I’ve just published “Beneath Them,” a short story available on Smashwords and Amazon.
In this piece of flash fiction, without warning, thousands of alien spaceships have appeared above major urban areas around the globe, and some have descended to devastating effect. Although the aliens have expressed a lack of ill intentions, and a desire for “recreation,” no one really knows what they are doing on Earth. The only thing that is clear is their overwhelming power, and their overwhelming intelligence.
In the shadow of this invasion, life goes on as Atlanta resident Cheyenne, and her younger cousin Denise, deal with roaches in their apartment.
Also included in this publication is a brief afterword, in which I describe my own encounter with a cockroach which inspired this story.
Last week there was a school shooting in Parkland, Florida. Following the shooting, many of the survivors—high schoolers—have come together to voice their outrage at the current state of gun regulation in America, spearheading a movement to pass better gun control laws, with the hope of preventing what happened to Marjory Stoneman Douglas High from ever happening to another American school. You can find out more about their cause here.
Just days before the attack, I began editing and writing the afterword for a play I wrote last year, Tallahassee Ca. 2045. In the play, a group of high school students (heavily inspired by my own very politically conscious friends from high school) organize a protest for youth rights, to lower the minimum voting age. After a global catastrophe strikes, the nature of the protest changes, and it steadily grows out of control, ultimately collapsing with little more than token reforms made. And it takes place in Tallahassee, capital of Florida. Needless to say, I wish the MSD students much better luck than the characters in my play.
So for the past week, these students, and the way people are reacting to them, and the way some people are trying to discredit them, and whether or not they’ll succeed, and the fact that most of them can’t vote, and the general perception of teenagers, have all been on my mind. I’m in Spain right now, and I so wish that I could be in my hometown of Tallahassee to protest in front of the capitol, or even just in Iowa City, where I go to school. I would love to throw my support behind these kids by physically marching with them, but I can’t. What I can do is post this.
If you can’t tell already, it’s a strange post. It’s not really about gun control, but rather about why we should listen to the kids campaigning for better gun control right now, and general misconceptions about the apoliticality of kids. My main purpose here is to provide insight into my personal understanding of young people, particularly high schoolers, re: politics—which should be a pretty solid understanding, given that I’m 20. So, here we go. The following is a segment of the Tallahassee Ca. 2045 afterword, adapted slightly for this post.
You could say that I fell in with the right crowd in high school. “Fell in” because, for the most part, I met them first as friends of friends, not through any shared extracurricular interest or from any effort on my part to meet new people. And “right crowd” not because they were straight-laced t-totalers or anything, but because they were incredible kids (and are incredible people, for that matter.) They were kids who talked about politics during lunch. Kids who talked about, and argued about, Ferguson and Santa Barbara and Syria, about Common Core and Jackie Pons and gay marriage, about dress code and rape culture and climate change. Kids who made up jingles about socialism. Kids who discussed gender and sexuality without the tied tongues of adults nor the giggles of less mature kids. Kids who participated in Model UN and Peace Jam and GSA. Kids (a few of them at least) who once went to the principal to ask that he improve the school’s nearly non-existent sex-ed. Very liberal kids all, some of whom had liberal parents and some of whom had conservative parents. Kids who were vegetarian and vegan. Kids who acted, kids who ran, kids who wrote, kids who played instruments, kids who spoke Spanish, a kid who spoke Portuguese, a kid who spoke Russian, kids who knew Latin (and who could speak it, though it’s Latin, so they mostly didn’t.) I don’t mean to give the impression that we were all just pundits or politicians—we of course did talk about other things, about teachers and homework, tattoos and vacations, books and movies, food and theatre—but these are the relevant points for this afterword.Read More »
Happy Valentine’s Day everyone! My novelette, “The Wisdom-Goddess Star,” is now available on Smashwords and Amazon. It has nothing to do with love or romance, but neither does St. Valentine (possibly), so it works out. Here’s the synopsis:
Alexander Irving. First generation Martian, born to Patricia Irving and Peter Leung. Studied journalism at the newly founded University of Mars, a petri dish for “human journalism,” a new style of journalism to compete with AI reporters. Moved to Phobos upon graduation and joined the staff of The Light, the premier news organization of Mars’s largest satellite. Reported primarily on the working class of Phobos—technicians, repair crew, service workers—and always felt he was missing something. The grit of real journalism, investigative journalism, the kind which humans still do in the mud and shadows of Earth.
2 Pallas. Third most massive asteroid in the solar system, the newest acquisition of the International Martian Program. Its colonization is the first major IMP project to make use of the Per Aspera Ad Astra program, recruiting a thousand new members from working class, low income, secondary education backgrounds. Due to its highly eccentric orbit, Pallas only nears Mars once every 2 years—making it the most isolated colony in the IMP.
