Rereading A Series of Unfortunate Events: The Ersatz Elevator

A Series of Unfortunate Events is one of my favorite book series from when I was a kid, and I’m rereading through all thirteen books. In today’s post I review the sixth, The Ersatz Elevator, and talk about mood, darkness, and architecture.

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Cover courtesy of HarperCollins

In the sixth installment of Unfortunate Events the Baudelaires return to the city to stay with their new guardians Jerome and Esmé Squalor. The Squalors are obscenely wealthy, and they live in a penthouse on the 66th floor of an apartment building. Esmé is a financial advisor obsessed with fashion, and she constantly discusses which items are “in” and which are “out,” while her husband Jerome is exceedingly kind, but also exceedingly non-confrontational. While the book follows similar plot beats to the previous five, it also alters the formula in a significant way. In this book, not only are the Baudelaires trying to outsmart Count Olaf, who is back to steal their inheritance, they’re also delving into the secret surrounding their parents, the fire that destroyed their home, and Count Olaf himself.

Moody

What this book does better than any other ASOUE book I’ve reread so far (and at this point I’ve reread through book nine) is mood. Of course, all the books have a very distinct style, and Snicket has a distinctly macabre, dry tone—but, at least the way I’m using it here, that’s different than mood. When I say mood, I mean the overall feeling that a book evokes in its reader. Some books evoke wonder, some evoke excitement, and some evoke dread. A Series of Unfortunate Events is the kind of series that has a mood of dread about it, and The Ersatz Elevator has it in spades. In no other book is this feeling that something is terribly wrong so all-encompassing, so pervasive throughout the whole novel. Of course, there are sources of dread in all the books, because the reader knows even before they begin that, whatever the circumstances, this is not going to be the happy home where Violet, Klaus, and Sunny will spend the rest of their childhoods. In The Reptile Room, the narrator mentions early on that Uncle Monty will die later in the book. In The Wide Window, the precarious location of Aunt Josephine’s house on the edge of a cliff instantly inspires anxiety.

The key with dread is to strike a balance between what the reader knows and what they don’t know. If the reader knows too much, then they can anticipate what horrible events are going to happen. If they know too little, then they won’t even realize that there’s any threat of danger. It’s the difference between knowing that your ex is going to come over to get their things at 1:00 pm (some dread), knowing your ex is going to come over some time during the day (maximum dread), and not knowing your ex is going to come over (no dread.) In most of the books, Handler errs on the side of letting the reader know more, displaying the awful machinations which will eventually be set into motion. This has its own benefits (it helps with world-building and character development and is just generally intriguing) but it does cut down on the feeling that something bad could arise from any corner at any time.Read More »

New Publication: He Molested Kids

cover-3I’ve just published He Molested Kids, a short play available on Smashwords and Amazon.

In this fifteen-minute play, four college students meet to plan a party, and end up sidetracked by an argument about the savior of the world. Just a few months after he defeated the Himalayan, allegations of sexual abuse have emerged around Dawa the Savior. This issue turns from small talk among a group of friends to an explosive argument with deep implications.

The publication includes an afterword in which I discuss the origins of the idea, and how my intro to political analysis class factored into it’s outlining.

Other announcement: I’m on Twitter now, @FrancisRBass.

What I’ve Been Reading, February 2017

It’s been awhile since I did one of these, partly because I’ve been reading more short stories than novels, partly because I’ve been reading A Series of Unfortunate Events. So, other than those books, here’s what I’ve been reading:

The Reeducation of Cherry Truong by Aimee Phan – This novel is a family epic, which surveys the lives of two families of Vietnamese immigrants—the Truongs and the Vos. The families are linked by the marriage of Tuyet Vo and Sanh Truong, but there is plenty of bad blood between them, revealed throughout the book. Cherry Truong is the daughter of Tuyet and Sanh, and the main character of the story—though really, the book is an ensemble work.

