I'm sorting out my old bookmarks, going all the way back to the 90s. Here are some of the weird and wonderful things I've found.
The Five Things I’ve Learned About Writing Romance from TV
[This essay was originally on Jennifer Crusie’s website, but it’s no longer there. It’s a great essay not just about romance writing but about writing relationships in general].
If you call my house at eight o’clock on Tuesday night, I won’t answer. I’ll be working very hard, studying my craft by watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer. How is that studying, you ask? Consider the following:
- Television, or rather film, is the new language of narrative. If you’re under thirty, you probably learned the way story works not from books but from videos. If you’re over thirty, that’s probably the way you get most of your narrative now. So studying film has become just as valid as studying books as a way to learn more about storytelling.
- Film is a form of narrative we have some distance on, so we can study it with an unbiased eye. We all write books, we’re all invested in books, so it’s likely been quite a while since any of us were able to read most books purely for pleasure. But TV is something that many of us can watch without critiquing for technicalities.
- TV is fast. If you tape your shows and fast forward through the commercials, you can absorb an entire narrative arc in twenty-two to forty minutes. That makes it easier to see the story arc as a whole, instead of trying to wrap your mind around an entire book.
- TV is efficient. A writer who only has twenty to forty minutes to tell a story tends to become very clean in her or his narrative and therefore has a lot to teach us.
Still not convinced? Here are five things I’ve learned from TV that I’ve blatantly stolen for my own work. All five have been around for a long time, they’re basics of writing craft, but TV introduced me to the shorthand versions and then demonstrated their power for me.
Lesson # 1: Opposite Attract, But Twin Souls Connect
I have never been a believer in the old “she’s a firefighter, he’s an arsonist” theory of characterization. At least I wasn’t until I watched Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Buffy has had three great loves in five seasons, or as her fans prefer to put it, two great loves and one loser. And guess what: the two great loves were vampires.
Five hundred new fairytales discovered in Germany
Collection of fairytales gathered by historian Franz Xaver von Schönwerth had been locked away in an archive in Regensburg for over 150 years
Read one of the fairytales: The Turnip Princess
A whole new world of magic animals, brave young princes and evil witches has come to light with the discovery of 500 new fairytales, which were locked away in an archive in Regensburg, Germany for over 150 years. The tales are part of a collection of myths, legends and fairytales, gathered by the local historian Franz Xaver von Schönwerth (1810–1886) in the Bavarian region of Oberpfalz at about the same time as the Grimm brothers were collecting the fairytales that have since charmed adults and children around the world.
Last year, the Oberpfalz cultural curator Erika Eichenseer published a selection of fairytales from Von Schönwerth’s collection, calling the book Prinz Roßzwifl. This is local dialect for “scarab beetle”. The scarab, also known as the “dung beetle”, buries its most valuable possession, its eggs, in dung, which it then rolls into a ball using its back legs. Eichenseer sees this as symbolic for fairytales, which she says hold the most valuable treasure known to man: ancient knowledge and wisdom to do with human development, testing our limits and salvation.
Von Schönwerth spent decades asking country folk, labourers and servants about local habits, traditions, customs and history, and putting down on paper what had only been passed on by word of mouth. In 1885, Jacob Grimm said this about him: “Nowhere in the whole of Germany is anyone collecting [folklore] so accurately, thoroughly and with such a sensitive ear.” Grimm went so far as to tell King Maximilian II of Bavaria that the only person who could replace him in his and his brother’s work was Von Schönwerth.
Von Schönwerth compiled his research into a book called Aus der Oberpfalz – Sitten und Sagen, which came out in three volumes in 1857, 1858 and 1859. The book never gained prominence and faded into obscurity.
While sifting through Von Schönwerth’s work, Eichenseer found 500 fairytales, many of which do not appear in other European fairytale collections. For example, there is the tale of a maiden who escapes a witch by transforming herself into a pond. The witch then lies on her stomach and drinks all the water, swallowing the young girl, who uses a knife to cut her way out of the witch. However, the collection also includes local versions of the tales children all over the world have grown up with including Cinderella and Rumpelstiltskin, and which appear in many different versions across Europe.