Pallas gives Irving the opportunity he’s looking for, to probe deep into a colony from which AI cannot harvest data, as the colony still lacks a long-range communications relay. When Irving arrives, he shortly discovers that Pallas’s isolation may be the intentional work of the local governor, and he endeavors to discover what exactly the governor wants to keep hidden from the rest of the IMP.
In addition, the publication includes an afterword in which I discuss how a school superintendent election, a dysfunctional novella, and a few English classes influenced the creation of this story.
Now that I’ve explained what an “imperialist writing policy” is, and why it might be useful, here’s how to actually do it.
Compiling Your Curriculum
So you’ve got some reason for enacting an imperialist writing policy—what do you fill it with? What are your imperial holdings? As I said, with Suggest the Empire I initially began with plays I was already aware of—Shakespearean histories. However, Stuff Happens I only learned about by doing some research, looking up contemporary history plays. After finding these materials, I just continued with my life, and kept on the look-out for any books or shows or movies or podcasts that seemed like they could be useful, adding them to my curriculum as I found them.
I’d recommend the same—start with works that you are already aware of, or that you have already been wanting to read. If you have enough, great! If you don’t, it’s time to do some research. This is essentially how I determined what plays to read for Play Time (which was a literal curriculum, since it was an Honors project.) I started by looking at some plays dealing with time which I already wanted to read—We Are Proud to Present …, Strange Interlude, Top Girls, and Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead—then did some research. I pretty quickly found out about J.B. Priestly’s time plays, and stumbled upon a review of a few short Beckett plays staged together because of their similar treatments of time. The internet is an incredible thing.
If this seems overwhelming, start with Wikipedia. Look at the external links on the article, look at the references. Look up what resources your local library has, or, if you’re a college student, check out your university library. Find people who are experts in whatever you need to immerse yourself in, and see what they’ve written. See what they recommend. If you personally know anyone who has some experience with the topic, ask them to give you some recommendations—or, if they’re willing to give you their time, ask them questions about the topic and make note of the answers. Sift through your personal library, see if there are any old books you forgot you even had that might be useful (this is exactly how Top Girls made it onto the list for Play Time.) And if you’re really hitting a wall, just start reading whatever you have found. More likely than not (and especially if its non-fiction) that work will lead you to other works. You’ll start to get a sense of what the foundational texts in the field are, which authors keep coming up again and again, which authors have written stuff very similar to (and therefore very useful for) what you’re planning to write.Read More »
EDIT: A previous version of this post had some slightly bad math. Basically, I said nothing had entered public domain for 50 years. That’s not quite right. In 1997 and 1998, works published in 1921 and 1922 entered public domain, respectively. Before that, the last time works entered public domain was 1977, when the copyright for works published in 1920 expired. Still, I think I’m right to call it a “half-century of starvation.” In over 50 years, we only ate twice.
Today is Public Domain Day. That effectively means nothing in the US, where for the past 49 years (basically, see above), no published works have entered the public domain. However, next year, finally, finally, this half-century of starvation will be over.
A work that is in a country’s public domain is a work that anyone can modify, sell, or incorporate into a new work, with no permission needed from anyone. There is no copyright holder for works in the public domain. Originally, US copyright law stated that a work—like a book, a painting, a piece of software, a song, etc.—had to be registered for copyright, after which point the right to copy it would rest solely with the author, for 14 years. The author could renew it for another 14 years after that, if they wanted, and then it would enter the public domain. In 1830, this law was modified so that terms were 28 years, again with the option for renewal.
A century and more later, in 1976, copyright term was dramatically increased to the life of the author plus 50 years. Additionally, the 1976 act set a term of 75 years for any work of unknown origin, or any “work for hire”—a term which would be applied to new works, and works published before 1978. A work for hire would be like a photo created by an employee as part of their job—or, it could be a movie created by a group of people (most movies are works for hire), who all sign a contract to designate the movie as a work for hire. As well, this dumpster fire piece of legislation extended the maximum copyright term of works created before 1976 from 56 years to 75 years.
This is a lot to take in, so let me break it down. Suppose I write a book in 1930, and I’m 30 years old, and I publish it that same year. I would hold the copyright through 1958, at which point I would renew it. I’m still alive after all, might as well make sure people are buying it from me and not anyone else. Then I would hold the copyright term through 1986, and it would expire on January 1st 1987. Now in 1976, I hear about this new copyright act, which allows authors to retain control of their works for as long as they live—and then grants their estates control of the work for 50 years after their death. Well, that doesn’t seem fair to me—I’ll still be alive (possibly) when my copyright expires in 1986, and I still want that money. Good news—the 1976 Copyright Act grants my work a copyright term of 75 years, meaning it will expire in 2006—when I’m 106 (or probably dead.) Hooray! I suppose this is a good scenario, but here’s what could also happen:
Suppose I write a song when I’m 30 in the year 1930, publish the song, and die instantly. Well, my estate would then get to reap the benefits of that song for 75 years. Or, maybe I don’t have an estate—maybe no rightful heir can be found, in which case, this song is stuck in limbo, with absolutely no one benefitting from it, for the better part of a century.
