Does Nobody Watch The Classics Anymore?

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We interrupt our regularly-scheduled shameless self-promotion…

Setting aside the propriety of casting Mel Gibson in a movie called “Rothchild,” which seems to be all anyone is discussing about it, why is it that not a single article I’ve read so far notices that it’s almost certainly a remake of an old classic?

Here’s the plot summary from The Hollywood Reporter:

The black comedy will center on Becket Rothchild (Shia LaBeouf) — the bastard child of a mother, who in eloping with a jazz musician was cast out from the Rothchild family and its vast fortune — who was never given a fair lot in life. All grown up and armed with charisma, intelligence and a flair for opportunity, it does not take long for Becket to fully grasp the immense gap between his situation and the richest 1 percent, which should be his birthright. He has a plan.

There are precisely nine Rothchild family members who stand between him and his fortune, including Whitelaw (Gibson), his sinister grandfather. How hard could it be for them each to meet with an “accident”? With the unique advantage of being unknown to any of them, Becket penetrates the weird and twisted lives of his super-rich kin amongst frat boys, hipster artists and reality TV stars. The only thing that threatens to get in the way is love, both old and new.

Did you recognize it? Here’s a hint: Alec Guinness.

Not yet? How about: Alec Guinness, Alec Guinness, Alec Guinness, Alec Guinness, Alec Guinness, Alec Guinness, Alec Guinness, Alec Guinness, and Alec Guinness.

The movie I’m referring to is Kind Hearts and Coronets, from 1949. In many respects its plot matches the above outline precisely, making allowances for an updated setting. The biggest clue is that there are precisely nine family members to bump off, as in the 1949 film. (Apparently the film was loosely adapted into a Broadway show in 2013, A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder. None of the discussions of “Rothchild” mention that one either.)

Interestingly, in one sense “Rothchild” might be more faithful to Kind Hearts’s original source material—a 1907 novel titled Israel Rank: the Autobiography of a Criminal, in which the titular criminal is half-Jewish and generally enacts the usual anti-Semitic stereotypes of Jews.

I doubt I’ll see “Rothchild,” mostly because I don’t trust Hollywood to satirize “the 1%” without plunging into boring ham-handed preachy sanctimony. But it’s alarming that the classic movie it seems to have been ripped off of has apparently sunk without a trace, forgotten by the very reporters who claim to know movies.

(I suppose this is one more example of how institutional memory is being destroyed across industries by young know-it-alls who imagine that no one older than they knows anything worth learning. One of the most frightening things about Washington DC is that much of the government is run by twenty-something staffers who are ignorant and easily manipulated by outside interests.)

On the bright side, those of us who appreciate the classics have an opportunity to sell old wine in new bottles. What other classic movies or books are out there, waiting for a facelift in the hands of a determined modern novelist?

FIRST LOOK: “She That Was So Proud and Wild,” by Misha Burnett

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Thanks for following The Wand that Rocks the Cradle! Today’s excerpt is from a story by Misha Burnett, in which a family clinging to its old ways and old magic confronts a prodigal son who wants to live his own life. Enjoy!

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At the old fuel station off the highway Jenni went in to get some snacks for the road.

Marc stayed with the truck and had the attendant fill the two jerry cans he kept in the back as well as the truck’s tank.

“Headed up country?” the attendant asked, using an expression Marc hadn’t heard in years.

Marc nodded. “I’ve got folk in Carne Shant.”

“Not as bad as it used to be,” the attendant observed. “There’s stations up in the delves now.”

“I’d rather be prepared,” Marc said. “Better to spend wisdom than earn it.”

The attendant grinned at that. “Old church?” he asked.

Marc shook his head. “Not anymore.”

Jenni came back with warm fudge wrapped in waxed paper and bottles of ginger soda.

Marc paid the attendant as Jenni climbed in, then waved as he drove off.

“Friendly people,” Jenni said.

“They can be,” Marc observed.

“Funny thing…” Jenni began, giving Marc a sidelong glance, “There was a sign at the register about not taking coins unless they’re rolled. The last place we stopped had the same sign. What’s that all about?”

“Old church,” Marc said absently. “They don’t use paper money.”

(Read more…)

The Wand that Rocks the Cradle—Author Interview with Frank Saverio

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Thanks for supporting The Wand that Rocks the Cradle! Today’s interview is with Frank Saverio, who contributed the short story, “To Find a Peach”. Enjoy!

 

If you had to tell someone, “If you like this person’s stories, you would like mine too,” who would you pick?

The obvious answer is good old G.R.R. Martin. But if you like my crime fiction as Frank Zafiro, I think you’ll see some similarity in this story.

What attracted you to writing?

Tough question… it’s always been there. I equate it to a musician being attracted to music. It’s an almost instinctual draw.

How did you get to this point in your writing? Did you take classes, or intensively study particular authors, or simply do a lot of writing and learn as you go? All of the above?

I think I took one class in college. I would say I am mostly self-taught, but that is a term that belies what really goes on. I’ve learned from all the authors I’ve read, and those I’ve worked with directly, as well as my own trial and error and subsequent growth.