Each chapter is told from a different perspective, giving a broad scope of the families, and their lives as immigrants—one family in Paris, the other in Orange County, California. Every character is intriguingly flawed, and watching them interact, and seeing how small conflicts beget bigger conflicts is fascinating. The scope of the book is satisfyingly large, and all the backstories of the characters memorable. The book doesn’t have much of a coherent through-line, and I felt Cherry’s arc was a little rushed, but I still enjoyed it overall.Read More »

Rereading A Series of Unfortunate Events: The Austere Academy

A Series of Unfortunate Events is one of my favorite book series from when I was a kid, and I’m rereading through all thirteen books. In today’s post I review the fifth, The Austere Academy.

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Cover courtesy of HarperCollins

The Austere Academy is a departure from the first four books. Instead of having a guardian, the Baudelaire orphans are sent to live in Prufrock Preparatory, a boarding school. The closest thing they have to a guardian is Vice Principal Nero, a cruel, pompous man who is a terrible violinist, and who enforces strict rules with harsh punishments in the school. While the book has almost all the trappings of the previous four (Count Olaf in disguise, scheme to steal the Baudelaire fortune, horrible circumstances) it also introduces two new characters that will continue to be important in the following books—Isadora and Duncan Quagmire. Isadora and Duncan are siblings, two of three triplets, whose third sibling and parents have died in a fire. They make a unique addition to the series, first in that they are kids, and second in that they actually befriend and help the Baudelaires.

Soup!

This book gives me a great opportunity to discuss something I’ve been wanting to write about throughout this series—psychological realism. I had trouble posturing what I wanted to say about it, but this book provides a great example of what I mean, and the kind of straightforward simplistic psychology that children’s lit usually engages in. First, what I mean by psychological realism:

Students are forbidden from entering the administrative building, with the punishment being having to eat their next meal without silverware. However, Violet, Klaus, and Sunny Baudelaire have to walk to the administrative building to tell Nero about their suspicions about Count Olaf.  On the way there, Klaus starts snickering.

“I just realized something,” Klaus said. “We’re going to the administrative building without an appointment. We’ll have to eat our meals without silverware.”

“There’s nothing funny about that!” Violet said. “What if they serve oatmeal for breakfast? We’ll have to scoop it up with our hands.”

“Oot,” Sunny said, which meant “Trust me, it’s not that difficult,” and at that the Baudelaire sisters joined their brother in laughter. …

“Or fried eggs!” Violet said. “What if they serve runny fried eggs?”

“Or pancakes, covered in syrup!” Klaus said.

“Soup!” Sunny shrieked, and they all broke out in laughter again. (85)

The reason this sequence is great is that, for most of the book, the emotions of the Baudelaires are static. They will react to some change in circumstances or piece of news, positive or negative, and then remain in that emotional track until another such event. So, the most straightforward way to plot this would be as follows: Orphans go to talk to Nero—Orphans are apprehensive—Orphans arrive and begin to talk to Nero—Orphans are determined/frustrated—Orphans are turned away—Orphans are disappointed. There’s nothing wrong with this, and the books move quick so there’s necessarily little time for twists in the tracks. Still, Daniel Handler finds places to put in these little moments where the orphans break from their emotional track, not because of some external development, but because of their own internal psyche. The above sequence gives the reader a window into the minds of Klaus, Violet, and Sunny, to show how they’re coping with these horrible situations by laughing at them.

Read More »

Thoughts on A Series of Unfortunate Events, Season One

I’ve watched Netflix’s Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events in its entirety now, and there’s a lot to talk about. This post will be part review, part analysis, and part comparison between the books and the show. The first third of the post contains no spoilers, but the next two thirds do, for the books and the show, and I’ve put a disclaimer in at that point.

For reference, and so I don’t have to explain it later, this is the basic plot: Three children, Violet, Klaus, and Sunny Baudelaire are orphaned when their parents die in a fire which destroys their home. The parents leave behind an enormous fortune, which cannot be accessed until the eldest Baudelaire comes of age. The children are moved from guardian to guardian, always pursued by the villainous Count Olaf, who schemes to steal their inheritance, and is ruthless in his pursuit of this goal. Violet Klaus and Sunny survive by their inventive thinking, extensive knowledge, and ability bite things (respectively.)

So, here we go:

If You Haven’t Read the Books …

If you’ve never read the books, I highly recommend the show. I don’t know if it’s better or worse to have read the books, but I’m confident that it stands by itself as a terrific work of art. There is nothing like it on TV, and for good reason.