Suppose I write a song in 1920 and it doesn’t matter how old I am. The song remains in the public domain until January 1st 1977, the year before 1976 act goes into effect. It would be among the last batch of published works to enter the public domain, before the 50-year drought that we’re finally reaching the end of now (with the exception of 1997 and ’98.)
But whatever. That’s just some weird bit of business to try and bridge the gap between old copyright law and new copyright law. Let’s see how this would work for an artist working in 1980.
Suppose I make a movie as a work for hire in 1980. A corporation would probably be the copyright holder, and they would hold the rights to the movie for the next 75 years—or, if for some reason they waited a long time to publish it, 120 years. The 1976 act granted copyright for 120 years after creation, or 75 years after publication—whichever comes first. Potentially, a company could wait 119 years to release a movie, and then have it enter public domain the next year. Weird. Anyway, here’s how this works for an individual author:
Suppose I draw a self-portrait in 1980 and die instantly. (I think I would have to publish it too, but I’m not sure. I’ll address how unpublished works are handled in a moment.) My estate will then hold the copyright through 2030.
So this is really bad and I’ll talk about that in a moment, but hold onto your butts for right now because in 1998, the term of copyright was increased to the author’s life plus 70 years, and 95 years for works published before 1978. The term for works for hire was also increased to 95 years, or 120 years after creation (at least they didn’t extend that, I guess.)Read More »
A year and a half ago I returned home for the summer break knowing that, whatever else I worked on for the next few months, by the end of the summer I wanted to have finished the rough draft of Suggest the Empire. At that point I’d already been wanting to write this play for a year or two, though I’d previously put it off because I knew it would be massive, strange, and demanding in multiple ways. How did I know this? Well here’s my short description for the play:
A history play about an invented history, exploring the theatrical nature of nationalism and empire.
So yeah. Massive strange demanding. And I had never read or seen a history play (in the Shakespearean sense of the term) back then at the beginning of summer 2016, so I decided that would be a top priority. I determined to read seven of Shakespeare’s histories—RichardIII, Richard II, Henry IV parts 1 & 2, Henry V, and Julius Caesar—before beginning to write the play. I also added Stuff Happens by David Hare to my reading list, a history play about the lead up to the Iraq War. These were the works that I felt I had to read before beginning work on STE. Obviously I planned to write other stuffin the mean time, but I wouldn’t start Suggest the Empire until I’d finished those eight plays.
As I progressed into the summer I came across more and more works which I thought could in some way inform the writing of STE—youtube channels like Historia Civilis, documentaries like Secrets of Great British Castles, movies like Waterloo, games like Mount and Blade and Reigns—which I’d add to the list. Some of these I’d already been meaning to get around to, others I stumbled upon and decided to look into because of STE, and others I was already engaged with anyway, just by happenstance—the greatest example being The Absolute at Large. Just by luck, that very summer I was recording an audiobook of The Absolute at Large, a satirical novel which is heavily critical of nationalism and fanaticism. I came to think of this body of plays, movies, books, tv shows, and whatever else, as the product of an imperialist writing policy. I was not solely consuming, and working on, Suggest the Empire, though almost everything I consumed and worked on fed back to that play in some way.
The result was that, when it finally came time to write Suggest the Empire, it was a breeze. Over the past months I’d become fluent in the language of empire, of nationalism, of history, of historical drama, and I had no trouble plotting out the story or sketching out the world, or, as I actually wrote the thing, sprinkling in realistic military, cultural, or political details. I’m incredibly proud of Suggest the Empire, and you can now buy the play! Ha ha you fool, I tricked you, this is all just an ad, ho-ho I got you!
