOR: (Speaking so that only Lucius can hear) Agreed, master. Let's keep quiet and watch.

BENTON: (To Greeley and Horace) Gentlemen, since I wish to make good on what I have just said, Bianca, go inside. Don't be unhappy, my dear. Whatever happens, I'll always love you best.

KATHERINE:  Spoiled brat!  She shall make herself cry as soon as she thinks of a reason.

BIANCA: Dear sister, be happy in that you have made me unhappy. Father, I will humbly obey you and take comfort in my books and music while I read and practice my instruments.

LUCIUS:  Did you hear that, Trevor?  She has the voice of a goddess!

HORACE: Mr. Benton, will you truly be so cruel? I regret that our goodwill should cause fair Bianca such unhappiness.

GREELEY: Why are you locking the fair lady away because her sister is a fiend of hell, Mr. Benton? Why does the gentle daughter suffer punishment for the other's sharp tongue?

BENTON:  Gentlemen, I have made my decision.  Go inside, Bianca.

(Bianca exits.)

And because I know how fond she is of music and poetry, I plan to hire tutors for her. If either of you gentlemen know anyone suitable for the job, send him to me. I pay well for good teachers. Good-bye, gentlemen. Katherine, you may stay. I have matters to discuss with your sister. (He exits)

KATHERINE: May I not go inside if I please? Must I be given an hourly schedule as if I were still a child? As if I didn't have the intelligence to decide when to come and where to go? I think not. (She exits)

GREELEY: I can think of a very hot place where you may go. You have nothing that anyone other than the devil would want. Horace, our desire to marry isn't so great that we cannot wait patiently. It is not easy, but it may be borne. To prove my love for the sweet Bianca, I am going to find a good tutor to give her lessons in the subjects that delight her.

HORACE: So will I, Greeley. But don't go just yet. I realize we have been rivals in love, but it would be in both our interests if we endeavor together in one thing.

GREELEY:  And what is that?

HORACE:  To find a husband for Bianca's sister.

GREELEY:  A husband?  You mean a devil!

HORACE:  I mean a husband.

GREELEY: I say a devil. Do you really think, Horace, that even though her father is very wealthy, there's any man such a fool as to be married to hell?

HORACE: Nonsense, Greeley. Just because we could not endure her temper, it does not follow that there are no men who would, if we could just find them. Men who would take her with all her faults, if there were enough money involved.

GREELEY: I cannot say. I would rather endure a public whipping every morning than have to endure her, no matter how much money was involved.

HORACE: Well, there is small choice in rotten apples. But come, since this obstacle to our love makes us allies, let us work together to find a husband for Benton's elder daughter, which will set the youngest free for a husband. Then we can return to our rivalry. Ah, sweet Bianca! Happy is the man that claims you. May the best man win. What do you say, Greeley?

GREELEY: I am agreeable, and would give the best horse in Richmond to the one who could woo her, wed her, and bed her, and rid the house of her! Come on.

(Exit Greeley and Horace.)

TREVOR:  Master, is it possible that a person could fall in love so suddenly?

LUCIUS: Oh, Trevor, until it happened to me, I never would have thought it possible or likely. But while I idly stood by, watching her, I found the effect of love in idleness and now plainly confess to you, Trevor, I burn, I pine, I perish, Trevor, if I cannot have this young modest girl for my wife. Counsel me, Trevor, for I know you can. Help me, Trevor, for I know you will.

TREVOR: Master, this isn't the time to chide you. The heart may not be reasoned with. Since love has touched you and you are captive, it is time to buy back your freedom at the lowest possible cost.

LUCIUS : Yes, you are right. Please go on. I feel better already, and I know you will have even more good advice.

TREVOR: Master, you looked so longingly on the young lady that you seem to have missed the most important consideration.

LUCIUS:  Oh yes, I saw sweet beauty in her face like that of Europa which humbled great Zeus.

TREVOR: Did you see nothing else? Didn't you notice when her sister began to scold her and raised such a ruckus that human ears could hardly stand to listen?

LUCIUS: Trevor, I saw her coral lips move, and with her breath she perfumed the air. Sacred and sweet was all I saw in her.

TREVOR: (to the audience) I think it's time to wake him from his trance. (to Lucius) Wake up, Master Lucius! If you love the girl, then use your wits to win her. The way things stand, her elder sister is so cursed and shrewd that the father can't wait to be rid of her. Until that happens, your love must be locked up in her home and not allowed any suitors.