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Photo courtesy of Joe Lederer/Netflix

Imagine if a showrunner spent seven years writing hundreds of pages of stories and characters and settings, and wrote all of them in the voice of the show’s narrator. Imagine they worked with a designer who drew hundreds of pieces of concept art detailing the looks of characters, props, and sets. Imagine if the showrunner also composed and performed thirteen songs to go along with different parts of the show (though not to be actually used in the show.) And imagine they had a decade after that time in which they continued thinking about the show, and expanded on the background of the narrator by writing a few hundred more pages about his childhood in this same world.

That, of course, would be absurd, but because of the way this all developed, it’s essentially what happened. And while this could be said of many shows and movies adapted from books, the difference here is that the original creator usually isn’t the one writing the screenplays. Daniel Handler, author of the book series, is also the screenwriter for every episode of the Netflix series (and although he’s not the showrunner, he is an EP.) The result is an uncompromising vision of a world and the characters who inhabit it. The music, set design, and writing are all of a cohesive style—one which is confidently gothic, bizarre, and witty. The show is highly engaging, full of wonderful(ly wry) commentary from the narrator, beautiful(ly ugly) sets, and charming(ly villainous) performances. At times I had doubts about the direction the show was going, the portrayal of a character, or the handling of a particular scene, but never, throughout watching the entire show, did I feel I could look away. I expect that kids will devour it.

If you have read the books, you will also probably love it, unless you love the books for some particular reason which the show has altered. In that case, I’d advise you to pretend that the series has nothing to do with the books, and enjoy it for what it is.Read More »

New Publication: Just Dig

justdig-4I’ve just published “Just Dig,” a short story, available on Amazon and Smashwords. Here’s the synopsis:

Two brothers, asteroid prospectors, are awoken when an asteroid lands somewhere along the boundary between their little plot, and the enormous plot owned by their neighbors. They drive out to see on whose plot the rock has fallen, and who can claim it as theirs to sell. As they do, they argue about whether they can depend on luck to end a long dry spell, or if they’ll have to make their own luck to turn a profit.

Also included in the publication is a brief afterword, in which I explain the origins of the story, the edits it went through, and who won the 2014 FSU vs. Notre Dame football game.

Rereading A Series of Unfortunate Events: The Miserable Mill

With the TV adaptation released as of this very Friday the thirteenth, I’m rereading one of my favorite book series from when I was a kid—A Series of Unfortunate Events. Today’s post brings us up to fourth book in the series, and the last book adapted in the Netflix show—The Miserable Mill. This post contains spoilers for the first four books of ASOUE, so as Lemony Snicket would say, “if you prefer [reviews] that [don’t give away plot information], please feel free to make another selection.”

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Cover courtesy of HarperCollins

The fourth installment of Unfortunate Events tells of the Baudelaire orphans’ stay at the Lucky Smells Lumbermill. Instead of living in a house, the Baudelaires have to live in a bunkhouse for the mill’s employees. Their new guardian offers them a “good deal”—in exchange for his providing them food, housing, and protection from Count Olaf, they will work in his mill. The orphans really have no choice in whether or not to take the deal, and they are forced to work in terrible conditions. While they uphold their end of the deal, their guardian is unable to protect them from Count Olaf, who once again returns in disguise and attempts to steal the Baudelaires’ inheritance.

Some Gripes

The writing of the book is as superbly dark, imaginative, and humorous as the previous three, but there’s less interesting character work, and less intriguing plotting. The new characters introduced in the book are one-note, and the Baudelaires themselves are inactive throughout most of the book. For the majority of the story, things happen to the orphans, rather than them taking initiative and trying to outsmart Olaf, or uncover his plot, the way they usually do. This isn’t actually a problem, as I’ll explain later, but it does make the book a slower read than most of Snicket’s books.Read More »

Rereading A Series of Unfortunate Events: The Wide Window

With the TV adaptation’s release just two days from now, I’m rereading one of my favorite book series from when I was a kid—A Series of Unfortunate Events. Today’s post covers book three, The Wide Window.