Just kidding. If you have no interest in reading Suggest the Empire (which you can get on Smashwords or Amazon, or read the first act of free) this post, and the “How” post which will be up next week, should still be useful to any writer (or creator of any kind, I suppose) who wants to design their own imperialist writing policy. This isn’t the Only Way, or the Correct Way, to prepare for a piece of writing, but it is a method that I’ve found useful, which may prove useful for others. Alternately, if you’ve just read, or plan on reading, Suggest the Empire, these two posts should be a good look into my process in preparing for that play. I talk about it some in the afterword, among other things, but here I’ll be breaking down just that specific, preliminary part of creating the play.Read More »
Awhile ago I wrote a post about learning from Shakespeare’s histories. The reason I read those plays was to prepare for writing Suggest the Empire, a full-length play which is now available on Smashwords and Amazon! And you can read the sort-of-self-contained first act for free! (See below.) Here’s the synopsis:
To Prince Oht, heir apparent of the Olisan Empire, all the trappings of nationhood seem as skeletal and artificial as the trappings of theatre. War chants to suggest fraternity, court language to suggest royalty, flags to suggest ownership—all are equal to flimsy poles to suggest spears, colored cloth to suggest flags, three men to suggest an army. All his cynicism is of little consequence while his father, the charismatic Alita Tolkash, still rules as emperor, but the time will come when Oht has to step up. And when Tolkash is injured in battle, and begins to have his own doubts about what the empire truly is, it looks like that time of responsibility is drawing sooner and sooner.
Suggest the Empire follows in the Shakespearean tradition of history plays, though it tells a completely invented history in a completely invented world. Relying entirely on representational sets and costuming, the play portrays a centuries-old empire caught at a momentous crossroads, with conflict brewing in all quarters.
Run time is 160-180 minutes. Cast is 26 (no gender restrictions), with potential for double casting.
If you read We’ll Tell Happy Stories, this play is set in the same world as that one. There’s hardly any crossover at all (completely different characters, different settings), but Suggest the Empire has the same kind of world-building and treatment of language as in We’ll Tell—so if you liked the one, you’ll probably like the other.
The publication also contains an afterword in which I discuss the origins of the idea, my imperialist writing policy, and my method for writing court Olisan.
If you want to get a sample of the play, you can read the first act, which is sorta self-contained, for free in the following formats:
Merry whatever and joyous thingummy everyone! All of my ebooks are on sale on Smashwords for the month of December! Most of them are 50% off, and the newer releases (19 and 19, “A Clash at Grozny Airfield,” and Suggest the Empire once it’s published later this month) are 25% off. And “Just Dig” is 34% off. Cause it wouldn’t let me do 50%, cause the price is already almost at the minimum.
In Grozny, the first ever all-robot military unit fights an integrated army of humans and robots. The clash is viewed by five American travelers in an airport café—a veteran, a journalist, two young sisters, and a barista—as the events unfold on TV. Each traveler has a different connection to the distant battle, and they all watch with more and more rapt attention as the integrated forces close in.
Also included is a brief afterword about how I came to choose the setting of the story and write that Chechnya post, and the meaning of the acronym ITF.
These aren’t really new—but the format is! Now you can get all the plays I’ve published this past year, or all the short stories I’ve published this past year, in one collection. The plan is to do this every year, with the titles corresponding to my age when I published the stories. Like a Complete Works series, but being put together contemporaneously.
19; A collection of short stories includes “Just Dig,” “The War on Hormones,” “De.mocra.cy,” “Grumbles,” “Boom Town,” and “Calamcity,” as well as all the afterwords I wrote for those stories. As always, you can get it on Smashwords and Amazon.
EDIT: As of June 12, 2020, He Molested Kids has been removed from 19. Explanation here.
19; A collection of plays contains Beach Realty of Sandcastle Isle, He Molested Kids, Monastery, and We’ll Tell Happy Stories, and the afterwords I wrote for those plays. Available on Smashwords and Amazon.
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead is a classic contemporary play by Tom Stoppard, which follows Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, two minor characters, courtiers in Hamlet, as they are called to the palace to find out what’s wrong with the Prince, and then sent to deliver a message to the king of England. As they are led from one task to another, they catch glimpses of the great Shakespearean tragedy unfolding around them, and wonder at what is going on.
The play explores time in two ways, both of which are fundamentally tied into the medium of theatre—theatrical fatalism, and the conflict between finite time and eternal time.
Now . . . And Now . . . And Now . . .
Life and theatre are eternal and finite.
Life is eternal (or appears so), because it is impossible for a person to really grasp the fact that they have an end, the way they can grasp that a day or a season has an end. As Rosencrantz puts it, “Whatever became of the moment when one first knew about death? There must have been one, a moment in childhood when it first occurred to you that you don’t go on for ever. … And yet I can’t remember it. It never occurred to me at all.” (71-72)
And life is finite because people are born and they die.
Theatre is eternal because every play can be performed an infinite number of times. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern is about two characters invented by a writer that died dozens of generations ago, and the play is still being performed (in fact, it’s currently being revived at the theatre at which it premiered exactly fifty years ago.) It’s also a very immediate medium, not something you can put down and stop like a book. The play is continuing, going from one line to the next, without end. And, especially in a play like Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, which languishes in long scenes of dialogue and moments of silence, this can give the impression that the thing is boundless. “One is, after all, having [a future] all the time . . . now . . . and now . . . and now . . .” (70).
