“Welcome to Illyria!”

“Welcome, welcome, welcome, welcome…”

I’m a big fan of stories. I’m always consuming some kind of story, whether book or TV show, magical realism or Grimms-inspired sci-fi, anything I can react to, analyze, or write about.

Come watch me write about stories, even if you should be writing yourself. Especially if you should be writing yourself. Reading about writing isn’t writing, and reading other peoples’ writing isn’t writing, but it’s a lot of fun.

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Converted by same-sex “Oklahoma”

A good adaptation can change your mind about a play.

To put a twist on the classic Rodgers and Hammerstein musical, the Oregon Shakespeare Festival retooled “Oklahoma” as a queer romance featuring multiple gay, transgender, and gender-nonconforming characters.

Pairing
Bobbi Charlton and Tatiana Wechsler as Aunt Eller and Curly McLain

I won’t be able to watch straight “Oklahoma” ever again. The same-sex interpretation makes a lot of sense – barely any of the original text had to be changed to fit the f/f and m/m romances. In some cases, the original jokes become even funnier; one notable scene has the townsfolk shocked to learn Gertie Cummings married a MAN. Director Bill Rauch exhibits a keen sense of humor, advising actors to lean into the pronoun changes and other absurdities.

By abandoning historical accuracy, OSF’s production explores a fantastical world where same-sex attraction is a nonissue. This decision makes the now-homophobic Jud all the more frightening. His handsiness with both Laurie and Curly (and each woman’s subsequent discomfort), along with his description of burning down a farm after catching two girls together, threatens the accepting idyll of the Oklahoman townsfolk.

Before this, I hated “Oklahoma.” I scorned the original film, unimpressed by the supposedly “groundbreaking” musical.

I enjoyed the 5th Avenue Theatre’s 2012 attempt more, but that production still had problems. While casting a black man as Jud gave new energy to the material, Jud’s murder at Curly’s hands added a bleak ending to the thin story.

OSF’s “Oklahoma” strikes a balance: it retains the perky innocence of the original without leaning away from the horror angry men can bring. In fact, the same-sex interpretation boosts a fairly weak script, strengthening a once-tired classic for years to come.

“The world is changing,” cowgirl Curly says in the second act, “and we gotta change with it.”

I couldn’t agree more, so today I switch teams.

I’m Pro-klahoma and proud.

 

(You can catch “Oklahoma” at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland Oregon now until October 27.)

Under a Painted Sky by Stacey Lee: Why I Only Lasted 9 Pages

I hate historical fiction, but I’ll read historical books that try their damnedest to be interesting.

If a book adds a serial killer, say, or some girl power, I’ll come sniffing around.

Under a Painted Sky caught my interest.

Two women of color become unlikely allies and go on the lam together?

Disguised as boys?

And they meet and fall in love with cowboys!?

I had this EXACT fantasy in the fourth grade!

The book starts out in medias  res, which I like. I prefer to get right to the action.

And WHAT A START:

They say death aims only once and never misses, but I doubt Ty Yorkshire thought it would strike with a scrubbing brush. [….] Does killing a man who tried to rape me count as murder?

WOW. SOLID beginning! I know just enough to want to know more. Until…

My mind wheels back to twelve hours ago, before the world turned on its head….

YOU’RE ALREADY LOSING ME, STACEY.

You mean to tell me you’ve just warded off an attempted rape by killing your attacker and your FIRST thought is to reminisce about the morning? I AM NOT CONVINCED. Any interest I had in the murder is dwindling.

Sammy, our protagonist, remembers being angry with her father that morning.

I strapped on the Lady Tin-Yin’s violin case and glared at my father, who was holding a conch shell to his ear. I thought it was pretty when I bought it from the curiosity shop back in New York. But ever since he began listening to it every morning and every evening, just to hear the ocean, I’ve wanted to smash it.

All right, we’re back on track. Sammy is mad at her dad and I want to know why. Is this a depression symptom? Does he lay around listening to the shell all day? I’d be mad, too.

Noisily, I stuffed a tin of peppermints into my case for the children’s lessons, then proceeded to the door. Unlike Father, I kept my promises. If a student played his scales correctly, I rewarded him with a peppermint. Never would I snatch the sweet out of his mouth and replace it with, say, cod-liver oil. Never.