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Cover courtesy of HarperCollins

“Book the third” of A Series of Unfortunate Events finds the Baudelaire orphans arriving at the house of their new guardian, Aunt Josephine. Aunt Josephine’s house is perched on the edge of a cliff (all but the foyer of the house is held up solely by stilts) above Lake Lachrymose, a lake filled with man-eating leeches. As always, Count Olaf shows up in disguise and concocts a plan to steal the Baudelaires’ inheritance. The book is full of Handler’s dark, gothic creativity, and the plot twists and turns in unpredictable and riveting ways. As I write this, I’ve already reread through book six of Unfortunate Events, and The Wide Window is probably my favorite of the early books.

That Leaves You with a Rattle

In my previous posts I’ve talked about how each of the main characters is somewhat defined by their particular skills—Violet invents, Klaus reads, and Sunny bites—and about how the story can sometimes feel contrived because of the way the orphans end up being presented with situations that require their specific skills. The Wide Window manages to subvert this trend to great effect. When the Baudelaires come to their new home, their Aunt Josephine presents each of them with a present. Violet is given a doll, Klaus a train set, and Sunny a rattle. The fact that the items are so incongruous with the orphans’ skills and interests subverts the reader’s expectations, and this subversion really accentuates the awkwardness of the situation. It’s a smack of reality after the perfect (at least before Count Olaf showed up) life that they had with their previous guardian. But the subversion continues.Read More »

Rereading A Series of Unfortunate Events: The Reptile Room

With the TV adaptation just around the corner, I’m rereading one of my favorite book series from when I was a kid—A Series of Unfortunate Events. Today’s post regards book two, The Reptile Room, and it does contain spoilers for that book. As Lemony Snicket would say, if you don’t want plot information given away, “you are free to put this [review] back on the shelf and seek something lighter.”

And Speaking of Spoilers …

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Cover courtesy of HarperCollins

In this book, the Baudelaire orphans go to live with another distant relative, “Uncle” Monty, who studies snakes. Right as the orphans arrive, Uncle Monty is planning a scientific expedition to Peru, and he wants the orphans to come along. Eventually Count Olaf shows up disguised as Monty’s assistant, and schemes to steal their children’s inheritance once again—a scheme made easier by the death of Uncle Monty.

What’s interesting about this book is that it reveals the death of Uncle Monty as early as page 28—and not in some hint or euphemism, the narrator explicitly states, “It is Uncle Monty, unfortunately, who will be dead.” Mentioning this so far up front is important because it lets the readers know that, even though the main characters are having a good time in their new home, misfortune will strike again.

It also softens the blow of Uncle Monty’s death. The death of the caretaker is more disturbing than anything in the first book, because the children actually see his corpse (compare this to Harry Potter, wherein there’re no corpses until book four, more than halfway through the series.) It’s also more shocking to the reader than anything in The Bad Beginning, because unlike the parents who die in the first book, we actually get a chance to see Dr. Montgomery and get to know him before he dies. So knowing that it’s going to happen ahead of time takes some of the edge off the murder. It’s important to do that because this is only the second book of the series, and the first book where the guardian isn’t Count Olaf—the reader can’t have very clear expectations of how “unfortunate” these books will get, so the death of Uncle Monty establishes the tone, and severity of misfortune, for the entire series.Read More »

Rereading A Series of Unfortunate Events: The Bad Beginning

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Cover courtesy of HarperCollins

I’ve been wanting to reread A Series of Unfortunate Events for a while, and with the Netflix series premiering in just a week and change, now seems like a good time. So, leading up to Friday the 13th, I’ll be posting reviews of the first four books—the ones covered in the TV series. I could stop there, but as soon as I started reading the first one I was hooked, and I could easier stop drinking coffee than stop reading these books at this point. So I’ll keep posting reviews after that, I don’t know how often, but at least weekly.