And theatre is finite because, some exceptions aside, most plays last just a few hours or less.
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern addresses this dissonant experience, the simultaneous feeling that we are immortal and knowledge that we are not, both through dialogue and through the form of the play. Of course, it being a play alone emphasizes the themes discussed by the characters, but there are some other formalistic aspects peculiar to Rosencrantz and Guildenstern that reinforce the concept. To start, there’s the title—Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead. It’s a quote from one of the last lines of Hamlet, and as a title it seems paradoxical. For the majority of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are not dead. Those final lines are another formal quirk to the play, and to Hamlet as well, because they’re recursive. The ambassador from England tells Horatio that “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are dead,” (Hamlet 5.2.371) and Horatio, surrounded by the corpses of the royal family, tells the ambassador that he will “speak to the yet unknowing world / how these things came about” (5.2.380-381). The end of the play could be the beginning, and the whole thing could circle around on itself endlessly as Horatio tells the story over and over again—but the title, which comes from that same scene, declares how finite these characters are.Read More »
An Inspector Calls is the most famous of J.B. Priestley’s time plays, as well as one of his best-known works in general. The play contains elements of all the other plays, starting with the setting—similar to that of Time and the Conways—of the estate of an upper-class family, the Birlings, in 1912. Unlike Time and the Conways, this play takes place entirely over the course of one night. A police inspector shows up to ask some questions about Mr. Birling’s interactions with a young woman who has just committed suicide—a former employee of Mr. Birling. It soon becomes apparent that all of the Birlings, as well as Gerald Croft, the fiancé of Sheila Birling, had some negative impact on this girl that lead to her demise, which Inspector Goole will extract from them and bring to light. In this way, the play is similar to Dangerous Corner, in the way that every character shares some blame in this girl’s death, and Inspector Goole is piece-by-piece constructing a timeline of events that leads to her suicide. The big “trick” (to use one of Priestley’s words in describing these plays) in An Inspector Calls is that the girl, Eva Smith, has not yet died, until the very end of the play, when the Birlings receive a call from the police station, informing them that Eva Smith has been found dead, and the real police inspector has been sent to question them.
Time and the Conways
Aside from this little trick at the end, the time discontinuity is mostly felt by the audience. Put it this way—the whole play is like the third act of Time and the Conways, in which the audience knows exactly what has happened in the future of the characters, but the characters don’t. There’s even a moment in which Mr. Birling bloviates optimistically about the prosperous future they will all live in. It’s different from the moment where Madge does the same in Time and the Conways though, because Mr. Birling’s is a capitalist dream of the future, in which “the interests of Capital—are properly protected,” (6) and everyone will “have forgotten all these Capital versus Labour agitations and all these silly little war scares.” (7) Birling’s optimism reaches its pinnacle of absurdity (from the audience’s perspective) when he mentions the Titanic—the “unsinkable, absolutely unsinkable” ship which seems to embody the pompous optimism of the pre-war period, as well as the promise of industrialism. This ship was a modern marvel, one of whose features was its inability to fail, that almost instantly failed catastrophically.Read More »
I Have Been Here Before is the third of J.B. Prietsley’s time plays, written the same year as Time and the Conways. The play explores P.D. Ouspensky’s theory of eternal recurrence, that everyone lives their life over and over again, and déjà vu and precognitive dreams are the result of remembering past lives. Unlike Time and the Conways or Dangerous Corner, Priestley doesn’t develop this idea through any formalistic techniques. The acts occur in chronological order, and it all takes place in the same timeline. The fact that it’s a work of theatre is in itself a formalistic technique, which I’ll discuss in a moment, but otherwise Priestley’s pretty straightforward, and presents the theory in a science fictional style.