LUCIUS: Oh, Trevor, what a cruel father he is! But did you notice he was ready to hire good tutors for her?

TREVOR:  I did, master, and now I've got an idea!

LUCIUS:  I have an idea, Trevor!

TREVOR:  I think we are thinking the same thing, master.

LUCIUS:  Tell me your idea first.

TREVOR:  You will be a tutor and offer to teach the girl.  Is that your idea?

LUCIUS:  It is.  Can it be done?

TREVOR: Not possible. If you are a tutor, who shall be Lucius, Vincent's son, while here in Richmond, keeping house, studying, welcoming his friends, visiting his relatives, and feeding them?

LUCIUS: That's enough. I have figured it out. No one knows us here in Richmond, so no one knows which is the master and which is the manservant. Then it follows thus: You will be the master, Trevor, in my place, live in my house, order the servants, and do as I would. I will be someone else, from Atlanta, or Charleston, or Raleigh. We have a plan now. Trevor, take off your clothes and put on mine. (they exchange clothes) When Blastus comes, he will pretend to be your servant. But I will sweet talk him into going along with this so he won't spill the beans.

TREVOR: You will need to do so. Meanwhile, master, since this is what you want to do, I will obey. For your father ordered me at our parting, "Be of service to my son." I think he meant something else by that, but I am content to be Lucius because so well I love my master.

LUCIUS: Trevor, be me because Lucius is in love. Let me be a slave to win the girl whose beauty has enslaved me.

(enter Blastus)

Here comes the rogue.  Where have you been, boy?

BLASTUS: Where have I been, massah? Where are you, massah? Has this boy Trevor stolen your clothes? Or have you stolen his? Or both? Please tell this poor boy what's goin' on.

LUCIUS: Come here, boy. This is no time for joking. Straighten up. Your fellow, Trevor here, in order to save my life has traded clothes with me and pretends to be me. Since we arrived in Richmond I had to kill a man and I fear that someone saw me. While I escape, wait on Trevor just as though he were me. Do you understand me?

BLASTUS:  Yes, sir.  (aside) Not a word.

TREVOR: I would second your wish if it meant that Lucius could marry Benton's youngest daughter. This is for your master's sake, not mine. So be careful in public. When we're alone, you can call me "Trevor." But everywhere else, call me your master "Lucius."

LUCIUS: Trevor, let's go. One more thing: You must woo Bianca like the others. Don't ask me why; just trust that I have good reasons. (All exit)

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Piano is not my forte

My Mom gave me this, my childhood piano.
When I was in third grade my mother bought this piano, both for me to practice and for her to play to relieve her anxiety at my father being in Vietnam (he was a helicopter pilot). I dutifully took piano lessons that year but didn't really learn a thing. It was quite overwhelming to hear my mother knock out Rachmaninoff and Chopin while I was trying to figure out what the "1-3-5" was all about under those black spots dancing across the lines of the staff.

You see, my mother took piano lessons for 12 years as a child and was "forced" to practice, most of the time against her will. She hated performing and so only participated in one recital at the end of the twelve years. But all those years of practice made her a formidable pianist. I grew up hearing her play the classics as well as popular tunes. She could sightread anything!

But because of her bad memories of "forced" practice, she didn't force me to practice, and so I didn't learn anything. I tried taking lessons again in fifth grade, but I just couldn't catch on. Then in sixth grade I signed up to be in the choir, but the band director must have needed flute players, because he talked me into playing flute. (Knowing what I know now, I probably should have played trombone or baritone because I had to really work at my flute embouchure, and it still isn't great.)

Playing in the band did help me learn to read music, finally, but my parents understandably didn't want to pay for piano lessons again.  So in the eighth grade I "worked at" piano by myself. I discovered I could not sightread treble AND bass clefs simultaneously, so I memorized Beethoven's "Moonlight Sonata," measure by measure. It took about a year but I got it down, and to this day it remains the only difficult piece I've ever learned on piano. My best friend in high school recently remarked that she remembers me coming to her house and playing that song for her.
My old beat-up copy of Moonlight Sonata
As a music major I had to take piano, but my poor teacher that first semester despaired of me. She had me learn a fairly easy Clementi Sonatina for the recital, but I froze up and made a mess of it. She sighed and had me start over, but I still didn't nail it the way I had in practice. I don't think she was sorry to see me go!

I didn't take piano again until I went back to college eight years later. By then I'd been a medical transcriptionist for several years and could type 140 wpm. Unfortunately I played the piano like I typed--fast and uneven--and the instructor had me do hours and hours of drills to try to "straighten out" my finger work. It didn't work, but it did help my flute playing! This poor teacher also must have sighed and been happy to see me go.