The Only Series That Matters

I’ll start by explaining, why this series? Between the ages of six and ten, I read a lot of YA and middle grade books, and a lot of book series—The Underland Chronicles, The Inheritance Cycle, Magic Treehouse, the Alex Rider books, the Alfred Kropp books, GoosebumpsAnimorphsCaptain UnderpantsThe Spiderwick Chronicles, and others. Some of these series I read all the way through, others I didn’t. But as far as I was concerned, A Series of Unfortunate Events and Harry Potter were the only series that mattered. There were no other books that I reread so often as the books in those series. They were the two pillars of children’s literature for me. Looking back on all the books I read as a kid, those are the only series I’m still interested in rereading—and, although Harry Potter was my favorite when I was a kid, Unfortunate Events is the series I now care about rereading most. The books introduced me to so many concepts, phrases, quotes, and words which have stuck with me to this day. Molotov cocktails, Friedrich Nietzsche, mob psychology, waxing and waning—but I’m getting ahead of myself. The point is, the series looms large in my childhood, and hopefully these posts will explain why, as well as illuminate other matters I find interesting along the way.Read More »

New Publication: De.mocra.cy; also, Holiday Sale!

democracy-c-3Here we go with my first self-published prose piece! It’s a short story about a democratically run MMO. You can buy it for half price (more about that below) on Amazon and Smashwords. Here’s the synopsis:

Volt is the leader of the Anarchists, an official gang on the De.mocra.cy server. In a near-future internet filled with highly regulated, highly restrictive MMOs, the De.mocra.cy server is entirely self-regulated, affording unprecedented freedom of speech and freedom of violence to its users—until now. A new law has outlawed violence between consenting parties, and Volt must mobilize a fractious group of gang leaders to campaign against it—and, unbeknownst to them, to challenge the Unwritten Amendment.

Also included in the publication is an afterword, in which I discuss some of what I mentioned in my post about limits, as well as where the idea for the story came from, and what “–> <— vs. <– –>” means.

In addition to publishing this, I’ve set all my ebooks to half price, at which price they shall remain until the end of December. You can find them all on Smashwords and on Amazon.

Merry Christmas, happy Hanukkah, joyous Kwanza, and just good job being a human, everybody!

No Longer Than

In a few days I’m going to self publish the short story “De.mocra.cy,” and writing the afterword for it brought me back to an interesting revelation I had after editing it. I hate limitations in writing, and will do everything to work around, nullify, or flat out ignore them.

This may seem oppositional to the idea that limits are good for writing, though it isn’t entirely. The limitations which I hate are artificial ones—ones which exist beyond the world of the story. In this post I hope to clarify that distinction, explain what drove me to this realization, and tangentially promote that upcoming short story. Although maybe this will actually make the story seem less appealing, who knows.

Before I talk about my experience with that piece though, I’ll go all the way back to my experience in the fourth and fifth grade. Because at that time, I already knew that I hated limits. I wasn’t much of a writer then—at least, I didn’t write regularly, though I did enjoy it a lot. I was always happy to have creative writing assignments in school, because I loved imagining strange worlds and interesting characters. What I didn’t love was that these assignments had to be a maximum of five pages double-spaced (I think—it may have actually been shorter.) That’s about a thousand words, which is about two thirds the length of this post. And while that’s a fine amount of work for most nine- to ten-year-olds, for me it was awful. I always found myself pushing up against the max length, and ending the stories abruptly. That length is just not congruent with the way my imagination works. Over the past six years I’ve written twenty-six short stories, and only one of them was under that length.

But that’s not so bad. A few bizarre, goofy short stories truncated—it’s no big loss, and it was no big frustration to me. What was worse was the max length for plays in high school.Read More »

What I’ve Been Reading, November 2016

Lot’s of books about Vietnam, because I’m in a literature class called “Reimagining Vietnam.” So, here’s what I’ve been reading:

The Quiet American by Graham Greene – The Quiet American is a book narrated by Thomas Fowler, a jaded British journalist working in Vietnam during the violent overthrow of French colonialism. The American of the title is Alden Pyle, a representative with the American economic mission, who seems to have some greater role than he lets on.

The book’s plot is pretty interesting in it’s own right, mainly focusing on the growing relationship between Pyle and Fowler, and Pyle’s attempts to win the heart of Fowler’s Vietnamese mistress—but what I enjoyed most were all the questions it raised about being “engagé.” Fowler firmly believes in remaining neutral as a journalist, while Pyle is full of idealism, convinced that America can do good in bringing democracy to Vietnam—before the US even had a strong military presence there. The book was published shortly after the events described in it—before the “Vietnam War”—but the debates between Fowler and Pyle about the role of western powers in under developed nations have only become more and more relevant. What is the global role of a fading colonial power? What is the role of a rising superpower? At what point does inaction become action?