The story unfolds over the weekend before Whitsuntide, a week-long holiday celebrated after Pentecost in parts of England. Three interconnected groups meet in the Black Bull Inn: Sam and Sally, father and daughter and the managers of the inn. Mr. Farrant, a teacher at the boarding school which Sally’s son attends. And Mr. and Mrs. Ormund, Mr. Ormund being one of the governors and funders of Mr. Farrant’s boarding school. Ouspensky’s theory comes in with Dr. Görtler, an exiled German scientist who seems to know exactly what everyone is going to do before they do it. The major conflict of the play, which ends up affecting everyone because of how entangled their lives are, is an affair between Janet Ormund and Mr. Farrant. Dr. Görtler attempts to defuse the situation by explaining a dream he had, in which he met Janet at a later time in her life, and learned that she and Mr. Farrant had run off together, causing Mr. Ormund to commit suicide, and the boarding school to collapse. This play seems the most hopeful of the three time plays I’ve so far read, because Dr. Görtler explains that everyone actually is capable of making small changes in their lives—their existence is not circular, they “move along a spiral track … [They] must set out each time on the same road but along that road [they] have a choice of adventures.” (264) Görtler convinces Ormund to let his wife divorce him and start a life with Farrant, and to not kill himself, and so, Ormund escapes the memories of self-destruction in past lives which have always haunted him.Read More »
Time and the Conways is the second of J.B. Priestley’s Time Plays—six plays (the first being Dangerous Corner) dealing with different theories of time, and how time is experienced. This play focuses on the Conways, a wealthy family living in a prosperous suburb of the fictitious manufacturing town Newlingham, and their declining fortunes between 1919 and 1937. The first act takes place during Kay Conway’s twenty-first birthday in 1919. Aside from Mrs. Conway, the Conways are all in their early twenties or younger, and have their whole lives ahead of them. The boys of the family have just returned from war. Mrs. Conway, the widowed mother of all of them, owns lots of valuable real estate in Newlingham. The future appears bright.
The second act jumps ahead twenty years to the present when the play was written—1937. Most of the Conways have scattered from Newlingham and fallen out of touch with one another, but they are reconvening (coincidentally on Kay’s fortieth birthday) to discuss Mrs. Conway’s finances, which have significantly deteriorated to the point of near bankruptcy. Everyone is disillusioned with their lives, where they ended up, and this point is driven home with Act III, which returns to that birthday party in 1919. We see the Conways interacting with the family friends that will end up being their spouses, and expressing their desires for the future—all of which, we know from the second act, will not come to pass.
Priestley basically analyzed his play for me:
“KAY: But, Alan, we can’t be anything but what we are now.
“ALAN: No . . . it’s hard to explain . . . suddenly like this . . . there’s a book I’ll lend you—read it in the train. But the point is, now, at this moment, or any moment, we’re only a cross-section of our real selves. What we really are is the whole stretch of ourselves, all our time, and when we come to the end of this life, all those selves, all our time, will be us—the real you, the real me.” (177)
The book that Alan, the oldest of the Conways, is going to lend Kay is almost certainly J.W. Dunne’s An Experiment with Time. Priestley was continually interested in Dunne’s theory of time, exploring it in plays and essays throughout his career. An Experiment with Time posits exactly what Alan explains to Kay, with the additional claim that in dreams, our consciousness is able to experience the whole stretch of our existence, delivering precognitive visions of the future. Kay has this experience in Act III, apparently seeing some vision of Act II while Mrs. Conway is talking about how wonderful the future will be for the Conways. Of course, this is also the experience of the audience, throughout all of Act III. Having just come from the grim, shabby household of 1937, the jubilance of all the characters in 1919 rings false and discordant.Read More »
EDIT: A PREVIOUS VERSION OF THE PICTURE FOR THIS POST SAID MY ALL MY EBOOKS WOULD BE 75% OFF. PICTURE HAS BEEN UPDATED TO THE CORRECT DISCOUNT, 25% OFF.
If you’ve been reading my Play Time posts, you can now get all of them—plus the next four which won’t all be online until a month from now—in one convenient place, on Smashwords or Amazon. And if you haven’t been reading them, here’s what they’re all about:
This past spring semester I needed to fulfill my university honors requirements, so I “contracted” a creative writing class focused on time, by designing an additional curriculum of nine plays that I would read and respond to—all of them dealing with time in some way. Thus, Play Time—nine essays analyzing specific plays, pulling apart the ways the playwrights are using the medium of theatre to manipulate or comment on or distort or theorize about time. The idea wasn’t so much to definitively state What X Play is About, but more to point out what I find interesting in each play, and figure out how the artist—or how theatre as a medium—achieved it.
And if you get Play Time on Smashwords, you’ll get it for 25% off! For the month of July I’m participating in the Smashwords Northern Summer/Southern Winter sale, so all my ebooks there are 25% off, and Beach Realty of Sandcastle Isleand “Calamcity”are 50% off. Because those two pieces are about beaches, and Florida, and summer, and it’s summer in Florida right now. So, you can have some cheap beach reading, or some escapist reading if you’re in the southern hemisphere and you need to remember what sunshine is like.
