Pam Webb

a writer's journey as a reader

Archive for the category “Writing”

Author Spotlight: Austen’s Emma Dilemma


Next to Pride and Prejudice,Jane Austen’s Emma seems to be the novel most cinematized. Case in point, another Emma opened to theatres as the covoid shut them down. Just as we got our hopes up for an Austen on screen they were dashed—much like the promise of Frank Churchill arriving for a visit and then not showing up.

Ozge’s World meme
(oh that Frank—tsk)

The basics of Emma are Austen pointing out the class differences in Regency society along with following the exploits of a rich girl’s ennui as we wait for her character arc of improvement. In the mean time, the reader is entertained by a couple of intrigues by way of mistaken romances. The foundation of oh so many stories we see today.

What is problematic for the reader is deciding if Emma is likable as a character. There is no doubt Lizzie Bennet wins the Favored Austen Girl Award, but are we supposed to appreciate Emma as well? It’s doubtful. Even Jane Austen admitted to have created a character that only she would probably like.

Lizzie through the years

The novel starts out leaning towards the idea Emma is a privileged girl with the possibility of becoming or could possibility be a (ready for it?) snob:

Emma Woodhouse, handsome, clever, and rich, with a comfortable home and happy disposition, seemed to unite some of the best blessings of existence; and had lived nearly twenty-one years in the world with very little to distress or vex her.

With that introduction, Emma could go either way: beloved of all or too good to believe. Austen indicates that Emma Woodhouse being pleasant, pretty, privileged has one obvious fault:

The real evils indeed of Emma’s situation were the power of having rather too much her own way, and a disposition to think a little too well of herself…

And that’s where it gets interesting when it comes to interpreting Emma for the silver screen.

The faces of Emma through the cinematic lens

Gwyneth Paltrow leads out with her elegant, polished Emma in the 1996 version. This version applies a favored eye towards Emma who is presented as a charming young woman who struggles to emerge on the other side of being accomplished in the art of having “grown up.” The story fairly follows Austen’s novel. Emma is quite likable and the audience appreciates her struggles as she blunders her way through the office of being a beautiful rich daughter of a gentlemen.

Gwyenth Paltrow providing perfection

Also in 1996 is the lesser known version starring Kate Beckinsdale whose Emma is just tad snobbier than Gwenth’s version and her character arc is much less visible. This version seems to focus more on the class differences, with wide shots of servants and the poor which populate Highbury.

Kate Beckinsdale portrays a refined demure heroine

Then there is the leap to 2009 with Romali Garai appearing in a decidedly contemporary version. Although the four part series is quite lush and pretty with its costumes and setting, it lacks Regency decorum. The director’s intent was to create a hybrid Emma by dressing everyone up Regency style, yet acting as if they are in a modern rom-com. This Emma acts more like a teen debutante with her expressive eyes and outward manner, she is all dressed up but forgetting how to behave. She even allows Frank Churchill to rest his head on her lap during the Box Hill picnic. *Shocking*

Romali Garai romps as a Regency girl just wants to have fu-un

There is the Clueless version—a sort of the ‘90’s offering of taking a classic and setting it in high school as in Ten Things I Hate About You or She’s the Man. This is not a Regency Emma and kind of pays tribute to Austen’s Emma, but it’s not the book. Maybe not even the Sparknotes version.

Then there is the 2020 version. This was supposed to be the senior lit class outing as we had just wrapped up our Austen unit. Good thing I didn’t reserve the bus since school went into soft closure while the theatres went into shutter mode. I have been waiting to view this newest entry for ever so long. My anticipation turned into disappointment as the entire movie became too, too much. The colors, clothing, setting is that of Easter candy cloyingly overdone. The tone of the movie is snarky, with Emma coming off as a mean girl. And just when we think she isn’t quite human, she bleeds, quite literally, when faced with being really, truly in love.

Don’t cross Ana Taylor-Joy’s Emma

With all these Emmas to chose from it’s difficult to decide which best represents Austen’s ideal. Paltrow’s poised Regency princess?Beckinsdale’s aloof elite gentlemen’s daughter? Garai’s winsome, youthful rich girl? Taylor-Joy’s prickly fashion plate?

If Austen’s intent was to showcase the time period while gently mocking the societal hierarchy by inserting some well-placed humor, as we watch Emma’s character arc emerge I would say place Paltrow’s Emma with its range of characters, infuse with the gorgeous palette of Garai’s version and insert Beckinsdale’s pointed shots of the struggling lower classes. Not sure about Taylor-Joy’s contribution and I am Clueless about adaptions and where they fit in Austen remakes.