The book is a quick read, full of dry wit, vivid descriptions of the communist uprising, and terrific dialogue.

The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien – Vietnam book number two. The book is a collection of short stories revolving around a platoon of American soldiers in the Vietnam War. Most of the stories are narrated by a fictitious version of the author. Some are short vignettes, some are longer, more traditional stories, and some are almost like personal essays, with choppy bits of story and pieces of argument or reflection mixed together.

The more traditional stories are all compelling. O’Brien does a masterful job of characterizing the soldiers and the landscape around them. The opening piece, “The Things They Carried,” is a long meditation on the physical and emotional burden of each of the soldiers, all their memories and personal totems. One of my favorites is “On the Rainy River”, which describes the narrator’s struggle deciding whether or not to dodge the draft. These types of stories, with their intimate depth of character and reflective tone, would be enough for me to highly recommend this book. What makes the collection really special, and something worth re-reading, is the inclusion of those more non-fictional pieces. Pieces like “Spin,” “How to Tell a True War Story,” and “Good Form” add another layer to the book, calling into question the truth of things, and the purpose of writing, and remembering, and telling war stories. And O’Brien did fight in Vietnam, so there’s another layer. The book is rich with experience and questions, an engaging read and one to remember, and keep thinking about, as well.

No Man’s Land by Duong Thu Huong – This book is great. It takes place in (surprise!) Vietnam shortly after the victory of the Communist forces, in a town called Mountain Hamlet. The action kicks off almost immediately when Mien, one of the three main characters, finds that her first husband has returned from the dead. She had married him just before he went off to war, and for over a decade he’s been presumed dead. In that time, Mien married an entrepreneur named Hoan, and had a child with him. But once her first husband, Bon, returns, she feels a social and moral obligation to become his wife again.

The strength of the book is the characters. The main characters are the members of the love triangle, Bon, Hoan, and Mien, but there are plenty of side characters that are just as interesting. Everyone has a backstory, with more depth and hardship hidden beneath the surface. Huong digs deep into all the characters, and all the settings, with descriptions that range from beautiful to horrifying. Everything is so well wrought, the characters and settings and backstories all leave deep emotional impressions on the reader. Of all the books I’ve read so far for my Vietnam class, this one is my favorite.

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain – As with many of Mark Twain’s books, this one is all over the place, in terms of tone and subject matter. Most of the time, it works, and the result is a book that is full of many different memorable characters and entertaining situations.

If you don’t know the plot already, Huckleberry Finn follows the Huck and Jim, a runaway slave, as they run away from their abusive father and their owner who plans to sell them down the river, respectively. They set off on a raft down the Mississippi, intending to take a turn around the south end of Illinois and head northeast, to the free states. The book is mostly composed of short episodes which occur as they travel down the river.

This is the strength of the book. These episodes are full of larger-than-life characters, like the Duke and the King—two conmen who board the raft as they’re being chased out of the town they just ran a grift on—or the Grangerfords and the Sphepherdsons—two families on opposite sides of a generations-old feud, whose cause know one can even remember anymore. Below the surface all the colorful characters and funny stories are issues of race, dominance, violence, mob mentality, religion, and, of course, slavery. The balance that Twain strikes between entertainment and substance is terrific and compelling, and it’s why the book is a classic. Unfortunately, the ending is (famously) underwhelming, and abandons the substance in favor of just entertainment, leaving all those issues unresolved and unacknowledged.

Regardless, the book is absolutely worth reading, and there’s a great audiobook of it, performed by John Greenman, on Librivox.

Free Writing: On the Walk Home

Here’s a somewhat spooky piece of writing for Halloween, inspired by a thought I had while  …

On the Walk Home
Francis Bass

My legs pound into the ground, leaden, burning.

I stumble. I stop.