Dangerous Corner is a 1932 play by British writer J.B. Priestley, about a dinner party attended by the directors of a publishing firm and their wives. Pretty soon the audience learns that one of the directors, Martin, recently committed suicide, and was suspected of embezzling money from the company. A few moments later, one of the guests, Olwen, makes an offhand remark about recognizing a cigarette box—a cigarette box that she shouldn’t have any memory of, because it was originally Martin’s, and it was mailed to him the day he died. Olwen’s remark is like a single loose thread in a sweater, and once Robert, one of the directors and the brother of Martin, pulls at it, the sweater begins to unravel, spooling out a series of interconnected secrets that every last character has been hiding, all wrapped up in the death of Martin and the embezzled money. In the final act of the play, Robert, in a drunken craze, retrieves a revolver, the lights go down on the stage, and we hear a shot and a woman’s scream. When the lights come up, we are back at the beginning of the play, with the female characters having just listened to the last scene of a murder mystery radio play. The play progresses as it originally did, only this time, when Olwen remarks on recognizing the cigarette box, it goes unnoticed, as one of the directors succeeds in tuning in to a channel on the radio—something he had failed to do in the first iteration of the timeline.
Priestley presents time in a very concrete, mechanical way, as a series of events with causes and effects, and with specific choices directly affecting the chain of events. This if clear, of course, in the final scene in which the audience sees the entire course of the play altered by one instance, but it’s also clear throughout all the revelations that form the meat of the show. The characters are constantly trying to figure out who is to blame for Martin’s death—who is the person at the root of all of it?—and with each secret revealed, the blame shifts, and the timeline that the characters are constructing reorganizes itself to place a different person as the catalyst for all the events. The conflict and tension of Dangerous Corner comes from these clashing timelines that each character holds, and the only way to resolve the tension is by filling in the gaps with more information from other characters. Of course, each contribution to this communal timeline only opens up more questions, and reveals new gaps that have to be filled. Ultimately, the timeline can never be perfect because at the heart of it is Martin—someone whose understanding of the chain of events has disappeared from the world with his death. Olwen herself describes the problem of clashing realities when she’s talking about the radio play:
“The point is, I think—there’s truth and truth. … the real truth—that is, every single little thing, with nothing missing at all, wouldn’t be dangerous. … But what most people mean by truth, what that man meant in the wireless play, is only half the real truth. It doesn’t tell you all that went on inside everybody.” (5)
Indeed, the biggest gap in the story, the hole that will never be filled, is “all that went on inside” Martin. It seems like everyone had a different relationship with him, and characters will often assert something along the lines of, “you didn’t know him as I did.” When Robert is convinced that Martin killed himself because Martin believed that Robert stole the money, and Martin was shaken by his older brother’s misconduct, Robert explains, “But neither of you knew him as I did.” (37) When Freda, Robert’s wife, learns that Martin attempted to assault Olwen, she moans that “he wasn’t like that really. If you’d known him as I’d known him—before.” (42) Although the characters are intending to invoke authority when they say this, as if they are experts on who Martin is, Priestley’s precise phrasing points to the reality of the situation. You didn’t know him as I did. Not a definitive “I knew him,” or “I knew him best,” but rather a distinguishing between the different ways that different characters understood Martin, understood his experiences, composited his history.Read More »
Caryl Churchill’s 1982 play Top Girls centers on Marlene, an agent at the London-based Top Girls employment agency, who has just been promoted to manager. The action of the play occurs in three main spaces: the Top Girls agency, where the audience sees the tensions Marlene and her female colleagues are facing in a male-dominated world; the home of Marlene’s sister Joyce and Marlene’s illegitimate child that Joyce has raised as her own, where the audience sees Marlene’s lower-class roots and her rejection and contempt for them; and, the opening scene taking up more than a third of the play, a celebratory luncheon attended by historical female figures—some fictional, some real, some a combination of both—advising Marlene on her success and relating their own stories of achievement and challenges in patriarchal societies.
While there is no dramatic this-leads-to-that connection between these different spaces, they are all in conversation with one another, and in productions of the play all of the actors for the historical figures are double cast as other characters throughout the rest of the play. This thematic dialogue between the different spaces is what ties the play together into a cohesive exploration of female empowerment, and the self-destructive nature of empowerment through capitalistic, patriarchal means. It’s also, in itself, a theatrical way to represent how past and present overlap, echo, and argue—both the past of Marlene’s personal life, and the past of the entirety of history.
Interruptions and Continuations
The first scene of the play does an excellent job of dramatizing the conversation of history, with five historical figures converging in the present moment. Rather than a normal, back-and-forth conversation, the characters talk around one another. Instead of one character telling a story about an illness they had, and another saying “I had something like that too—how long did it last for you?” the dialogue runs more like:
“ISABELLA: But even though my spine was agony I managed very well.
“NIJO: Once I was ill for four months lying alone at an inn. Nobody to offer a horse to Buddha. I had to live for myself, and I did live.
“ISABELLA: Of course you did. It was far worse returning to Tobermory. I always felt dull when I was stationary. / That’s why I would never stay anywhere.
“NIJO: Yes, that’s it exactly. New sights. The shrine by the sea. The goddess had vowed to save all living things. / She would even save the fishes. I was full of hope.
