Tag: story

Deep Thinking at the Writer’s Retreat

My Muse is extroverted in every imagined scenario. My actual body and mind are introverted enough to happily stay home every weekend reading a book.
While Musie celebrated the idea of the Deep Thinker’s Writing Retreat, my mind shriveled into the fetal position and begged to visit a library instead. Preferably the one on my iPad which wouldn’t involve moving away from my couch.
Since the retreat was in Florida, my body argued with my feeble mind. “There will be sunshine and blue skies. We can get our daily dose of Vitamin D without taking that soft gel.”


The part of my brain that knows I need a writing tribe and that my writing is falling short—somehow, since I can’t get an agent to jump on it—also slapped the curled mound of quivering gray matter. After all, 2018 is a year for metamorphosis, and the biggest part of that is with my writing.
The battlefield inside didn’t stop me from packing a bag or waking up at 3AM. On waged the upheaval between mind, soul and Musie, while I kissed hubby goodbye and boarded a plane for the first of three legs of the journey to Destin, Florida.

My Expectations

It was a writing retreat. I expected to write.

In fact, I set myself a goal of completing 5,000 new words for the third Sweet Grove Romance. I figured, that’s five hours. I’ll be there six DAYS, surely there will be at least five hours to write.
Not if I expected to sleep.

Not if I hoped to glean the lessons I needed for character development.

I know this is my weak area, and the retreat organizers gave us three days to work on our characters. In fact, we spent hours brainstorming the hero and shero of every retreat attendee.
This after the entire group tossed out ideas for characters of the “group” story we were brainstorming.

Brainstormers Extraordinaire headed by Susan May Warren

Brainstorming is my super power. No less than six people told me that at the group. One woman (a former managing editor for Zondervan) told me to expect an email from her every time she got stuck.
Oh-kay.
But the only time I got to write anything was on the final day of the retreat. Then I was expected to craft the first scene we had brainstormed earlier and share it with my group mentor, Susan May Warren.
She wanted me to share a rough draft scene with her? Was she honestly expecting to see my best work?
Enough of that. Even if the retreat wasn’t what I expected, it was an incredible experience.

A Day in the Life

I don’t sleep in. The fact I was in a different time zone didn’t matter.
I woke up around 5:30 AM (3:30 my time). My roomie woke up, too, and we headed down to the beach for a walk. This became our normal morning routine for the next four days.
Breakfast was meant to be served at 7:30. The oven wasn’t cooperating, so that didn’t happen the first several days. (Eventually the maintenance man arrived and determined that the convection setting was the default, so the retreat hostess had been using that instead of a regular bake setting.)
At 8:45, Rachel Hauck led the group in devotions. She’d recently taught a class on the Song of Solomon at her church, so we got some condensed thoughts from that.
Enlightening, for sure. I was considering the intimacy of my relationship with Christ…and finding it sadly lacking.
Then the morning sessions began. These were the topics:

  • Stories that matter
  • Characters that matter
  • Lindy Hop MEGA
  • 4-Act Plot
  • Plot your bookends
  • Scenes that matter
  • Building your premise

No, we didn’t do ALL those the first day. There were two morning sessions and these were the topics for those sessions (ten planned sessions in all, although it ended up only being eight).
After lunch, the larger group broke into two smaller brainstorming groups of six attendees, one mentor and one scribe (the Administrative Assistant for My Book Therapy was our scribe and the retreat hostess was the scribe for the other group. Both of these ladies are published authors).
Here’s what the afternoon brainstorming sessions were supposed to look like:

  • SEQ Brainstorming (four sessions)
  • Plot Brainstorming (two sessions)
  • Black Moment Brainstorming (one session)
  • Scene One Brainstorming (one session)
  • One session of writing time
  • Two sessions for one-to-one meetings with mentors

Note how I said “supposed to” in the preceding sentence? Yeah, the brainstorming of the hero and shero took the first three days of the retreat for the six authors in our group. A full hour or more per character.

This is what a character SEQ looks like

This left no time for scene brainstorming because the rest of the sessions were needed to brainstorm six plot outlines (LINDY Hop four-act plot diagram).
I will say that we brainstormed the black moments and first scenes as we went, so all the bases were covered.

