jump to navigation

Opera weekends… January 31, 2011

Posted by kmcalear in Inspiration, Life, Literature.
add a comment

People’s reactions to opera the first time they see it is very dramatic; they either love it or they hate it. If they love it, they will always love it. If they don’t, they may learn to appreciate it, but it will never become part of their soul.” — “Pretty Woman”

I think I agree with this quote, but the addenda does need to be: reaction to a GOOD opera. My first trip to the opera was a night seeing two shorts “Cavalleria Rusticana” and “Pagliaci”.

The show opened with Cavalleria Rusticana which was decent, but my reaction to it was thinking the soprano was okay and the tenor had no panache. The set was moderate, up to the grand Easter procession at the end.

Thankfully, the next was “Pagliaci” and this opera gave me the “love it or hate it” reaction mentioned in “Pretty Woman”. I was enthralled. The story was captivating, even though you knew how it would end. But then, don’t we usually know how these ‘scorned love’ stories end in movies and books? The tenor and the soprano were able to act with their bodies and voices and the actress in me was amazed. The staging was stunning as well, stark and beautifully reflecting the story line and letting the singers and important moments be highlighted with splashes of color. It was so inspiring I created an entire character whose climactic point of life was centered around Opera and the “Pagliaci” work, as well as it’s themes of loneliness, betrayal and revenge.

One of the really intriguing things about Opera is how often we forget that it used to be “entertainment for the masses”. There is a /reason/ daytime tv features “Soap Operas”. The themes and plots aren’t high brow or esoteric. One of my literature professors insisted that, no matter your field, no literary critic is worth his or her salt if unfamiliar with opera. The storylines and symbols permeate our culture, still today.

And I still think you can’t beat “art” painted for more than just one sense for inspiration and enjoyment.


Friday Flashback: What I’ve read… January 28, 2011

Posted by kmcalear in Friday Flashback.
add a comment

Friday flashback from June 25, 2008

This is from Editoral Ass run by the fantastic Moonrat.

The idea here is to look at the top 100 books listed by the National Endowment for the Arts and mark how many you’ve read.  The average adult has read about 6 in this list…

I had to read more than six of these for AP English, but it’s fun to go through the list.  Here’s the list, and my bolded count.

1 Pride and Prejudice – Jane Austen
2 The Lord of the Rings – JRR Tolkien
3 Jane Eyre – Charlotte Bronte
4 Harry Potter series – JK Rowling
5 To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee
6 The Bible
7 Wuthering Heights – Emily Bronte
8 Nineteen Eighty Four – George Orwell
9 His Dark Materials – Philip Pullman

10 Great Expectations – Charles Dickens
11 Little Women – Louisa M Alcott
12 Tess of the D’Urbervilles – Thomas Hardy
13 Catch 22 – Joseph Heller

14 Complete Works of Shakespeare (I’ve read most of them)
15 Rebecca – Daphne Du Maurier
16 The Hobbit – JRR Tolkien
17 Birdsong – Sebastian Faulks
18 Catcher in the Rye – JD Salinger
19 The Time Traveller’s Wife – Audrey Niffenegger
20 Middlemarch – George Eliot
21 Gone With The Wind – Margaret Mitchell
22 The Great Gatsby – F Scott Fitzgerald

23 Bleak House – Charles Dickens
24 War and Peace – Leo Tolstoy
25 The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – Douglas Adams
26 Brideshead Revisited – Evelyn Waugh
27 Crime and Punishment – Fyodor Dostoyevsky
28 Grapes of Wrath – John Steinbeck
29 Alice in Wonderland – Lewis Carroll

30 The Wind in the Willows – Kenneth Grahame
31 Anna Karenina – Leo Tolstoy
32 David Copperfield – Charles Dickens
33 Chronicles of Narnia – CS Lewis
34 Emma – Jane Austen