Wait… Is this something you would actually do, Sammy? Is this a joke? Is this something your father would do? I don’t know enough about either of you to guess. Then again, we’re only two pages in.

Finally, Sammy gives some hint as to why she’s angry with her father:

“You said we’d move back to New York, not two thousand miles the other way.” New York had culture. With luck, I might even make a living as a musician there.

Wait a minute… Did you…not realize…where you were moving? I’M NOT CLEAR AS TO THE SITUATION. I’m imagining this girl traveling 2000 miles in the opposite direction thinking she’s headed to New York. And that makes me feel some REAL UNCHARITABLE THINGS.

Okay, we’re only on page 2. I’m sure I’ll get more context later.

Oh, it sounds like Sammy’s father moved to California for the gold rush. That gives me a LITTLE more information. But Sammy’s not having it – she leaves the house.

I want to jump in and mention that there’s an 8-hour time skip between this passage and the next. I mention this because I MISSED THE TIME SKIP, which greatly influenced my reading of the next passage.

Anyway, 8 hours pass and Sammy is walking home when she smells smoke. She runs home and finds her father’s store burned to the ground. Stacey Lee simultaneously describes the store as an ashy ruin and a wall of heat. I’m not sure what’s going on.

I would like to mention that, at this point, we’re only on page 4.

On page 5, a background character drops this bomb: Sammy’s father is dead.

This is where the time skip might have helped me.

I read this and thought, “SHE WAS JUST TALKING TO HIM TWO SECONDS AGO,” when, in reality, it had been 8 hours.

Then I realized that didn’t help the situation.

The father appears ONCE for TWO PAGES before he DIES. Oh, excuse me, BURNS ALIVE. And this in a novel that opened with a murder. TOO MUCH IS HAPPENING.

Sammy feels stabs of guilt:

I shuddered and then my chest began to rack so hard I could scarcely draw a breath. Smoke engulfed me, thick and unyielding, but the awful truth rooted me to the spot: after I’d given my last lesson of the day, I’d dawdled along the banks of the dirty Missouri, throwing stones instead of coming home directly.

Did you? Because I remember a fight between you and your father followed by the announcement of his death and NOTHING ELSE.

Oh, Father, I’m sorry I argued with you. I’m sorry I left with my nose in the air.

A little guilt is understandable, even without much context for the rest of their relationship.

Were you remembering that when the smoke robbed you of your last breath?

That’s a bit dramatic…

You always said, Have patience in one moment of anger, and you will avoid one hundred days of sorrow.

Oh, he ALWAYS said, that did he? I wouldn’t know; I only knew him for TWO PAGES.

My temper has cost me a lifetime of sorrow. And now, I will never be able to ask your forgiveness, or see your kind face again.

This. Is. Too. Much. We are only 6 pages into this novel. There’s not enough context for me to understand this relationship and not enough room for me to process what this death means to the protagonist. This whole premise feels beyond rushed.

The next chapter opens with several townspeople gossiping about Sammy:

“She’s been standing there over an hour,” a man muttered to another as they passed by.

COOL IT, BOOK. WE’RE ON PAGE 7.

The townspeople say some other horrid, racist things that STILL DON’T FEEL EARNED. Frontloading angst is a STRATEGY, but it’s not working for this book.

Sammy makes this reproach:

Fly, you crows. My father was not a spectacle. He was the greatest man I ever knew. He was my everything.

I WISH I HAD KNOWN HIM FOR MORE THAN TWO PAGES.

Things get far worse from here.

Sammy describes her astrological sign; she mentioned it once earlier, but now she goes into more detail:

A child born in the Year of the Snake was lucky. But every so often, a Snake was born unlucky.

“This is always true of Snake children…except when it’s not.”

Mother died in childbirth, a clear indication that my life would be unlucky.

OF COURSE SHE DID.

To counteract my misfortune, a blind fortune-teller told Father never to cut my hair, or bad luck would return. In addition, she said I should resist my Snake weaknesses, such as crying easily and needing to have the last word.

…did he do it? Have you been growing out your hair ever since? ARE THOSE YOUR ACTUAL WEAKNESSES? HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT THIS ASTROLOGICAL DIAGNOSIS?