The Lindy Hop plot for my novella

The first three nights, we watched a movie from 7 to 9 PM. Each person was assigned something from that day’s lesson to find in the movie and we discussed it after the film.

  • We used THE SECRET LIFE OF WALTER MITTY to discuss characterization on Friday night.
  • On Saturday, we talked about the major plot points with THE LEGEND OF TARZAN.
  • They made us cry on Sunday with THE IMPOSSIBLE. We talked about why that movie “worked” when the story was not action-packed. How did they build the emotional tension?

Not surprisingly, the emotion building still fit into the LINDY Hop structure we’d been learning.
Using movies is a great way to solidify the importance of characterization and plot. Everyone has the same frame of reference, so the question of subjectiveness is alleviated.

The spot where phone calls home happened

For the most part. There were varying themes for TARZAN that could be determined by naming different things as the “man in the mirror” moment or “black moment.”
The Deep Thinkers Retreat might not have been what I was expecting. (Notice I didn’t call it a writing retreat there. I think it’s meant to be a writer’s retreat rather than a retreat for writing.) Still, I learned so much that my brain overloaded on the flight home.

The perfect place for writing

My next Sweet Grove romance was written using these methods. In July, you can judge for yourself if this retreat made me a better storyteller.
What makes something a retreat? Have you ever when to a retreat with one set of expectations only to discover it would deliver a different set?

What You Should Be Reading this Weekend

Weekends are the perfect time for cuddling up in front of a fire with a good book. It’s even better if you can get a bite-sized story that fills the one or two free hours perfectly. And I have a recommendation that fits both bills: ONE SNOWY NIGHT.

This is a new collection of four short stories released by Roane Publishing only a few days ago. Because it’s my publisher, I read the advanced copy several weeks ago. And boy did it get me in the mood for snowy nights cuddled up with my honey.

I’m not going to give you the summary. You can click over to my blog earlier in the week to read the blurbs for all the stories.

My Review

You’ll enjoy four- and five-star reads in this collection. It includes stories with traditional tropes but all of them have a twist. That’s exactly the way I enjoy my tropes.

Melissa J. Crispin takes the “I lost my memory” trope and throws it into an interesting situation. What if you forgot you were divorced? What if you woke up after an accident expecting to see your husband? Asking these questions worked for the author because the husband under consideration hadn’t wanted the divorce in the first place.

These characters weren’t especially relatable as far as careers go, but their emotions were universally understood. Although I thought the story shifted too suddenly in some areas, it was still a powerful, feel-good read that made me tear up.

Four stars.

If you haven’t read anything by T.E. Hodden, you’re in for a pleasant surprise. I’ve read several of his stories, and this one has the most “feels” of any I’ve read. Again, he uses a common trope–friends to lovers–and freshens it up with incredible stakes.

He employs two devices I’m usually NOT impressed with. The first is that most of the story is a flashback. The reason this doesn’t really work for me is because I know where the story’s going and that takes away the tension in the progression.

That didn’t happen here. In fact, I kept turning pages wondering, “Well, how did this happen?” And although I figured out the big misunderstanding fairly early, I still wanted to keep reading.

The other thing is the use of first AND second person. I especially dislike second person because I never feel the “you.” In this case, the author pulled off this strange point of view. It came across as the narrator telling the story to the love interest (the “you” of the story). Some skilled writing went into this.

Five stars.

If you like the friends to lovers trope when it’s separated by a time lapse, you’ll like Laurie Treacy‘s story. While I felt like it told us the individual stories of Danielle and Quinn rather than truly building their romance, I still enjoyed it. Part of that could have been the hometown setting, which is one I generally adore.

The characters were well-developed and I could relate to their struggles. The plot progressed very much as expected in a romance, but I never felt the budding (or revisited?) relationship was in peril, so it didn’t have the sort of tension I need to fully engage with a romance-only story.

Four stars.

The final story I read in the collection was by Charlotte Snead. “One Snowy Day” took the trope of surrogate mother to wife and twisted it by giving an incredibly unique situation as the setup. It didn’t have the same “winter afternoon” feeling as the other stories, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t enjoyable and engaging.