“JOAN: I had thought the Pope would know everything.” (24-25)
This was originally a writing exercise for my Foundations of Creative Writing class. I revised it a few times for that class, and I’ve toyed around with posting it here. Now, with the publication of “Calamcity,” I can leverage it into a promotional tool for that novelette, so it’s like I’ve got to publish it now, right? So, here it is:
The Forgotten Coast
I finally went on one of those kitschy submarine tours around the sunken wreckage of Pensacola and PCB and the Forgotten Coast. Hurricane Erica wrecked the shop, so I’d been sitting around waiting for the insurance company to get back to me, to see whether I was finally down the drain after circling it so long—and I saw an an ad with a coupon code for the Forgotten Coast tour. A few years ago, Jesse had really wanted to go on it, just before her, Ed, and their kids moved inland, but I’d been sick. Not sick enough to not go, but I’d played it up like I was. I always knew that I could go to the coast whenever I wanted, so I never felt any urgent pressure to do so. It was all flooded already, a few years’ more sea-level rise wouldn’t change that. And the ruin-porn aspect of it chafed at me. I didn’t want to sit in a sub with a bunch of inlanders gazing in awe at my ravaged childhood like it was a disaster movie.
But I saw this ad with a coupon code, and I was doing nothing, and I had this strange feeling like maybe, with the shop in shambles, I would finally be moving inland like my family and friends had done years and years ago, and maybe this one stupid coupon was meant to be my last chance to see the coast—so I bought the discounted ticket. I took a bus down from Tallahassee to Milton, now a coastal town. It was mostly tourists getting onto the sub (I could tell by their clean, uncorrupted northern English and pale skin) and a handful of local kids with red-brown tans. At least, they looked like kids to me. Teens, early twenties, late twenties—kids.Read More »
We’re well into summer now, so I’ve just published a summery novelette about a topic that I just can’t leave alone: climate change in Florida. A couple years ago, I posted twopieces of research on beach nourishment—that research was done for this story.
“Calamcity” is set in a not too distant future, when beach erosion has accelerated dramatically due to rising sea levels and increased hurricane activity—but a new breed of bioengineered living shorelines appears to be a perfect solution to hold sand in place. To oversee a test-run of this technique, Joseph Lopez joins his brother Steve on Cape Dodd, a Floridian beach that has been battling erosion for years under Steve’s management. Joseph just wants to bring back the large, stable, sunny beaches of his youth, and provide a nice vacation house for his aging parents. But as Joseph and Steve find, Cape Dodd is in for a rough summer of constant hurricanes and mysterious mass die-offs of the living shoreline.
Also, I’ve just released the audiobook for “De.mocra.cy,” a short story about symbolic protest, gangs, and regulation in a democratically run MMO. The audiobook is written and performed by me, so if you enjoyed my production of The Absolute at Large, you should enjoy the performance of this story. The audiobook is available for digital download on CDBaby, on Audible and iTunes. You can listen to a sample of the audiobook in the video below. And you can listen to some outtakes and moments of silliness from the recording session in the video below the video below.
Strange Interlude covers a span of about twenty-five years in the lives of Nina Reeds and her three lovesick admirers—Charles Marsden, Edmund Darrell, and Sam Evans. At the beginning of the play, Nina is heartbroken over the death of the love of her life, Gordon Shaw, in World War I. Throughout the rest of the play, she is attempting to fill in the gaps left by Gordon with Marsden, Darrell, and Evans. There are plenty of twists across the nine acts of this five-hour play, but the most notable feature is the internal monologue device. Characters frequently stop to deliver their thoughts in a stream-of-consciousness style—not in a Shakespearean manner, where the actors seem to be taking the audience into their confidence, but more like the playwright has slowed down the action and opened up the mind of a character to show the audience their thought process.
This play deals with time in two ways—in micro and in macro. The micro is the internal monologues, which take individual, fleeting moments and expand them into sometimes multiple minutes of speech. The macro is the enormous scale of the play itself, which covers over two decades, comprises nine acts, and is typically presented with a dinner break in between acts five and six. The tension between these two levels of time is the tension, and dissonance, experienced by everyone—the brief, minute, immediate nature of the present set against the enormous backdrop of a person’s life.
O’Neill achieves this sense of immediacy in a few ways. First, the obvious, through the monologues. While there’s no indication of whether or not the rest of the scene freezes or slows down when a character’s internal monologue begins, it certainly seems to slow down. The monologues are full of ellipses and rambling sentences, questions and repeated ideas. The effect of this slow, languorous pace to the interior of the characters is that when the actual dialogue of the scene resumes, it feels rapid and instant, unrestrained.Read More »