I’ve never seen this place before. I don’t remember getting here. I don’t remember anything from this walk, I don’t know how long I’ve been walking, but I started for home at noon, and now it’s dusk. I’m on the side of a deserted highway, surrounded by unfamiliar, old, low buildings with peeling paint, and tall dark pine trees.

“…He has had a long day in court. I left him there with Vholes. You don’t like Vholes, I hope?”

That’s the audiobook of Bleak House. It drones in my ears.

I don’t know what part of the book this is. When I headed home from school, I was just listening to the first chapter, trying to get a head start on my reading for Tuesday.

A cold wind leaps up behind me and swoops over my shoulders and through my sweat-soaked shirt.

The sun is low, pumpkin-orange, gray clouds puffed in front of it. I look at the buildings, search them for some scrap of familiarity that might orient me. “Canaan Groceries” is beside me. It looks long closed, but there’s a faded blue pickup parked in front of it. A daycare squats across the street from me with a bleached sign bearing a rainbow and some illegible lettering. Not far ahead is an impoundment lot, filled with the rounded bodies of cars hunkering down.

Lights flare up and a car zooms past me on the road.

“… in her most genteel accents, ‘my executor, administrator, and assign. (Our Chancery phrases …’”

I tear my phone out of my pocket, and just as I do the audiobook stops playing, and a battery icon, empty, blinks on the screen. Then the screen goes black.

I stick my phone back in my pocket and twist around. The seat of my shorts is wet, my underarms are wet, the back of my shirt is wet, and its all cold in the wind. I hold my thumb out to the road stupidly, but there are no cars coming from either direction, just the fast disappearing red winks of taillights on the car that just passed. The only other motion is the pine trees, big dark furry sprouts walling in the highway, swaying. My arm aches after only a few seconds of holding it up.

I turn around and yank off my earbuds. I walk to the pickup in front of the grocer’s, but as I approach I see that the tires are gone, the thing is beached, stranded, ownerless, covered in dead leaves and pine straw.

I hear a car coming, and I run back to the street and hold my thumb out, but the approaching headlights just blast past me. I realize how dark it is now. The sun is just a few jagged scraps seen through fractal black foliage. Long shadows blend into one big shadow which spills across all the road and all the parking lots and all the trees. I start walking up the street, in the opposite direction from where I had been heading before.

My footsteps sound strange, out-of-sync. I stop for a moment, and quiet, crunching footsteps continue. I am riveted in place. My throat is dry. My eyes burn in the wind. I start walking again, looking straight ahead, into the darkness of the road. The footsteps are near me. I hear rubber soles squeaking. I fumble at my side, not looking down, grab my dangling earbuds, and put them into my ears. The footsteps start running, whapping the ground faster faster faster right toward my back with deafening crunching thunking sound blasting into my skull through the earbuds and I keep walking, don’t think, into the wind, into the dark of the set sun.

My legs pound the ground.

I’m in front of the door to my apartment complex. I reach for my keys.

“… has come up from her place in Lincolnshire (hotly pursued by the fashionable intelligence) …”

That’s the audiobook of Bleak House droning in my ear. I realize that I haven’t actually been listening to it. A warm wind blows past me, and I enter my apartment building, stepping out of the mid-day sun. As the door shuts behind me, I realize I don’t recall anything from my walk home. I left my classroom, started listening to the audiobook … it doesn’t matter. I’ll have to re-listen to those chapters, or just actually read them, tonight, since we have a reading quiz for them tomorrow. It’s a shame. I was hoping to get the reading done on my walk home so I could have the night free.

It sure sucks having Halloween on a Monday.

Copyright © by Francis Bass 2016. All Rights Reserved.

Learning from Shakespeare’s Histories

adolf_schro%cc%88dter_falstaff_und_sein_page
Falstaff and his Page by Adolf Schrödte

In preparation for writing a historical play (not based on real history, but a play with banners and kings and armies) I’ve been reading a few of Shakespeare’s histories—namely, Richard IIHenry IV part 1Henry IV part 2Henry V, and Julius Caesar.