35 Persuasion – Jane Austen
36 The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe – CS Lewis
37 The Kite Runner – Khaled Hosseini
38 Captain Corelli’s Mandolin – Louis De Bernieres
39 Memoirs of a Geisha – Arthur Golden
40 Winnie the Pooh – AA Milne
41 Animal Farm – George Orwell
42 The Da Vinci Code – Dan Brown
43 One Hundred Years of Solitude – Gabriel Garcia Marquez
45 The Woman in White – Wilkie Collins
46 Anne of Green Gables – LM Montgomery
47 Far From The Madding Crowd – Thomas Hardy
48 The Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Atwood
49 Lord of the Flies – William Golding
50 Atonement – Ian McEwan
52 Dune – Frank Herbert
53 Cold Comfort Farm – Stella Gibbons
54 Sense and Sensibility – Jane Austen
55 A Suitable Boy – Vikram Seth
56 The Shadow of the Wind – Carlos Ruiz Zafon
57 A Tale Of Two Cities – Charles Dickens
58 Brave New World – Aldous Huxley
59 The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time – Mark Haddon
60 Love In The Time Of Cholera – Gabriel Garcia Marquez
61 Of Mice and Men – John Steinbeck
62 Lolita – Vladimir Nabokov
63 The Secret History – Donna Tartt
64 The Lovely Bones – Alice Sebold
65 Count of Monte Cristo – Alexandre Dumas
66 On The Road – Jack Kerouac
67 Jude the Obscure – Thomas Hardy
68 Bridget Jones’s Diary – Helen Fielding
69 Midnight’s Children – Salman Rushdie
70 Moby Dick – Herman Melville
71 Oliver Twist – Charles Dickens
72 Dracula – Bram Stoker
73 The Secret Garden – Frances Hodgson Burnett
74 Notes From A Small Island – Bill
75 Ulysses – James Joyce
76 The Bell Jar – Sylvia Plath
77 Swallows and Amazons – Arthur Ransome
78 Germinal – Emile Zola
79 Vanity Fair – William Makepeace Thackeray
80 Possession – AS Byatt
81 A Christmas Carol – Charles Dickens
82 Cloud Atlas – David Mitchell
83 The Color Purple – Alice Walker
84 The Remains of the Day – Kazuo Ishiguro
85 Madame Bovary – Gustave Flaubert
86 A Fine Balance – Rohinton Mistry
87 Charlotte’s Web – EB White
88 The Five People You Meet In Heaven – Mitch Albom
89 Adventures of Sherlock Holmes – Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
90 The Faraway Tree Collection – Enid Blyton
91 Heart of Darkness – Joseph Conrad
92 The Little Prince – Antoine De Saint-Exupery
93 The Wasp Factory – Iain Banks
94 Watership Down – Richard Adams
95 A Confederacy of Dunces – John Kennedy Toole
96 A Town Like Alice – Nevil Shute
97 The Three Musketeers – Alexandre Dumas
98 Hamlet – William Shakespeare
99 Charlie and the Chocolate Factory – Roald Dahl
100 Les Miserables – Victor Hugo

I’m at 45 of the hundred with maybe another 10 in the list that I’d like to read and at least a half dozen that I have read that I’d like those hours back!

So how about the rest of you?  Are we average with our 6 of 100 or do we rock the reading world?


Friday Flashback:Authors and open mindedness January 21, 2011

Posted by kmcalear in Friday Flashback.
add a comment

Friday flashback from June 24. 2008

I’ve been looking at various personality traits lately, and realized one that’s very important to me. That would be openmindedness. I’ve always been an adventurous person, and I love to learn new skills, new activities and try new things. I was watching Travel Channel the other day and realized, much to my shock, there’s very little I wouldn’t eat. Provided it’s not moving… and I do draw the line at squiggly insect-like eggs. Now if it was chopped up, and fried? I certainly am game! I will admit I haven’t yet gotten the guts to try crawfish, they look too much like spiders. I get gooseflesh just thinking of touching it! But I digress….

Being open to new experiences of all sorts is vital as a writer. You should, of course, have a care for your own safety and health absolutely, but you never know just what will give you great inspiration or what you’ll need next time you’re writing. From relationships, to white water rafting, to eating eel sushi, the only experience that’s worthless is the one you haven’t tried. Doing your research as an author is good, but having personal experience with something brings an authenticity to your work beyond research. (Not to mention it’s a lot more fun!). So next time you’re hesitant about trying that jet ski, that strange unpronounceable Indian dish, or learning to sword fight… remember, what’s the worst thing that could happen? (Oh PS: This includes watching movies that aren’t ‘your type’, reading books that aren’t your ’style’, and watching television shows you’d probably never pick up on your own!)