I never connected with these characters the way I did in the other stories. The only one who had my empathy was the little girl, Molly. I wanted the aunt and dad to get together so Molly would finally have a happy home.

Four stars.

My Recommendation

If you enjoy sweet romance, you’ll want to pick up this collection. Each story offers enough familiarity to pull you right in and enough originality to keep you reading.

These aren’t holiday stories. Yes, most of them center on events that happen in the winter, but many of them span several months or years.

Once you sample these authors, you’ll be back to Roane Publishing to read more from them. And that’s a perfect way to throw support to a small indie publisher.

Don’t forget the Giveaway for a $10 gift card.

What are you reading this weekend? I hope you’ll consider adding One Snowy Night to your pile.

LA LA LAND of Dreams

In my experience, watching award-winning films is a mixed bag. Some are masterpieces in every way and others leave a person shaking their head (UNFORGIVEN). So I had low expectations when I viewed LA LA LAND.

This is not a review of the movie. It’s a reflection of underlying themes in any work of art.

Appreciation of art is utterly subjective. I will throw my hands up at cubist paintings while another person is deeply moved. I’ll see paint splatters and psych evaluation ink dot images in some impressionistic works while others can easily envision what the artist intended.

So if I’ve already offended you because you loved UNFORGIVEN or hated AMADEUS (an old Academy winner that I especially enjoyed), I apologize. Not for my opinion but that you found it offensive because it was not offered up for that purpose.

The Story

This is a story about a girl who wants to be an actress and a boy who is an accomplished musician but has bottomed-out while seeking his dream (of owning a jazz club).

Girl meets boy when she hears him playing the piano at a restaurant when she’s walking by. (I loved that the tune of that song underwrote most of the music for the score. In my opinion, this is composition at its finest.) He’s just been fired for not sticking to the manager’s set list, so he blows by her with hardly a glance.

Later they meet up at a party and it’s the “boy and girl despise each other when they meet” trope in action. Neither of them are looking for love or a relationship and that’s when it blindsides you.

They support each other’s art, but they come to a crossroads where the choice seems to be “career/dream” or “relationship.” He has chosen a career and it isn’t fulfilling him, and her dream lets her down. They part with the assurance “I’ll always love you.”

Five years later, a “chance” meeting sends them spiraling down the path of  “what if.” And while it appears they have both “arrived” at their dream, neither of them appears happy.

My Takeaway

Dreams can only take you so far.

If you’ve followed me long, you know I’m a middle-aged woman who has only been pursuing her dreams for seven years, and single-mindedly for four years. I am a proponent for never giving up on dreams.

However, I wouldn’t give up my family or my husband if it meant that I had every dream I’ve imagined (best sellers, movie adaptations, million-dollar contracts, etc.)

To me, that is what happened in the movie. Especially for Sebastian. Mia moved on and found another man, had a daughter, although her reaction when she heard him play tells me it wasn’t all golden for her either.

In the “what if” scenario, both of them ended up in the same place–dreams fulfilled–but they were together.

The theme here was about choices and how one can alter everything–for better or worse.

A dream might have a price, but some prices are too high to pay. Each person must decide what the “upper limit” will be for them. Sadly, we might not realize how much we’ve lost until it’s too late to recover it.

A feeling of melancholy accompanied the end of this film. The dreams didn’t seem to bring as much joy to Mia and Seb as their time together. It was a reminder to count the cost, appreciate what you have and live each moment.

Have you seen LA LA LAND? What theme stood out to you? What emotion did the film leave with you?

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Maybe you like romance or some of my other books. I’m sure there’s something worth reading on my page.

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Four Things that Keep me Awake at Night

I fall asleep easily when I first go to bed. Most nights, I can drop back into slumber after urgency wakes me for a trip across the tile floor to the bathroom. And it’s really not accurate to suggest things keep me awake.
To clarify: once I wake up, there are a number of things that prevent me from returning to the land of dreams.
Usually, I’ll start praying and that will tip me over the edge. I’m pretty sure God isn’t impressed that I fall asleep during so many of our conversations, but thankfully his mercy is great.