Now, I’m not taking any classes on Shakespeare, nor have I ever taken any classes exclusively focused on Shakespeare. This post doesn’t come from a well-informed scholarly background, or from someone intimately familiar with the discourse surrounding Shakespeare. I’m just some guy who likes reading and writing and watching plays. With that said, this is what I’ve learned.Read More »

New Publication: Monastery

School’smonastery-c-hvd-2 back in, so what better time to read a play about the future of higher education and students arguing with each other?

You can buy Monastery on Smashwords or on Amazon. Here’s the synopsis:

A couple decades in the future higher education has evolved, and Academic Campuses (sometimes referred to as “monasteries”) offer an affordable, though longer and more intensive, alternative to universities. In this hour-long play, the student editors of the Marietta Academic Campus’s literary journal, The Mac, meet just before the start of summer to finish up the latest issue, and to celebrate their success. As the play continues, a hypothetical conversation about graduating early and starting up a magazine outside the monastery turns into a spirited argument.

As usual the publication includes an afterword. In this one I describe my own arguments with myself about college, and my outlining process for the play.

Harry Potter and the Holistic Review

Harry_Potter_and_the_Cursed_Child_Special_Rehearsal_Edition_Book_CoverI just finished Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, and I feel like it was one of the most multi-layered reading experiences I’ve ever had with a contemporary work. By multi-layered I mean that I was thinking about, and analyzing meta-textual elements while reading it—which is a common enough experience, when I’m reading old literature for my english classes, but pretty rare with recently published books and plays. So, rather than just reviewing the play as I might review Mr. Burns or Water by the Spoonful, I’m going to review the play in all it’s aspects—the things I noticed as a reader, as a writer, as a theatre person(ish), as a fan of the original books, and as someone interested in the publishing industry. I’ll mention plot elements throughout this post, so if you don’t want the play spoiled, halt now.

So, let’s begin.Read More »

Recommendation Dump, September 2016

Jurymore –  Another podcast from the great Justin Robert Young, though unlike my previous recommendation of Politics Politics Politics (which I’m recommending again right now because it is continually terrific and it’s now going up three times a week) this one is not a one man podcast. It’s also not ongoing—it ended awhile ago, at about 30 episodes long. It ended because Justin got married—that’s the premise of the podcast. Justin Robert Young and his then fiancée Ashley Paramore recorded a regular podcast for the better part of a year leading up to their wedding, and document the process of planning the ceremony.

Terrific. The two have great rapport, and most episodes focus on an interesting topic—often something to do with the wedding planning, sometimes just something to do with relationships. Their honesty and ability to speak (and sometimes argue) freely while streaming the podcast live is refreshing, and some of the greatest moments of the podcast are when they get into fights. Because the two really are a terrific couple, and their fights aren’t abusive nonsense, they’re genuine arguments. And the whole show has an energetic, comedic tone, because it’s JuRY after all.

Also, they had the wedding ceremony at DragonCon, so once you’ve finished the podcast you can watch it, like a finale.Read More »

What I’ve Been Reading, August 2016

Whew. It’s been awhile since I did one of these, but here goes.

Lagoon by Nnedi Okorafor – Lagoon is a book about Lagos, Nigeria, and what happens when aliens arrive there. It’s a sprawling portrait of the city, its people, its landmarks, and the ecosystem it was built around. It focuses most on three individuals—a marine biologist, a soldier, and a rap star, who all find themselves wandering out to the beach shortly after the aliens arrive, and being sucked into the lagoon.

The book has an enormous ensemble of characters, and still manages to have all of them distinct enough that you can keep track. It also does an excellent job of describing the city, which becomes even more important as the book goes on, and parts of the city literally come alive. The story twists and turns without a clear direction, but it’s a lot of fun following those twists, and the book is constantly introducing new and interesting characters and ideas. A testament to how well characterized everything in his story is—it’s been over three months since I listened to it, and I can still remember multiple characters and events that are only mentioned in a single chapter.

Also I listened to the audiobook of it, over the course of the long drive from Iowa City back to Tallahassee, and the narrators (a male and a female) are fantastic.

Seriously though, as I write this description, I keep remembering characters and details from the book, like the guys running 409 scams, and the rapper from Atlanta, and the fantastically entertaining and dislikable preacher. That’s because it’s awesome. Nnedi Okorafor is awesome. Check this book out.Read More »