If you are an Austen Emma fan, what are your thoughts towards the Emma dilemma? What is she all about—favored princess, snob, airhead, snark—or somewhere in between?

Ta dah and Surprise


Well, you might be wondering where Cricket Muse has hopped off to and who is this “Pam Webb.”

No worries.

Cricket Muse is still here, yet I have fulfilled the promise I made to myself that once I became published–not as magazine byline, not as part of an anthology, but as an author through a mainstream publisher–I would upgrade to a domain with my true name.

Here I am: Pam Webb

The published title in question will be available April 2020, which seems a long way off, yet my publisher is revving up the publicity wagon and I best jump on.

This publicity thing is tough on a gregarious hermit like myself–hence hiding out as Cricket Muse for the past seven or so years. A promise is a promise.

So–here is the newly designed blog, and I hope you will keep visiting. Check out my About page and Published Writing to get a bit more about Pam Webb. As for Cricket Muse? She’s still there. It’s difficult to keep a cricket from being a-mused with life.

The book. Right, the book. How the book came to be is a blog post coming up. I do want to thank Andrew DeYoung of Beaming Books who believed in the story, and Wendy Leach who provided the lighthearted illustrations. It’s been a wonderful experience. Thanks to all who have helped get this idea out of the drawer where it had been hiding and up on the shelves.

Image result for someday we will pam webb

You can check out the title in a couple of different places:

Amazon

Goodreads

As for the blog format? Cricket is nudging me to keep up my regular posts of Why We Say, Word Nerds, Bard Bits, and other miscellaneous thoughts about life. Those crickets-tccch-such chirpy little things…

Sunshine Rays


Chelsea created a bit of sunshine on this rainy morning with her announcement of receiving the Sunshine Blogger Award. These blogger awards are fun, not only for the recognition (because we all appreciate a bit of hurrah now and then, right?), but for the batch of questions that need answering.

I do enjoy a patch of sunflowers.

So, thanks, Chelsea! And here are the questions and some answers as requested:

1. Why did the chicken cross the road?

She followed the sunburned cow.

2. What’s black and white and red all over?

A cow who ran out of sunscreen.

3. Who stole the cookies from the cookie jar?

The chicken and the cow.

4. Where do you see yourself in five years?

At Barnes and Nobles making sure they have sold out of my cow joke book.

5. What would you say is your greatest weakness, and how have you learned to overcome it?

Cow jokes. I can’t stop. Sorry.

6. Why is 6 afraid of 7?

I had no idea. How long has 7 been intimidating 6?

7. Why am I here?

You are here because here is a better place to be than there.

8. Why is the sky blue?

Technically it’s black, or so I have gathered from reading sciencey type answers. Blue is much nicer.

9. Why do bad things happen to good people?

No flippancy here. Bad things happen to everybody. It hurts no matter who you are.

10. What do you call a boomerang that doesn’t come back?

Broken or a Frisbee. Your choice.

11. What is the meaning of life?

I thought it was 42. Being terrible at math, perhaps I got it wrong by not carrying over my remainder or messing up my eights once again.

Now I am supposed to nominate some people and create new batch of questions. Well, having nominated numerous bloggers for other awards in the past, plus Chelsea has nominated a few of my recent discoveries, along with being a bit of an outlier, here is where I diverge from the expected. There is also the idea of not wanting to leave anyone out. Bad memories of that ubiquitous choosing up teams in school disappointment.

Here are eleven questions. If you have stopped by to read this blog, you are appreciated and I offer this Ray of Sunshine ☀️ for your efforts.

Pick a question to answer, or all of them or some of them. I look forward to your comments. And consider this your commission to spread your own Sunshine Award today to others.

1. Why did the farmer install beehives in his dairy pasture?

2. How many cows does it take to change a lightbulb?

3. Why did the cow jump over the moon?

4. What did the farmer say when the cow stepped on his foot?

5. Why are cows terrible dancers?

6. Why did the farmer move his dairy to Alaska?

7. How do you turn a cow into a cape?

8. What happened when the cow jumped on the pogo stick?

9. Where do most cows go to college?

10. What do you call a pregnant cow?

11. What do you call a cow after she’s given birth?

All right. Sunshine, awards, cow jokes–yeah, another lovely day.

Conference Recap


About ten years ago one of my writing group cohorts gave me sound advice: “If you want your writing to go somewhere, you need to go to writing conferences.” I immediately started listing reasons why I shouldn’t go: time, cost, distance, and of course, intimidation factor. She countered with a shrug. “Find a way.”