A few years after that I got my second chance at music and teaching flutes again, and often accompanied my students on their solos. I quickly discovered I needed to stick with the easiest piano parts and leave the orchestra reduction-type parts to the pros. While teaching the homeschool band I used my piano mostly for arranging music and writing the occasional original song, but now I just play occasionally, for fun. Some days my brain works better than others at reading bass and treble together, but this poor piano will never get a workout like it did when my Mom played on it. (She, I am happy to report, has another piano and plays every single day.)
The rug under the bench is a gift from my parents. It says, "Bach later, Offenbach sooner."

Friday, January 24, 2014

Fun Friday: Fumblerules of Grammar by William Safire

Since I've been propped up with a healing toe post-toenail removal and immersed in rewriting a novel at a publisher's request, I have nothing new to offer. Here are some golden rules of writing by Pulitzer Prize winning author William Safire (1929-2009).

1.  Avoid run-on sentences they are hard to read.
2.  Don't use no double negatives.
3.  Use the semicolon properly, always use it where it is appropriate; and never where it isn't.
4.  Reserve the apostrophe for it's proper use and omit it when its not needed.
5.  Verbs has to agree with their subjects.
6.  No sentence fragments.
7.  Proofread carefully to see if you any words out.
8.  If any word is improper at the end of a sentence, a linking verb is.
9.  Steer clear of incorrect forms of verbs that have snuck in the language.
10. Take the bull by the hand and avoid mixed metaphors.
11. Avoid trendy locutions that sound flaky.
12. Never, ever use repetitive redundancies.
13. Everyone should be careful to use a singular pronoun with singular nouns in their writing.
14. If I've told you once, I've told you a thousand times, resist hyperbole.
15. Also, avoid awkward or affected alliteration.
16. Always pick on the correct idiom.
17. Avoid commas, that are not necessary.
18. If you reread your work, you will find on rereading that a great deal of repetition can be avoided by rereading and editing.
19. A writer must not shift your point of view.
20. Eschew dialect, irregardless.
21. And don't start a sentence with a conjunction.
22. Don't overuse exclamation marks!!!!
23. Place pronouns as close as possible, especially in long sentences, as of ten or more words, to their antecedents.
24. Hyphenate between syllables and avoid un-necessary hyphens.
25. Write all adverbial forms correct.
26. Writing carefully, dangling participles must be avoided.
27. Never use a long word when a diminutive one will do.
28. In statements involving two word phrases, make an all out effort to use hyphens.
29. Avoid colloquial stuff.
30. Last but not least, avoid clichés like the plague, seek viable alternatives.

Monday, January 20, 2014

The "P" Factor

Cover of notebook I've used for 20 years.

            I collected 600 rejections over seven years before I sold my first short story to an anthology.  What!?  Isn’t that a little extreme?  Even crazy?  Maybe so, but I’ve discovered that good writers are a dime a dozen.  I’ve known several writers much more talented than I am, but they will never be published.  Why?  They have writing ability, but a rejection letter shatters their confidence.
            What enables creative people to continue when faced with seemingly impossible obstacles to their goals?  What distinguishes the writers who try again and again from those who give up?  Just one thing:  The “P” factor.
            Do you have the “P” factor?  Do you have persistence above and beyond common sense?  Do you have the courage necessary to persevere as a writer when the odds of publication seem stacked against you?
To persist means “to continue steadily or firmly . . .in spite of opposition.”  It’s difficult enough to persevere when there is no opposition.  Persistence becomes nearly impossible when we receive rejection after rejection.  We’ve squeezed out those words from the secret places of our soul.  We’ve had the courage to send our precious works into the turbulent world of publishing.  Despite our diligent efforts at marketing research, editors move from house to house, and publishers cut back their lists or go out of business.  Who can possibly foresee that an editor has just mailed a contract to another writer for a book on a similar topic as your manuscript?
            That’s why the “P” factor is so important!  It’s the only way to work past rejection. A rejection slip reflects one person’s opinion about your writing.  Remember, opinions are subjective.  Do you read every kind of book in print?  Certain genres and topics thrill you and others don’t, right?  What one editor hates, another will love. 
The only “secret” to getting published is to work diligently at the craft, and once you’re satisfied that your manuscript is the best it can be, submit and keep submitting.  Create, revise, submit.  If rejected, submit again.  Don’t just wait for a reply; keep creating, revising, submitting.  That’s perseverance!  Life is too short to put all your hopes on one project, or on one editor. 
Thomas Edison said, “Genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration.”  How long have you “perspired”?  If you’re honestly striving to perfect your art, then writing is hard work.  Most of us want to share our work with others, hence the desire for publication.  But no rejection should take away our joy in the process of creation.  If we can’t find pleasure in the act of writing, then we should look for another outlet for our creativity that brings us contentment.
Publishers call what we create “products,” as if a beloved character is nothing more than a used Prius!  That’s why it’s so important to find our greatest satisfaction in the creative process.  When we have faith in ourselves and in what we have created, we can grow in tenacity to persevere in the face of rejection after rejection after rejection. 
The publishing world is no place for the timid.  Believe in yourself!  Be bold!  Be very courageous!  Abraham Lincoln said, “Always bear in mind that your own resolution to succeed is more important than any one thing.”
If you’re reading this article, you are seeing evidence of my persistence.  I can now say that I’ve published five books and hundreds of articles and short stories.  Is it getting easier?  No.  In some ways rejection hurts even more now than in the beginning, because I research publishers so carefully.  But the “P” factor is my choice, and that has proven to be an opportunity to grow in strength of will and character. 
If you believe in your writing, why not choose persistence? 