Are there particular themes that run through your writing?

I try to be real, so my stories are sometimes a little bit of a downer. But one of my favorite songwriters is Bruce Springsteen, and a lot of his songs are downer songs (some are super upbeat, too, but those aren’t my favorites). Despite the darkness in many of these songs, there’s always an underlying sense of hope, or at least resiliency. Since much of what I’ve written has been crime fiction, I’ve found it useful to follow this same philosophy. I think readers will see it in my short story for this collection, too.

(Read more…)

Writing Exercises for Stories where a Religious Organization Rules Society

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(A message from our sponsors: pre-order your copy of The Wand that Rocks the Cradle: Magical Stories of Family now, and get special Kickstarter-exclusive bonuses! A collection of fantasy short stories that range from tender, to grim, to poignant, to breathtaking, The Wand that Rocks the Cradle is a Lagrange Books anthology you don’t want to miss!)

This writing exercise is meant to accompany this post about the Clergy “polity,” in which power is held (at least in part) by a religious leader or organization. If you like this exercise, read the above-linked post and then come back.

  1. What religious/spiritual beliefs do the Clergy have in your society? How do they justify its political power?
  2. Is the Clergy the sole ruler? Or does it provide legitimacy for another ruler, like a king with divine right? What kind of legitimacy?
  3. Does the Clergy make political demands on other powerful figures, or society in general? How are these enforced? Does the Clergy have an army, or magical power? Or do people obey because of its moral authority?
  4. What sacrifices must the Clergy make to demonstrate its religious piety? What sacrifices does it demand of others?
  5. Does the Clergy observe its own rules? Does it have the respect of the people? Of the elites?
  6. How can members of the Clergy exploit their positions for personal gain? How often do they do so?
  7. What happens if a member of the Clergy has a crisis of faith? What about someone not in the Clergy?
  8. What would happen in a religious schism? Or a sudden outbreak of unbelief?
  9. Looking over all the potential conflict points you’ve noted, which have the most resonance for your story?

Writing Exercises for Stories with Popular Sovereignty

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(A message from our sponsors: pre-order your copy of The Wand that Rocks the Cradle: Magical Stories of Family now, and get special Kickstarter-exclusive bonuses! A collection of fantasy short stories that range from tender, to grim, to poignant, to breathtaking, The Wand that Rocks the Cradle is a Lagrange Books anthology you don’t want to miss!)

This writing exercise is meant to accompany this post about the Forum “polity,” in which power is held by at least some of the populace and exercised collectively through open debate and shared government. If you like this exercise, read the above-linked post and then come back.

  1. What gives the people real power against a would-be ruler or oligarch? Is it military weaponry? Broad wealth? Magic?
  2. What institution translates people’s individual wishes into a unified policy? Is it an elected legislature? A popular debate followed by a vote? Discussion and consensus by tribal elders? A shared religious law that dictates behavior?
  3. Who has the right to participate in the above institutions, or to choose representatives? In other words, who is enfranchised? (Remember that the famed Athenian democracy, for example, included only about ten percent of the city’s males.)
  4. Are decisions made effectively, especially in crisis moments? Is the process too slow? Does it have a tendency toward alarmism? Can voters be bought off or intimidated?
  5. Are there groups of people who are specifically excluded, like slaves or women, or elves, or biological humans in a cybernetic society?
  6. If the populace makes a decision, who carries it out? In other words, who is the executive or executor? Are they selected, or elected, or hereditary, or something else?
  7. How might the executive actor gain power over time? How might it gain power suddenly? How might it lose power, and/or legitimacy?
  8. What changes in society might undermine the basis for the Forum polity? List at least five.
  9. What ideology justifies the Forum, instead of a monarchy or other non-participatory form of government? How might that ideology be challenged? Does the ideology threaten any neighbors?
  10. Looking back at your potential points of conflict, which have the most resonance for your story?

FIRST LOOK: “Bellwethers Know Best,” by Marion Deeds

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Thanks for supporting The Wand that Rocks the Cradle! For our next exclusive story excerpt, we have the beginning of “Bellwethers Know Best,” which discusses the trials and tribulations of raising a young, powerful daughter when all the rest of the family want to get their two cents in. Enjoy!

 

Eulalie skipped down the hall, an amulet wrapped around her head to hold a cataract of lacy blue silk in place. Bracelets and tripled strands of beads ringed her arms. “Mom, I’m going out to play!”

Eden stood before the front door, one hand outstretched. “The Bracer of Erishkigal, please.”

Eulalie rolled her eyes and slipped a red-and-black cuff off her wrist. As she held it out, a small book slid out from underneath the satiny stretch of lime green scarf she wore as a chiton and plopped onto the floor.

“And the grimoire,” said Eden.

Eulalie handed it to her.

“And the Orb of Chios, while we’re at it.”

Pouting, Eulalie handed them over. “Grandma says she doesn’t know how she raised such a killjoy,” she said.

“Tell your grandmother that she’s not helping.”