On the night in question, that didn’t work.
Snoring
Not mine. My husband’s.
Tonight, it only took two elbows and two adjustments of his position for the ear-grating noise to cease. Hallelujah!
Too bad that wasn’t the only enemy to my night of restful slumber.
Cats
I adore cats. In my mind, there is no such thing as “too many cats.”
Of course, I’ve never had more than three cats at one time, so perhaps it’s my lack of experience talking here.
Because one cat can be too many in the middle of the night when my body craves rest but my brain refuses to shut down.
One cat was resolutely positioned between me and hubby. Fine. Except when the other cat decided to walk over her to get to me.
Because there isn’t an entire mattress.
Purring soothes me and sometimes I can concentrate on the vibrations and that lulls me into sleep. But not if the cat in question has gas. Or is beating me with his tail.
Or must circle incessantly to find the best position, which always has to be much less comfortable for me than him. And this is nonsensical since we’ve all seen the memes of cats sleeping in the craziest contortions imaginable.
Thinking too Much
This one is sometimes related to the last think keeping me awake tonight.
Or it could be thoughts about:

  • What I need to do tomorrow
  • A story idea
  • A problem with a manuscript
  • Lists I need to make
  • Another story idea
  • Crochet projects and what colors of yarn I need to buy (see this post for more info)
  • Wondering if I’ll get called to substitute teach in a few hours
  • Mapping out my menu for the week
  • Outlining the next writing project (all of which will be forgotten in the light of day)
  • Testing out blurbs or loglines for a current manuscript


I would go on, but I’m pretty sure the list has already put 95 percent of the people reading it into a peaceful dream state.
                                                                             You’re welcome.
Replaying my own Stupidity
This is the reel that pushed me out of bed tonight (which is not the time you’re reading these words but it is the time I wrote them around 3:28am on a Tuesday).
How have I become so dependent on a navigation system? Not that I’ve ever been good with directions, mind you, but why can’t I follow road signs?
Did I really let the fact my phone wouldn’t sync with my car’s Bluetooth distract me from finding my way along the highway?
(Yes, these things are related. They are things that made me upset when I was traveling home from my most recent girls’ weekend.)
You call yourself smart and independent but you can’t even follow simple directions.
You should appreciate people who pump your gas more than you do.
Because I nearly ran out of gas on this same trip because “I just want to get somewhere that I don’t have to pump my own gas.” I know that most of the people reading this are thinking I’m insane. Everyone in the country knows how to pump their own gas. They do it every week when they need to refuel.
Except I don’t have to do it because I live in Oregon. And I’m happy not to do it.
The last time I pumped my gas, I had to remove a gas cap. Apparently, cars don’t have those these days.
And you really have to push the nozzle with force to get it inserted past the gatekeeper on this type of gas tank. Which is probably every gas tank on newer vehicles, but since I don’t pump gas, I’m ignorant of these things.
And I hate to say it, voluntarily in the dark, because I don’t think about how to pump gas.
But I had to call my husband when I cashed in my pride and pulled up to a gas station in Kelso, WA, to avoid the shame of running out of gas (which I have never done).
Wow! Is anyone else so prideful they nearly run out of gas? So spoiled they throw a tantrum when a gas tank looks like an object from a science fiction movie?
Needless to say, none of these things helped me regain my sleepy state of mind. Until I poured them onto the page, stifled a yawn and padded back to my Sleep Number 55 mattress.
What keeps you awake at night? Do you have any tactics for getting back to sleep?
If this post appealed to you, you might like Hero Delivery. It’s a bulletin with deals and specials from Sharon Hughson. It can be on the way to your inbox in a few clicks.
Check out Reality Meets its Match and my other books. You’re sure to find something worth reading.

Already read one or more? Please leave an honest review on your favorite site. Those reviews are the same as the author discovering a gold nugget in the bottom of her washing machine.

The Difference Between Heart and Soul

Writing is my calling. Sometimes the words pour directly from my heart onto the page.

Other times, it’s my soul that gets exposed.