Some last advice to leave you with. Most people say they’ll “try anything once” when they’re the adventurous sorts. I have a friend who says, “I’ll try anything twice.” I think she’s right. The first time I ate sushi, I HATED it! Now I’m an addict. Sometimes our preconceived notions get in the way of truly enjoying something.

So… remember Jaime Heller’s words… “Try anything twice.”

~ Kristen

Aug 2010 update: The caveat to this: You want to make sure the things you try once are things you can try twice! Those guaranteed ‘lethal experiences’ can’t be tried twice after all.

Reactions to adversity… January 19, 2011

Posted by kmcalear in Uncategorized.
add a comment

In the wisdom devotional I am still trying to read diligently, January 13th’s lesson intrigued me from a writing perspective. It has implications for both authors and characters. (and really we’re all rather tied up in our characters, aren’t we?)

The chapter opened with a Hopi quote about not fighting the rushing river of the end times, but letting go of the shore, keeping our eyes open and heads above water and seeing where it takes us. The author, Reynold Feldman, related that to the rush of every day life and how adversity seems to crop up more when we least have the time for it. Something as little as the computer freezing just when you’re about to save that last paragraph.

How do we deal with it? I know I, for one, tend to growl, snarl and pace and talk it through, or… I do tend to just shrug and laugh more these days. Good old Murphy’s law in place. However… our pet oaths, our approach to problems, even whether we exaggerate them, or underrate them, tell everyone or keep them to ourselves is a defining part of our personalities.

It’s also a defining part of character creation, one of those little details that gives them depth. When we see a character without any real resonance, we sense something is missing, and I feel these little idiosyncrasies are one of them. Imagine Sherlock Holmes… without his humanizing, and ultimately tragic, addictions, pipes and violin? He’d be just a caricature of a detective. More machine or plot device, than man.

I also think that’s what tends to break characters too. Anita Blake, for instance, falls so far into lust and vice she loses her touch of humanity and becomes a caricature of her former portrayal. The U.F. heroine who mouths off in situations where any sane person would shut up is another example of a quirk or a vice taken to an extreme,  that breaks the fourth wall and jars us out of the tale with that spike of disbelief or mental eye rolling.

Books on tape… I mean MP3 January 18, 2011

Posted by kmcalear in Uncategorized.
add a comment

Jana and I have spoken about books on tape before and I’ve found it’s a great way to utilize my commute time to better effectiveness.

It’s vital that any good writer continue to read, and particular, to continue to read in their genre. I’ve been working on reading a lot more in both Spanish and English for pleasure rather than just with the critical eye of a literature scholar. However, I’ve been hard pressed to find the time to sit down for any extended period and read, at least not when I have a stack of dissertation work to do, on top of work and home duties.

Audible.com and the book-on-tape selection at the library has been a wonderful way to fill up my commute time with well read and performed literature. I happen to love, still, to be told a story and enjoy going to storytelling events. I find that listening to the books I can appreciate the writing craft just as well as actually reading it myself, and there’s something unique to hearing the flow of language spoken. We do, after all, suggest that writers should read their work aloud in order to make sure it flows on the page, it stands to reason we can gain similar benefits to hearing other’s words read aloud.

How does audible work?

You pay a small monthly fee, and gain ‘points’ every month you can use to purchase an MP3 download of a book. You can gain access to many current best sellers as well, I actually listened to Side Jobs rather than read it because I got it as a freebie! You can purchase additional books at a significant discount as well.

The site is run through amazon.com and it’s worth a look. I know several of my fellow PHD students use it for their commutes and for entertainment while traveling.

It’s particularly ideal for me because I can’t read in a car without being miserably ill, and sometimes even reading on a plane is troublesome but this makes it all the easier.


Check back here, I’ll review some of the books on tape I’m listening to on our regular Wednesday reviews, and I’ll be sure to review the delivery as well as the regular plot and character reviews.


Friday Flashback: There’s inspiration everywhere January 14, 2011

Posted by kmcalear in Friday Flashback.
add a comment

Friday flashback from June 20, 2008.