And so I did. I budgeted time and money, carpooled, and found solace in attending with my writing group buds. I absorbed, networked, and came away revitalized. 

Since that first Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators conference I try to attend a conference of some sort once a year. My favorite one was at Chatauacqua hosted by Highlights magazine. For a week we learned the business of writing from some of the best children’s writers in the business, shared meals together, and received one on one conferencing. I sold a story, “Daddy’s Truck” to Highlights out of that experience. In fact it comes out this month in High Five.


This weekend I attended my seventh (or nearly so) SCBWI conference. Even though it’s closer and costs less than my first one, I’m getting more for money because I’m learning more. 

For one, listening to our keynote speakers, two agents and an editor, writing for children is a tough business and a very fulfilling one. As writers for children we encourage, impress, enliven, challenge, motivate, comfort, entertain, and so much more with our words. Our impact remains into adulthood with all of us treasuring at least one favorite title, a favorite author that we will pass on to the next generation.

I also learned that the children’s publishing field is very particular. Agents, editors, and publishers have their preferences and knowing those preferences makes a difference between a manuscript languishing in the slush pile and receiving a contract.

One very important takeaway from this conference is that my polished manuscript, the one I thought the editor I conferenced with would be so impressed she would pull out a contract and sign me up, needs work. Not a discouraging amount, but enough to get me back into revising mode once again.

Maybe in an upcoming conference or two, I’ll be up front at the long table with the authors instead of at the round ones with the hopeful writers. In the meantime I’ll keep attending, keep absorbing, continue revising, and checklist the chicken salad as my lunch preference. It was almost as good as the conference.

Reader Quotes


One of my daily subscriptions is Dictionary.com. I’m a confessed word nerd. I enjoy learning a new word as much as some people get that thrill from a new tasty food item. Hmm, words are nourishing in a way, aren’t they?

Recently Dictionary.com sent out a list of quotes all about reading books. How could I resist? Here are the favorites gleaned:

wilde

“The book to read is not the one that thinks for you but the one which makes you think.” 
        Harper Lee

“If a book is well written, I always find it too short.”
                                                                                 Jane Austen

worldquote

rousseau

Hope one of these inspired you to grab a book or sit down and write something simple or even profound.

And now it’s back to editing my own writing instead of veering off chasing my email distractions like a rabbit chasing a dog around the yard.

 

Sully and Alien Parents


For those who appreciate writing contests you will want to scamper over to Mike Allegra’s site for his Sully Writing Award Competition. Lots of nice swag if you’re a winner. 

NOTE: this Sully is not to be confused with the heroic pilot from the recent Tom Hanks movie. This Sully is from a salamander. Yeah, I know. What was Mike thinking? I hope the hero Sully has a sense of humor. 

Part of the competition is to pingback Mike’s site. I think we’re supposed to post our entry here as well.  

So here is my entry, an excerpt of a work in progress:

ALIENS AT THE BREAKFAST TABLE

There were aliens sitting at the breakfast table. I don’t know when it happened but aliens came and took up residence in my mom and dad’s bodies. Admittedly, they looked and acted quite a bit like my parents. They even got that one mole that sits on my dad’s neck just right. It’s raised and kind of hangs there, like a fleck of ear wax. They copied how mom’s left nostril is larger than her right one as well. All in all they are very good imitations. Not like the guy from Men in Black, whose skin didn’t fit right. No. These look, sound, and act like my parents. I still think they are aliens.

    Why?

    The real question is why I didn’t notice earlier. Maybe there is some sort of cosmic ray they used to shoot my milk with so I didn’t notice. Now that I’m in junior high I don’t drink as much milk. It may do my body good, but it’s havoc on my intestines. Lactose intolerant. Bad gas is not cool in eighth grade. Sixth grade maybe. Not eighth grade. Okay, in the locker room. Not in science. Especially standing next to Heather Fortuna. I may not end up marrying her, or even like her by the time we get into ninth grade. All I know is drinking milk at lunch with my pizza slice has its consequences a half hour later. Which would be in science class.  

    Let’s get back to my alien parents.

    I think when I stopped drinking so much milk I caught on to the fact my parents had changed. They may be onto to me so I better stop staring at them and slip into my usual morning scowl of indifference.

*********

This story idea is based on the fact that teens and parents are truly different species. I know this. Not because I’m an anthropologist, but because I’m a high school teacher and I work with both teens and their parents. After 20+ plus years of observation, I’d say they are truly from different planets since they do not understand each other, and certainly do not speak the  same language.
 