Those creations are often the ones that remain secreted away in a spiral notebook or journal, too private for general consumption. A few of them make it into a document on the computer.

Most are locked away in the privacy of this writer’s treasure chest.

Some of them are more like blood stains than works of art. Although, some morbid artist might use blood stains to inspire a painting. Or prick a finger to add blood to the canvas she’s working on.

Here is an untitled poem from October 9, 2016. Hopefully it will give you an idea about how different forms of writing affect me.

A Novel
so many words
characters, arcs
a plot line, sub plot
all tied in a bow
with conflict and tension
more believable than life

A Story
burning from within
trails life on the page
fewer words with
a louder message
as much trouble
with less time

A Poem
bleeds emotions
metaphors, alliteration
pictures a moment
deep in heart or soul
whispers barren truth
in short bursts of verse

Yes, the process I use for each of these is as different as the outcome. The above poem is a first and final draft. Such a thing will never happen with a short story. A novel involves hours of preparation before the first words ever make it to the page.

Is it the length that causes the difference? The content? The method of delivery?

If this post appealed to you, you might like Hero Delivery. It’s a bulletin with deals and specials from Sharon Hughson. It can be on the way to your inbox in a few clicks.
Check out Finding Focus and my other books. You’re sure to find something worth reading.
Already read one or more? Please leave an honest review on your favorite site. Those reviews are the same as the author discovering a gold nugget in the bottom of her washing machine.

Today is the Day for DAMAGED GOODS

I am so excited that DAMAGED GOODS by Jennifer Bardsley releases today and that I get to share the news!

If you haven’t yet heard about this wonderful book by Author Jennifer Bardsley, be sure to check out all the details below. AND come back tomorrow when the author stops by here to answer some of my questions about the characters, premise and themes.
 
This blitz also includes a giveaway for a Perfectly Posh, Posh To Meet You Set ($20 value), US Only courtesy of Month9Books. So if you’d like a chance to win, enter in the Rafflecopter at the bottom of this post.

About The Book:

 
Title: DAMAGED GOODS (Blank Slate #2)
Author: Jennifer Bardsley
Pub.Date: January 17, 2017
Publisher: Month9Books
Find it: Goodreads | Amazon | B&N | TBD
Blanca has everything she ever wanted, a hot boyfriend named Seth and the loving support of her foster father, Cal. She’s finally escaped the abusive control of her birth father, Barbelo Nemo, and her tortured childhood at Tabula Rasa School.
But the scars of Blanca’s Vestal upbringing run deep, especially when the FBI start asking questions. Blanca feels abandoned by Seth who is hunting for Lilith, Blanca’s only blood relative. The Defectos, a support group of Vestal-Rejects, offer Blanca comfort instead.
While the Vestal order crumbles, Chinese rivals called the Guardians rise to power and wrest control of important Tabula Rasa contacts. Now Blanca’s life is in peril once more, and this time, Blanca struggles to recognize friend from foe.
 
 

OR Start at the beginning with Genesis Girl!

Eighteen-year-old Blanca has lived a sheltered life. Her entire childhood
has been spent at Tabula Rasa School where she’s been protected from the
Internet. 

Blanca has never been online and doesn’t even know how to text. Her lack of a virtual footprint makes her extremely valuable, and upon graduation, Blanca and those like her are sold to the highest bidders.

Blanca is purchased by Cal McNeal, who uses her to achieve personal gain. But the McNeals are soon horrified by just how obedient and non-defiant Blanca is. All those mind-numbing years locked away from society have made her mind almost impenetrable. 
 
By the time Blanca is ready to think for herself, she is trapped. Her only
chance of escape is to go online. 

Enjoy the following SNEAK PEAK inside the cover of Damaged Goods. And don’t forget to enter the giveaway at the bottom of the post AND come back tomorrow to hear from the author!

Excerpt
 
I look to where he points, and the flash of thumb-cameras blinds me. Vestals must never have their pictures taken by random people. That privilege belongs to the companies that purchase them and market a Vestal’s privacy one
advertisement at a time. I reach my arms out by instinct, to protect my face from the public. “I’m fine with it,” I lie, pulling my hands down. “But we better leave now or we’ll be late to the restaurant.”
 