Von Schönwerth was a historian and recorded what he heard faithfully, making no attempt to put a literary gloss on it, which is where he differs from the Grimm brothers. However, says Eichenseer, this factual recording adds to the charm and authenticity of the material. What delights her most about the tales is that they are unpolished. “There is no romanticising or attempt by Schönwerth to interpret or develop his own style,” she says.
Eichenseer says the fairytales are not for children alone. “Their main purpose was to help young adults on their path to adulthood, showing them that dangers and challenges can be overcome through virtue, prudence and courage.”
In 2008, Eichenseer helped to found the Franz Xaver von Schönwerth Society, an interdisciplinary committee devoted to analysing his work and publicising it. She is keen to see the tales available in English, and a Munich-based English translator, Dan Szabo, has already begun work on stories ranging from a miserly farmer and a money-mill to a turnip princess.
“Schönwerth’s legacy counts as the most significant collection in the German-speaking world in the 19th century,” says Daniel Drascek, a member of the society and a professor in the faculty of language, literature and cultural sciences at the University of Regensburg.
Ann Bannon: Queen of Lesbian Pulp Fiction
by John Harrison from Sin Street Sleaze
“Ann Bannon is without doubt the best-known and most respected of the vintage lesbian pulp authors. Born Ann Welby in 1932, Ann Bannon was raised in Joliet, Illinois. Introduced to the works of Ann Aldrich (writing as Vin Packer) and Radclyffe Hall while still in college, Bannon used these writers as her inspiration and - integrating observations which she had made about her two college roommates - authored her first novel, Odd Girl Out (1957). Having married after graduation, Ann’s husband forbade her from using his surname on her writing, leading her to choose the pen name of Bannon. After giving birth to two daughters, Bannon earned her Ph.D in linguistics at Stanford, before divorcing and moving to California, where between 1959 and 1962 she wrote her next five (and best remembered) novels.
Unlike the tackier lesbian themed paperbacks which were being ground out to satiate a mostly male audience, Bannon’s novels are regarded as an accurate and insightful depiction of lesbian life during this period of social and sexual repression (although the cover art and photographs designed by the publishers made no attempt to illustrate this fact). Carrying the lives of her major characters over from one novel to the next, Bannon created fully-developed and refined characters, who exist within plausible story lines.
Of Bannon’s lesbian works, Beebo Brinker is the best known, and is something of a prequel to her other works, establishing the popular character featured in her earlier books. Published by Gold Medal in 1962, it tells of Beebo at age eighteen, arriving in Greenwich Village fresh off the farm, her worldly possessions inside an old wicker suitcase, a worn old copy of the Guide to Greenwich Village clutched in her hand. Stuck firmly in the closet for the first third of the book’s narrative, before finally coming out to her gay roommate Jack. From there, Beebo quickly makes the transition from shy farm girl to dominating butch, falling into bed with Mona, then Paula, before finally getting snared by Venus, a glamorous film star.
Her final novel for Gold Medal, Beebo Brinker was originally issued with a cover painting which plainly illustrated the publisher and artist’s misconception of (or total disregard for) the content of the book. Conceived by Bannon as ’tall, strong, handsome and blue-jeaned ‘, she is presented on the cover (by Robert McGinnis) as a nerdy, private school girl type, standing under a sign subtlety marked ‘Gay Street’ (and in case we miss the point, another street sign above her head reads ‘One Way’. The cover blurb boldly proclaims:
Lost, Lonely, boyishly appealing - this is Beebo Brinker - who never really knew what she wanted, until she came to Greenwich Village and found the love that smoulders in the shadows of the twilight world.
In 1984, Bannon appeared in Robert Rosenberg’s documentary film Before Stonewall, which chronicled the history of the Gay and Lesbian community before the Stonewall riots began the major gay rights movement. Two years later, her early paperbacks were re-issued by Naiad Press, a Florida based publisher who specialised in lesbian works. This time around, the covers used a very simplistic, blue silhouette design, which helped shift the emphasis away from the vicarious exterior and onto the content, earning Bannon her due recognition as a pioneer of lesbian fiction, and establishing Beebo Brinker as a gay icon of her times.”
Ann Bannon: Selected Bibliography
Odd Girl Out (1957)
I Am A Woman (1959)
Women In The Shadows (1959)
Journey To A Woman (1959)
The Marriage (1960)
Beebo Brinker (1962)
Read Harrison’s interview with her here.