Enough of that; time to introduce Sammy’s would-be-rapist:

“‘Tis a shame about your daddy,” said a familiar voice. Our landlord, Ty Yorkshire, shook his head.

I immediately pictured Norm McDonald as Colonel Sanders. Solid association.

When was the last time a book I read featured a Southern villain? Why do I have a bad feeling about this all of a sudden.

Oh no…I remembered. Now I can’t get Kady Cross out of my head!

“My best building, too,” he said in his rapid speech that caused his jowls to shake.

Oh. So not a fancy Southern drawl, as I assumed.

“Sometimes you roll snake eyes.”

I gasped. He knew my Chinese lunar sign?

This is what did me in. I can’t deal with stupid heroines. Still, I thought I could do one more page.

Scanning page 9, I found Sammy by the river about to throw herself in.

SUICIDE. ON PAGE 9.

This is way too much drama for me to care about. So long, female friendship. Thanks for nothing, historical fiction. See you never.

Books as Desserts: A Bakery Case of Genres

I have to credit Claire for this idea: she called Georgette Heyer romances “little fluffy pastries” and I, of course, took it a step too far.

I have strong opinions about books and dessert. Like dessert, different genres of books inspire my praise or rouse my ire. I scream the same epithets when someone brings cobbler to a potluck that I use when an acquaintance recommends a historical thriller.

All of us can be as picky about books as we are about pastry.

Here is my personal take on genres and the desserts with which they correspond.

Historical nonfiction = scones
Dry and unsatisfying.

Science fiction = durian ice cream
Pretty weird and not for everyone.

YA romance = Costco sheet cake
I used to be able to eat a lot of it, but now it makes me sick.

Mysteries = cupcakes
I love trying unique flavors, but even those can be a bit boring.

Social science books = donuts
Whenever these are offered, I devour at least three.

Magical realism = chocolate
I want to try every single variety, especially the foreign ones.

Memoir = cheesecake
When I pick the right flavor, nothing satisfies me more.

Children’s lit = muffins
Comfort food.

Historical fiction = cobbler
I refuse to consume this unless there are interesting ingredients.

High fantasy = gummy candy
Much more my brother’s’ speed than mine.

Christian fiction = fruit salad
Everyone pretends to like it much more than they do.

Theology = pumpkin pie
One bite and I’m good for another year.

Classic literature = rice pudding
I can appreciate it more as an adult.

Lauren’s Go-To Reads: Old Standbys

“So,” the interviewer starts, holding his iPhone near my face. “What books have most influenced your writing?”

“Yes, tell us,” says Adam Grant, my research hero. I haven’t figured out yet why he’s here. “Which authors acted as mentors in your youth?”

“Interesting question, Adam.” I grab the iPhone and speak directly into it “Follow-up question: Will I be mentioned in your next book?”

Adam smiles enigmatically but doesn’t answer the question.

Feeling left out, the nameless interviewer clears his throat.

“All right, chill. As it happens, I made a list of books that have influenced me.”

Fascinating.” Adam scribbles something on his notepad. From here, it looks like, “Scrap interview – call Malcolm G,” but I’ve never been good at reading upside-down.

“This seems like a long intro to a post,” the interviewer grumbles.

“NO ONE ASKED YOU.” Continue reading

I Hate Romance

I keep by my bookshelf a pile of books I plan to sell at Powell’s. This time around, the victims include Lena Dunham’s memoir, Tillie Walden’s first graphic novel, a poorly-written account of a transgender teenager, and three YA romances I couldn’t finish.

This shouldn’t be a huge deal – I stop reading books all the time. I find it freeing to give up on something I’ve struggled to get through.

Quitting on romances, however, is new…and it bothers me. Continue reading

How to Talk to Women in Their 20s

Church people hate me.

At least, it’s hard not to feel that way as a single woman.

For over a year, I’ve watched people panic when I show up without a partner. I’ve been asked, “Soooooo hooooooow’s wooooooork?” more times than I can count. I’ve had others explain things to me that I already understand.

I thought I was the problem. I doubled-down on small talk, asked lots of questions, brought wine to Bible study.

Still I got panicked smiles, questions about college, the dreaded, “Hoooooooow’s work?”

I thought, Maybe these people are uncomfortable around singles.