“My dad can wait a few minutes.” Seth scoops me in his arms.
 
“Blanca!” one of the spectators calls. “And Veritas Rex! Is that really you?”
 
Seth holds up his hand and wiggles his finger-chips. “The one and only!” Then he dips me back for a kiss.
 
I stiffen like cardboard. “Stop it,” I mumble, trying not to squirm. All I can think about is the cameras, my face flashed worldwide and weirdoes slobbering over my private moment with Seth. 
 
“We’ve got to go or we’ll be late.”
 
Seth kisses my nose. “I didn’t know you were so punctual.”
 
“Yes.” I pull myself out of his grasp. “Cal’s waiting.” The sooner I put my helmet on and get back on my motorcycle, the better.
 
“Blanca,” a man calls as we ride away. “I love you! I’ve watched you all year!”

Underneath my jacket, I shiver. The fame that surrounds me is chilling.

 

About Jennifer: 

Jennifer Bardsley writes the parenting column “I Brake for Moms” for the Sunday edition of The Everett Daily HeraldShe also blogs at Teaching My Baby to Read with the mission of sparking a national debate on the important roll parents play in education. Jennifer is a graduate of Stanford University and a member of SCBWI.
She lives with her husband and two children in Edmonds, WA. 
Her first novel, GENESIS GIRL,  is about an 18 year-old girl whose lack of a virtual footprint makes her so valuable that she is auctioned off to the highest bidder, and the sequel  is available now.
Jennifer is represented by Liza Fleissig of the Liza Royce Literary AgencyLLC.
 
Follow the Jennifer on FacebookTwitterInstagram, and Goodreads.

Giveaway Details:

 (1) winner will receive a Perfectly Posh, Posh To Meet You Set ($20 value), US Only.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Attending my First Writer’s Conference – Pre-Conference Post

Willamette-Writers2When this post goes live, I will actually be in Portland, Oregon, at the Lloyd Center Doubletree Hotel experiencing the joys of registering for my first ever writer’s conference.

As I write this, it is exactly two weeks in the future and I’m nauseous anxious excited about the prospect. I printed out the daily schedule months ago. I’ve hounded the organizers about getting my meeting appointments ( which can’t happen until the Thursday it begins).

In fact, this is a (non-exhaustive) list of things I’ve done in anticipation of this conference:

  • Print out a daily schedule
  • Read through every class description
  • Read the bios of the presenters
  • Polish the first 20 pages of my manuscript and submitted it for a critique with a published author
  • Prepare a One Sheet for the book I’m going to pitch
  • Write, practice, stress over, scratch and rewrite my pitch for the agent meeting I’ve scheduled
  • Research parking lots and restaurants within walking distance of the conference center
  • Scour my closet for the perfect casual-professional outfit that includes shoes comfortable enough to wear while walking all over the city
  • Awake at 4:30 am on multiple occasions to rework my pitch
  • Review the schedule
  • Give myself positive self-talk about interacting with strangers
  • Read numerous blogs with tips for what to do (or not) at a conference

Aren’t you exhausted reading that? I am.StoryEngineweb

One of my go-to writing gurus is the keynote speaker: Larry Brooks. Yes, the one and same master of story structure who I’ve quoted innumerable times on this blog. If you don’t own his book Story Engineering, you need to click on that link and add it to your reference library now.

The Amazing Mr. Brooks is giving us Story 101, 202 and 303 (which I will miss since I’m not attending on Sunday). I’m going to learn how idea, concept and premise are related and when they collide (sounds messy) that’s when I know I have a story. And of course he’s giving the “Discovering Story through Structure” talk on Saturday. It’s his trademark.

Aside from the Amazing Mr. Brooks, I’ll hear agents, editors and other writers spill the beans about different aspects of writing. Here is a list of sessions I hope to attend while at the conference:

  • Agent panel
  • Crafting a Page Turner
  • The Perfect Pitch
  • The Final Polish
  • Dialogue for Fiction and Film
  • POV in Genre Fiction

I’m attending with a local writing buddy. She will sit in on four different sessions (and some of the same) and promises to take copious notes (meaning she expects me to do the same). My head feels like exploding already.