I own a Calvin and Hobbes book titled There’s Treasure Everywhere.  I love this book, not just for the comics the title comic detailing the finding of a bunch of trash that Calvin makes into an anthropological find, but also for what the title implies.  Treasure is where you look for it, all around us.

Often in writing the question of where ideas come from is asked.  I’ve rarely seen an author with a specific list of idea generators.  Instead most authors carry a mental notepad and take note of everything around them and how it can be used in what they’re currently writing or will write.   I’m fairly sure this tendency frightens friends and family, but it’s that ability to draw from the every day which makes the best novels feel so real.  Characters breathe because they remind us of ourselves, even if they’re from the future, or the past, or another planet.  Even when they are monsters, we search for the human and recognize echoes of the familiar.

People watching is a fine art, and a fun past time.  Watch, note, remember, write…inspiration everywhere.


Friday Flashback: Fairy Circles January 7, 2011

Posted by kmcalear in Friday Flashback.
add a comment

Friday Flashback from Jun 9, 2008

While running around in the back yard this weekend my boys found a half ring of mushrooms growing in the grass.  These mushrooms grow back every year in exactly this spot, they are a fungus feature of the landscape.  They destroyed them all…with much glee, by the way.  This got me to thinking and talking to my sweetie about fairy circles.  Those old mushroom circles that can drag you into the world of the fairy.  So what happened in the back yard?  Why was there only part of a ring?  What happened?

For writers these questions about what seems to be a very normal every day thing are a great place to start coming up with writing ideas.  From a very logical point of view the mushrooms are there because that’s how the fungus grows and there are under lying connections that follow the best moisture.  There, fine…  From my point of view:

Some fairy was working too slow and got sucked into the lawn mower.  These are the dangers of being a fairy ring creator.

My husband theorizes that the fairy was drunk, ran out of mushrooms, thinks it’s a ‘beautiful thirthle,’ and is going to be in big trouble when he gets home…

Sooo…gentle reader…what do you think?  What ideas come from a half formed mushroom circle?  Is it something supernatural, or just a chance for wild mushroom soup?


One small change… January 6, 2011

Posted by kmcalear in Uncategorized.
add a comment

I’ve started reading a devotional book this year: Wisdom: Daily reflections for a new era. It’s a fun little book exploring folk and conventional wisdom from sources around the world, and offering a daily topic for writing or reflection. I’m hoping to keep up with the reflections and share some of them here on the blog. It does lead me to a thought, as well, that if you want to start writing at least a little something every day getting one of the daily devotionals out there is a good start. Many of them aren’t even religious!

The topic challenge from January 3rd was: Reflect on how a small change has significantly impacted your life

I would say that the most recent small change I made was deciding to visit a Chiropractor instead of a standard doctor to try to relieve a muscle spasm I was having. It was disruptive enough that I found myself unable to sit up at the computer or anywhere for any length of time, and for someone who writes and works on a computer for a living, that makes things very difficult. I visited the Chiropractor, a kind woman who sings with me in the choir, expecting her to focus on my back. Instead she asked questions about my stomach/digestive troubles I had reported on the standard ‘what’s your medical history’ sheet.

She suggested I eliminate wheat from my diet. I’ve gone through years of prescription medications, late nights unable to sleep for discomfort, sleeping in chairs, pains in the legs and arms and difficulty in some of my athletic endeavors, and always ascribed it to other causes: impact strain on the knees and legs, tomatoes upsetting acid balance of the stomach, etc. etc.

I finally decided that it couldn’t hurt me to try it. It’s a “small change” although it’s also fairly significant. We use flour and other wheat products in a significant portion of our diet. Incredibly it has had a snowball effect of encouraging me to cook more (so I eat healthier), helping me lose 18 pounds which I had been trying for a couple months with exercise, increasing my energy so I /want/ to exercise more, ending the phantom muscle pains I used to get, and most importantly, letting me enjoy food again without the constant worry of which is going to send me into a misery of discomfort all night long. Sure, I can’t have those donuts and white bread any more, but I find I don’t really miss it. It made me realize that a lot of chronic health issues that we consider as inevitable may just take a little dietary tweaking.