Enter Tim. Continue reading

Summer Reading List

I’ve rejoiced my parents’ last day of school. I’ve purchased aloe for a terrible sunburn. I’ve broken out the baby powder for 80-degree days.

Summer is upon us.

That means it’s time to read. A lot.

If you’re looking for suggestions, I have TRILLIONS. I even organized them from fluffy to thought-provoking, with ample gray area for darker reads.

Here they are in list form. I’ll start with the fluffiest and get progressively more…mature? Serious? Literary? Whatever.

Key:
YA: Young Adult
CR: Currently Reading
TBR: To Be Read

  1. The Princess Diaries by Meg Cabot (YA)
    A 14-year-old Manhattanite finds out she’s actually a European princess. I will never not recommend this book.
  2. When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon (YA, TBR)
    Two teens with clashing personliaties meet and presumably fall in love at computer camp. I will note that I bought this for $3 at a book sale solely because of the iced coffee on the book jacket.
  3. My Lady’s Choosing: An Interactive Romance Novel by Kitty Curran and Larissa Zageris
    An absolutely insane choose-your-own-adventure romance. Your choices include a sharp-tongued aristocrat, a half-dressed Scotsman, an intrepid explorer, and several fantastical creatures of dubious sanity. Rated NC-17. No, I’m not kidding.
  4. Bad Kitty by Michele Jaffe (YA)
    Forensics fanatic Jasmine Callihan, along with her colorful group of friends, tries to solve a mystery involving a cat, a severed thumb, and Kermit underpants. Hilarity ensues. This is the funniest book I’ve ever read, hands down, and the biggest influence on my writing style. Show some RESPECT.
  5. The Selection series by Kiera Cass (YA)
    Published in the wake of The Hunger Games, these books ask an important question, namely: What if the monarchy participated in a “Bachelor”-style reality show to pick the new queen? THESE BOOKS ARE SO DUMB…but I own the entire series, including the spin-offs, which have made me weep REAL TEARS.
  6. The Good Girl’s Guide to Getting Lost: A Memoir of Three Continents, Two Friends, and One Unexpected Adventure by Rachel Friedman (TBR)
    Good girl Rachel Friedman shocks everyone by buying a ticket to Ireland on a whim. I keep buying travelogues with mixed results, so we’ll see how this goes.
  7. Something New: Tales From a Makeshift Bride by Lucy Knisley
    An artist’s tale of her DIY wedding in comic book format. Includes recipes, photos, practical wedding tips, and pages soaked with my tears.
  8. Less by Andrew Sean Greer (TBR)
    Author books whirlwind speaking tour to cope with ex’s wedding. I’m guessing he Finds Love and Learns About Himself…but the book won the Pulitzer prize, so it has to be good,
  9. The Theory of Everything by Kari Luna (YA, CR)
    Sophie Sophia, like her father before her, has an active imagination. JUST KIDDING! She HALLUCINATES! Or does she…? A thoughtful look at mental illness in hot pink packaging.
  10. Lunch in Paris: A Love Story with Recipes by Elizabeth Bard
    Follows a New York writer as she falls in love with French cuisine. Includes many recipes I will never attempt and one for profiteroles I might.
  11. Dramarama by E. Lockhart (YA)
    Small-town girl and her gay best friend navigate theater camp politics. Come for the amateur musicals. Stay for the smart handling of sexuality, race, and identity.
  12. Ship It by Britta Lundin (YA)
    A slash shipper and an inexperienced actor go on tour following a PR slip-up. I thought it would be silly romp about shipping culture, but its deep dive into representation and belonging broke my stupid heart.
  13. The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzi Lee (YA)
    Bisexual bad boy Lord Henry “Monty” Montague takes a trip with sister Felicity and secret crush Percy that turns into a piratical adventure full of…frank discussions about race and sexuality? WHAT?
  14. If I Stay by Gayle Forman (YA)
    Girl hospitalized following a car accident ponders whether she wants to keep living. This was THE book in 2009 and it made everyone cry. Think The Notebook for teens, only interesting and well-written.
  15. The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart (YA)
    Private school girl infiltrates all-male secret society. Alternate title: A Young Girl’s Guide to Smashing the Patriarchy.
  16. The Graceling Realm series by Kristin Cashore (YA)