(Read more…)

The Wand that Rocks the Cradle: Interview with Elana Gomel

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Thanks for supporting The Wand that Rocks the Cradle! Today’s interview is with author Elana Gomel, who contributed the short story “The Dragon Detector.” Enjoy!

 

What attracted you to writing?

When I was five or six years old, I had an incredibly vivid dream about an infinite house. The house went up and down forever and if you fell off a balcony, you’d fly for an eternity. The dream was so compelling that for a while I was sure I was actually living in this house and my everyday life was a dream. Now the infinite house exists in my award-winning story “In the Moment”. I can share my dream with a multitude of people. This is what writing is for me: creating shared worlds out of private imagination.

If you had to tell someone, “If you like this person’s stories, you would like mine too,” who would you pick?

Before I was a writer, I was a reader; and since I am also an academic, writing about other people’s books, I have quite a long list of personal favorites and role models. I love generic hybrids: sci-fi and horror; mystery and fantasy. I appreciate vivid imagination and unsettling details. So if you like Clive Barker, China Mieville, Tim Lebbon and Tony Ballantyne, you might like my writing. My two recent novels, The Cryptids and The Hungry Ones have been compared to Barker and Mieville respectively.

(Read more…)

FIRST LOOK: “Dead in First Grade,” by P.L. Sundeson

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Thanks for supporting The Wand that Rocks the Cradle! Today you’re in for a treat: the first of our story excerpts! You’ll be happy to know that the stories are nearly finished with the first round of edits, which let’s us raise the curtain just a little bit. As the days go by, we are going to be periodically posting excerpts from the stories in the anthology to give you a little taste of the full package. Our first excerpt is the beginning of the short story “Dead in First Grade,” by P.L. Sundeson. Enjoy!

 

As an only child who did not play with many other children, Emma Peters had no one to tell her what school was or should be like. She was sure, though, that your teacher was not supposed to be dead.

* * *

Emma knew the days of the week, and she knew Thursday was a Work Day.  So she was startled to see Daddy, in his dark gray suit and tie as always, waiting outside their gate that cool September morning.  She threw herself down the steps and hugged him around his waist. “Daddy!  I’m glad you came.  Mommy said you had work.”

Daddy stroked her head.  “I couldn’t let my little girl go to her first day of school without me.”

(Read more…)

The Wand that Rocks the Cradle: Interview with Marion Deeds

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Thanks for supporting the Kickstarter campaign for The Wand that Rocks the Cradle! Today’s interview is with author Marion Deeds, contributor of the short story “Bellwethers Know Best.” Enjoy!

 

If you had to tell someone, “If you like this person’s stories, you’ll like mine,” who would you pick?

What an interesting question! I couldn’t really think of anyone at first, so I asked some friends, and the responses were eye-opening.

People have suggested Seanan McGuire. I assume they mean her contemporary fantasy Incryptid series. I do see some similarities there, and with Tanya Huff, who was another suggestion. Both writers deal with an everyday world that incorporates magic, and characters who struggle, not only with the supernatural, but with universal issues; family, relationships, jobs.

Writers I would love to be compared to? I’d have to say Mary Robinette Kowal, especially in her short fiction. There are two San Francisco Bay Area short story writers whose work I greatly admire. Laura Blackwell has a story called “An Accidental Coven.” Laura Pearlman is published a variety of places, and her work seems light and humorous at first but soon you realize that there is more happening beneath the surface. I think I write in a similar vein.

(Read more…)

The Wand that Rocks the Cradle: Interview with W.O. Hemsath

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Thanks for following our campaign as we launch The Hand that Rocks the Cradle! In our quest to help you get to know our authors better, today we will be interviewing W.O. Hemsath, author of the short story “Coffee Break.” Enjoy!

What attracted you to writing?

I don’t have the skills to draw or sketch, and that’s always made me a bit sad. But I loved to read and I loved to talk, so I developed a big vocabulary when I was little. When I learned I could paint with words to create art the way others paint with lines and colors, I realized I had a medium that allowed me to transfer the ideas in my head into someone else’s. From that point on, I was hooked. I’ve been writing stories and telling stories ever since.

How did you get to this point in your writing? Did you take classes, or intensively study particular authors, or simply do a lot of writing and learn as you go? All of the above?

When I was in grade school, I wrote for fun—short stories, poems, song lyrics, choose-your-own-adventure serial pieces for a friend’s on-line magazine, anything I could find. In college, I went to film school and got my degree in screenwriting. After that, I took off about ten years to serve a mission for my church, get married, have kids, etc. I dabbled with writing here and there during that decade, kept a journal of all the story ideas that kept popping up, but didn’t write much. I did start a Master’s program in Creative Writing during that time, but I quit towards the end of the first semester. I wasn’t learning enough from it to justify the commitment at the time.

In late 2016 I got serious about my writing again and was at a point in my life where I could dedicate some time to it. I joined a writing group, went to writing conferences, read various craft books and blogs, watched Brandon Sanderson’s online lectures, listened to podcasts on writing—anything writing related I could get my hands on, really.

Read more…