Friday, January 17, 2014

Writing lessons from Jack and Jill

Below is an excerpt from one of my lessons I developed while teaching creative writing to children. It's not as "fun" as some of the other things I wrote for the students, but it might be helpful for you teachers out there.

You’ve heard this “story” all your life:

Jack and Jill went up the hill to fetch a pail of water.
Jack fell down and broke his crown, and Jill came tumbling after.

Do we really know anything about Jack and Jill?  They could be just about ANYBODY!  What if we could “hear” them speaking to one another:

JILL:  I’m so tired, Uncle Jack.  This hill is so steep.  I want to go home.

JACK:  Now, now, you know we can’t go back without the water your Mama needs to make us a fine venison stew.

JILL:  Well, I am hungry.

JACK:  See?  The stream is just ahead.  Help me fill the buckets and I’ll carry them on the yoke.

JILL:  But how can you carry all the buckets back down the hill?  It’s so steep.

JACK:  Just watch.  Oh, oh!

JILL:  Uncle Jack! 

Could you “see” Jack and Jill a little better?  Are there any hints about their age and where/when they live?  This is just the dialogue.  All you need to complete the scene is add a few details:

            Jill dropped her bucket and plopped down on a rock.  She noticed a stain on the front of her calico dress.  She sighed.  “I’m so tired, Uncle Jack.  This hill is so steep.  I want to go home.”
            Jack turned around.  He pushed up his straw hat with his free hand.  Beneath his grizzled eyebrows his blue eyes twinkled.  He shifted the carry yoke on his shoulder.  “Now, now, you know we can’t go back without the water your Mama needs to make us a fine venison stew.”
            Jill wrinkled her nose.  She could almost smell that stew.  Uncle Jack had just killed that doe this morning.  Mama was preparing the meat right now.  “Well, I am hungry.”
            Jack pointed ahead.  “See?  The stream is just ahead.”  Help me fill the buckets and I’ll carry them on the yoke.”
            Jill shrugged and followed Jack.  He set down the carry yoke. 
“Help me fill the buckets and I’ll carry them on the yoke.”
She dipped her bucket in the cold, clear water and gripped the handle with both hands.  “But how can you carry all the buckets back down the hill?  It’s so steep.”
Jack grinned and took the nearly full bucket from Jill.  “Just watch.”
He added Jill’s bucket to the two on the carry yoke.  It appeared to Jill that the yoke was unbalanced.  Uncle Jack always seemed to know what he was doing, so she followed him as he began to descend the steep hill. 
They hadn’t gone far when he stumbled on a rock and lost his footing.  “Oh, oh!” he cried just before the heavy yoke pulled him down.  His head struck a boulder, and he lay still.
“Uncle Jack!” screamed Jill, rushing forward.  Then she, too, lost her balance and began tumbling down the hill.

Now you try it!  Write the dialogue for Jack and Jill.  Make them sound like (pick one) two children  OR  two teenagers  OR  two elderly people  OR  two people of any age.

Just put their names in all capital letters, like this: 

JACK:  (write what he says)

JILL:  (write what she says)

If you do write this, I'd love to read it! You can email a copy to me at Happy writing!