Feel free to share your conference experiences here. Also, I’ll be writing about it in several more posts over the next two weeks.

Amazing Book

I shouldn’t have been surprised to receive this “children’s book” from a librarian. The story concept connects as much with a librarian as an author.

In truth, anyone who loves books will love this story. After all, “It ends the same way it began…with the opening of a book.

See the award winning video here

Hamlet – Not much of a Hero

This is the post of mine that netted the second most views ever on my blog. I think it was the title; Hamlet was a hero, right?

While critics everywhere agree that Hamlet is Shakespeare’s most popular play, those same scholars find little to admire in the title character. He seems plagued by a “lack of will to act,” they say.

While watching the 1996 Branagh version of Hamlet, I followed the text in my weighty textbook. A few additions (from another version of the text apparently) were the only variations from what Shakespeare penned hundreds of years ago.

I enjoyed the film. While lengthy soliloquies covered a page in the book, the filmmaker gave visual flashbacks or cutaway scenes to explain what was being rambled on about in the tiresome speeches. It helped me understand the depths of plot that Shakespeare layered in this play.

Hamlet, in a deep state of grief over the sudden death of his father, resents the marriage of his mother and uncle less than a month after the funeral. A visit by the ghost of his father directs him to wreak vengeance on his murderous uncle. Hamlet voices his own moral quandary for carrying out this revenge.

It is this constant questioning and his need for verification of his uncle’s guilt that immobilizes him. What right does he have to be the executioner of this sentence? Won’t his vengeful retribution make him as much a murderer as his uncle?

In the film, it was easy to see that Ophelia and Hamlet had a preexisting love relationship, but it’s nonexistent in Shakespeare’s manuscript. That being the case, we don’t see what motivated the only suicide in this play?

Is it strange that I find the multiple murders at the end of the play preferable to the suicidal body count in the other three plays I’ve read this term? In fact, the true tragedy of this play is that a country is left without a monarch. An invader walks in at the end to claim the throne; his conquest accomplished by the royal family he deposes.

Even though I enjoyed reading (and watching) this play enormously, I have to admit that Hamlet’s character isn’t the compelling ingredient. So many famous sayings and familiar quotes are in this play, it’s obvious The Bard outdid himself with the turns of phrase in this story.

What do you think of Hamlet? Is he a hero? Who do you think was the hero in this play?

The Best Laid Plans

John swaggered across the room, lit a Marlboro, took a long draw then exhaled.  He peered across the room at the unconscious woman, slumped across the futon, wondering when she would revive.  Just then, the sound of an engine purred to a halt in the driveway.  “The rest of the guys,” John said to himself, clenching his jaws as nervous excitement brewed within him.  It was too late now to reconsider their plan; they could only speed forward.  He dropped his cigarette on the brown carpet and ground it out with the heel of his cowboy boot.  What did it matter?  The whole house would be up in flames by morning.

Scuffling on the front porch followed by a loud thump caused John to scowl.  It wasn’t as if they were in the middle of nowhere.  Didn’t his bozo accomplices realize the seriousness of this situation?

A string of muttered curse words accompanied the scrape and squeal of the front door being shoved open.  It slammed into the wall, ridden like a surfboard by the scrawny, young man who was, unfortunately, John’s cousin.

“Shut up!” he growled at them.

Shoulders nearly as wide as the doorway, Bubba sauntered into the room, wiping his hands on his Wrangler’s and grinning like a headline comedian.  Behind him, Corey was extracting himself from the front door, his panicked features stark in the dim shaft of illumination cast by the porch light.

“Shut the door,” John said, voice still low and steely but not as harsh.

Scurrying like a church mouse, Corey scrambled to comply.  Behind the door, a handle-sized hole marred the sheetrock.  “Look what you did, Bubba!” Their pyromaniac sounded like a whiny six-year old.

Bubba’s meaty hand slapped Corey between the shoulder blades, sending him nearly sprawling onto the carpet at John’s feet.