Will see if this is Sully worthy…

Historically speaking, dancing, writing…


When I received my manuscript comments  I was a bit taken by one particular sentence from the agent. She seemed to hesitate at reading about a family who had traditional roles: women in the kitchen, menfolk working outside. She didn’t think it would be readily accepted. Maybe I hadn’t emphasized in my pitch that the setting is 1860s gold rush era or maybe she missed that point. Back then, women and men did function in traditional roles. Yes, we like those Annie Oakley stories, where someone steps out and does some gender bending, yet history is chock full of regular people in regularly expected roles.

I shelf my manuscript comments, but then another historical noticeable comes up on my radar.

Instead of deleting the email, I decide to take up the offer of teaching a trial rhetorical analysis lesson with Taylor Swift’s “Wildest Dreams”–yes, it was indeed a hit with my students. What proved interesting was the backlash Swift received for marketing a perceived colonialism video since the cast and crew were about 99% white on location in Africa. And here I thought she was channeling Elizabeth Taylor ala 1950s.

Once again historically the setting details were correct in that whites dominated the fifties Hollywood scene and the video would not look quite right having a multi-ethnic set.

Another recent creative endeavor got me thinking that we are becoming either enlightened to the point of oversensitivity or we’re becoming very confused. I refer to Hamilton the musical. The cast is anything goes in terms of ethnicity. And I have no problem with casting for ability rather than color, yet I see this reluctance towards accepting history as it really was. Are we uncomfortable with defined roles as they were set down in the history books?

 

This loose interpretation of roles has even drifted into ballroom dancing, very traditionally gender coded: men lead, women follow. A recent TedTalk revealed this is changing into what is called “liquid lead,” which I can relate to since I never know what I’m doing when dancing and end up inadvertently leading. The most fascinating implications at stake as women now have the option of taking the lead when on the floor. Except–I don’t think scenes like this would be the same…

 

 

As a writer I am aware of trends and it’s worrisome that to write a story set in a time period where men were men and the women women, makes the publishing powers uncomfortable. Do I have to ignore history to radically shape it to fit modern audiences? Does a character have to chose an alternate path to deserve notice?

What are your thoughts, readers? Are we dissatisfied with history enough to change it to reflect our contemporary concerns in all artistic endeavors–from stories to musicals to even dancing?

POM: April 25


John Donne, Metaphysical poet, definitely challenges our perception of death with his “Death Be Not Proud.”  Death is not seen as a bully, a villain,  nor even anything to actually fear. Donne portrays death as a coward, in that it cannot act upon its own accord, needing an agent to perform. He presents death as merely a comma, a breath into the next life. This Holy Sonnet is a stunning portrait of his faith.

Another portrait, one more contemporary is by Dean Rader. He presents our transition as a reuniting. How welcome is an embrace, the meeting of child and parent after a long journey apart? Beautiful.

Alternate Self-Portrait 

by Dean Rader

One day

I will drift

into darkness

and know it

perhaps

the way a son

recognizes a mother

after he has returned

from many years

of travel

understanding

the new distance

is neither

beginning nor

end

only stillness

 

Copyright © 2015 by Dean Rader. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on December 30, 2015, by the Academy of American Poets.

POM: April 24


Always a parent. The kinder are grown, gone, got lives of their own. Yet I will always be their momma. I am concerned if they are eating right, sleeping enough, and if they are  concerned about their cholesterol levels. This is why I so relate to this poem.

Sentimental Moment or Why Did the Baguette Cross the Road?

Don't fill up on bread
I say absent-mindedly
The servings here are huge

My son, whose hair may be
receding a bit, says
Did you really just
say that to me?

What he doesn't know
is that when we're walking
together, when we get
to the curb
I sometimes start to reach
for his hand

—Robert Hershon

from Poetry Northwest, Volume XLI, No. 3, Autumn 2000
Poetry Daily, University of Washington, Seattle, WA

Copyright 2001 by Robert Hershon.
All rights reserved.

POM: April 22


I have fond memories of my father and boats.

Work

by Sally Bliumis-Dunn

I could tell they were father and son,
the air between them, slack as though
they hardly noticed one another.

The father sanded the gunwales,
the boy coiled the lines.
And I admired them there, each to his task

in the quiet of the long familiar.
The sawdust coated the father’s arms
like dusk coats grass in a field.

The boy worked next on the oarlocks
polishing the brass until it gleamed
as though he could harness the sun.

Who cares what they were thinking,
lucky in their lives
that the spin of the genetic wheel

slowed twice to a stop
and landed each of them here.

Copyright © 2015 by Sally Bliumis-Dunn.

image: morguefile/seabreeze

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