    Fast-paced, female-led fantasy novels with a feminist bent. Though all three books are excellent, Fire is my favorite.
  17. Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor (YA)
    “Once upon a time, an angel and a devil fell in love. It did not end well.” That first line was all the context I had going into this book. I’ve read lots of fantastical forbidden love stories in my day; I don’t often get to read one this well-written. Also, winner of the award for MOST TRAUMATIZING DEATH SCENE. I READ THIS AT WORK. I WAS UNPREPARED.
  18. The Lunar Chronicles by Marissa Meyer (YA)
    Grimm’s Fairy Tales…IN SPACE. Series highlights: Scarlet falling for a terse streetfighter in Scarlet and all the characters joining forces to abduct royalty in Cress.
  19. Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo (YA)
    Six teenage criminals pull off an impossible heist. Don’t let the book’s thickness fool you – the plot moves fast. Contains multiple romances and a gunslinger(!).
  20. The Raven Cycle by Maggie Stiefvater (YA)
    Pyschic-adjacent Blue meets a band of prep school boys with an unnatural interest in Welsh kings. Home to THE GREATEST YA HERO in recent memory. The Raven Cycle? More like the RONAN Cycle.
  21. Turtles All the Way Down by John Green (YA)
    Anxious teenager Asa Holmes joins her exuberant best friend in a money-making scheme that results in Asa confronting her issues with intimacy, as well as her waning mental health. Contains incredibly-accurate and validating depiction of anxiety.
  22. Jane Unlimited by Kristin Cashore (YA)
    On orders from her deceased aunt, Jane travels to the mysterious mansion Tu Reviens, where things get weird as hell. That’s all I’ve got.
  23. The Big Lie by Julie Mayhew
    Alternate history exploring a modern-day Third Reich. Picked this up at a Blind Date with a Book giveaway. No regrets.
  24. Am I There Yet? The Loop-de-Loop, Zigzagging Journey to Adulthood by Mari Andrew
    Illustrator Mari Andrew reassures “unsuccessful” millennials with her own journey through early adulthood. Buy this for your sad 20-something friends.
  25. The Happiness Project, Or, Why I  Spent a Year Trying to Sing in the Morning, Clean My Closets, Fight Right, Read Aristotle, and Generally Have More Fun by Gretchen Rubin
    Chronicles Gretchen Rubin’s attempt to increase her happiness in 12 months with charts and research. Eat, Pray, Love for the left-brained set.
  26. Mothering Sunday by Graham Swift
    Follows the life of a maid having an affair with a wealthy lord in the 1920s. It’s deeper than you would expect.
  27. You Can’t Touch my Hair: And Other Things I Still Have to Explain by Phoebe Robinson
    Humorous and thoughtful take on race relations in America. Contains one of my favorite passages on sidewalk rage ever printed.
  28. Would You Rather by Katie Heaney
    Writer Katie Heaney comes out as gay after 28 years believing herself straight. This book came out in May; I’ve already read it four times. Will appeal to anyone who has moved to a big city, struggled with anxiety, or  watched “The L Word.”
  29. Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay
    Gay’s essays deconstruct “perfect” feminism, popular television, rape culture, and use of the word “girl.” Now available in pink!
  30. Searching for Sunday: Loving, Leaving, and Finding the Church by Rachel Held Evans
    Evans ties modern church pitfalls with her own experiences using the seven sacraments. Perfect for depressives dealing with a crisis of faith. (Meaning ME. IT’S PERFECT FOR ME.)
  31. Dept. of Speculation by Jenny Offill/Chemistry by Weike Wang
    Two stream-of-consciousness novels about women battling mental breakdowns. These books are weirdly similar, but I love them both.
  32. The Tiger’s Wife by Tea Obreht
    After her grandfather dies unexpectedly, a young woman traces his origins to a village that once harbored an escaped tiger. That sound you hear is my stupid heart breaking all over the pages.
  33. The Underground Railroad by Coulson Whitehead (TBR)
    A novel about the Underground Railroad…except, in this story, it’s a literal railroad. Also a Pulitzer Prize winner, AND I’ve heard the author namedropped by my two favorite podcasters.
  34. Hild by Nicola Griffith (CR)
    A novelist’s take on medieval warrior princess St. Hilda of Whitby. Called “one of the best novels ever.” So far my experience fits that description.