“No worries, little guy.  This place is toast anyway.”  With a faint air of indecision, Bubba looked to where John stood, both hands planted on his hips, smoke rising from beside his right boot.  “Right?”

“Right,” John agreed, nodding curtly and dropping his hands to his sides.  Gesturing with his hands toward a doorway down the hall, “The stuff’s in there.”

Both of the newcomers started to move in the appointed direction.  When Bubba neared the futon shoved against the far wall, his cat-call whistle sounded shrilly.

“What do we have here?” His leering tone dripped lust like the sweat on a teenage boy’s brow.  “John boy, you’ve been holding out on me.  I thought this was an old lady’s house.”

The suggestive way he said “old” made John’s skin crawl and his stomach sour in distaste.  At some point, Bubba’s lewdness was going to cost them and the thought of going to prison because this guy couldn’t keep it in his pants made ire rise from the base of John’s spine.

“She’s like 45.  That’s old enough to be your momma, so I’d say what you’re thinking is downright incestuous, Bubba.”  John’s tone could’ve frozen hot coffee.

Bubba turned his head and glared at John with ill-concealed animosity.  “Did you just say something bad about my momma?” His fists were clenching in preparation.

Noticing the sledgehammer-like fists, John shook his head and said, “Get busy hauling the stuff outta here.”

Bubba’s dark eyes narrowed.  “I know my job.  I just don’t see that it will take me so long to carry a few boxes out that I can’t have me a little fun, too.”

“Work first,” John said, his hand reaching to the back waistband of his jeans where a 9mm waited, ready to jump to his defense on command.

Bubba’s eyes flicked to John’s hand, now resting on the handle of the pistol.  “You sound like my old man,” he sneered and stomped down the hallway, floorboards creaking beneath his booted feet.

The crew knew their assignments.  Bubba hauled the boxes of jewelry, electronics, silverware and other easily fenced items outside and loaded them under cover of the canopy on his Ford F350.  Gasoline fumes began to permeate the air as Corey fulfilled his responsibility of fueling a fire that would start fast, burn quick and set off an explosion when it reached the natural gas fumes they would start on the way out of the kitchen.  No physical evidence would be left to identify them.

John had a bandana tied over the bottom of his face, keeping out the worst of the fumes.  He nodded to Corey who had just given him the okay sign from the back porch.

“What’s the hurry?” Bubba snarled from beside him.  “I gotta –“

Without even looking at him, John snapped, “Get the truck out of the driveway, Bubba.”

“We got three hours ‘til daybreak.”

“I just gave Corey the okay, so we’ve got about four minutes until the whole country gets woke up by the boom.”

John walked purposefully to the BMW coupe the woman owned.  He’d switched the license plates as soon as he’d knocked her out.  Enjoying this sweet ride was going to make the guilt of cold-blooded murder fade like a bad dream.

At that moment, Corey came sprinting around the side of the house, throwing open the passenger door on the truck and hopping inside with uncustomary athleticism.  Bubba revved the truck’s engine, signaling his displeasure, but he followed John’s midnight blue coupe.  Neither car used headlights as they sped down the driveway and turned left onto the county road, sending gravel spewing in all directions.

As the back door slammed, the woman inside crawled off the futon. On hands and knees, she scooted to the nearby table, pulling a linen table scarf from under pictures and a lamp.  Glass shattered as they crashed to the floor.  Carefully, she reached toward the hole burned in the carpeting near her left kneecap.

Standing, her legs shook, bowing as if made of rubber.  Choking and gagging, she pinched her nose with her left thumb and forefinger.  Stumbling, she reached the side door; the odor of rotten eggs chased her from the house.   Running in an erratic pattern, her feet grazed the edge of her vegetable garden when the house exploded behind her.

Lying facedown in the dew-soaked grass where the concussion of the explosion launched her, she uncurled her fingers.  It was still there.  Smiling, she rested her weary head against the ground.

Not as smart as you thought, huh, cowboy? she thought.

Wrapped securely in the fine linen heirloom her grandmother painstakingly sewed by hand for her college graduation, the discarded cigarette butt seemed to pulse.  His fingerprints would identify the good-looking conman for the police.

In the distance, sirens blared.