At long last I have compiled all of the references to Shakespeare that I know I put into Bittersweet Creek. This post is going to contain kinda-sorta spoilers, so be forewarned. If you’ve already read the book than proceed.
First, I’ll offer a bounty for any references that I may have missed because writing is a messy process somewhat akin to making sausage. As a writer you put things in only to take them out. You swirl them around. You play with those words a dozen times before your publisher puts the pretty casing of a cover on the book. Serendipity–or maybe it’s the magic of the subconscious and all of those brain cells we’re not accessing–also plays a huge role in how your story goes. Finally, Shakespeare is such a part of our everyday language that I would be willing to bet there are phrases throughout that go to the Bard that I used without even thinking about it.
Without further ado, I give you the references that I found upon further reflection on Bittersweet Creek:
- Romy—obviously for Romeo
- Julian–obviously for Juliet
- Ben Little—Benvolio is Romeo’s friend
- Mercutio/Freddy Mercury—Romy’s cat is explicitly named after Romeo’s friend
- Genie Dix—Dorothea Dix was a famous American nurse, and Genie IS a nurse. She plays the part of confidant that Nurse fulfills for Juliet.
- Richard Paris—is named after Paris, the guy who wants to marry Juliet. What a coincidence that he wants to marry Romy and is influential and powerful just as Paris was.
I played a little fast and loose with who matches up with whom because I switched genders of the main characters. I also based the couples on the Hatfields and the McCoys, hence Satterfields and McElroys. To add to the feud between them and show how nonsensical some of the things that divide us are, I also made them opposites in a bunch of crazy ways. The Satterfields are Methodists who drive Fords and like cats. The McElroys are Baptists who drive Chevy’s and prefer dogs, etc.
- “My kingdom for a skinny venti Caramel Macchiato!” p. 15—This is a paraphrase of a line from Richard III: “A horse, a horse, my kingdom for a horse!”
- “Alas! Poor Adidas! I knew them, Horatio.” P. 22—Here Romy mourns the loss of her Adidas by paraphrasing the often misquoted line from Hamlet: “Alas, poor Yorick. I knew him, Horatio, a fellow of infinite jest, of most excellent fancy.”
- Happenstance in Love: a Comparison of Romeo and Juliet and Much Ado About Nothing by Romy Satterfield p. 25—I thought it would be fun to have young Romy comparing these two plays because Julian sees their relationship through the lens of tragedy, while she sees it, maybe wants it to be, more of comedy. In the end, it’s a mixture of two, but we’ll get to that.
- Beatrice p. 27—Julian named a mare after Romy’s favorite character in her favorite play and intended to give her to Romy as a wedding gift. Also, Benedick says in Much Ado, “I would my horse had the speed of your tongue and so good a continuer.”
- “I can’t believe I managed to screw my courage to the sticking place…”p. 43—Romy’s line is a reference to Macbeth, specifically when Lady Macbeth tells her husband, “But screw your courage to the sticking place, and we’ll not fail.”
- Giles, the pharmacist—You can’t have a Romeo and Juliet story without referencing the apothecary. (“O true apothecary, they drugs are quick. Thus with a kiss I die.” Or I stave off infection with antibiotics. Whichever.)
- “No, I was stuck between two worlds.” p. 116 A big part of Romy’s conflict is that she’s torn between her country past and her city present. Coming home to the country helps her simplify her life even if she didn’t know it needed simplification—this is one element of traditional pastoral literature. As in Shakespeare’s As You Like It, however, rural life has its own complexities. The Forest of Arden isn’t a perfect world; neither is the countryside outside Ellery.
- Romy names the calf Star, which is a reference to the original title of this story and, of course, the prologue to Romeo and Juliet 129—“From forth the fatal loins of these two foes/A pair of star-crossed lovers take their life.”
- “O that way madness lies.” p. 137—Direct quote from King Lear.
- Benedick p. 139—Julian named his own horse after Beatrice’s love interest in Much Ado About Nothing.
- Julian McElroy, wherefore art thou such an asshole? P. 168 Romy may be in a barn loft, but this is a paraphrase of Juliet’s famous balcony scene. Oh, and remember that “wherefore art thou” has more of a “why do you have to be” sort of meaning. (“O Romeo, Romeo! Wherefore art thou Romeo?”) Important also to note that Romy would love for Julian to “Deny thy father and refuse thy name.”
- Orange blossom ring p. 169 and beyond—rings play a huge part in All’s Well that Ends Well and this is just a nod. Romy doesn’t have to get Julian’s ring and get preggers by him as Helena did. For his part, Julian is blessedly the exact opposite of Bertram. That said, rings abound in Bittersweet Creek just as they do in All’s Well that Ends Well.
- “Remember that mess from Romeo and Juliet that you read to me back in tutoring? You would recite some shit about ancient grudges and fatal loins then laugh and call us star-crossed lovers?” p. 217 (See #14 above. This is Julian’s interpretation of the prologue.)
- Anon, nurse. P. 221 A reference to the balcony scene (“Anon, good Nurse!”)
- “After all, the downfall of Romeo and Juliet had been the impatience and impulsiveness of youth.” p. 256—Here Romy reflects on her past relationship with Julian and if they have a future. There are also other references to being “young and stupid” (p. 40, 54, 61, 151, and 179) which might accidentally show this author’s prejudice against Romeo and Juliet as romance. Love story, yes. Romance, no.
- “And with all that bitter past, I couldn’t help looking forward to the sweet.”—This line is a paraphrase of something the king says in the last act and scene of All’s Well That Ends Well: “All seems well, and if it end so meet, The bitter past, more welcome is the sweet.”
Lost references, or Why I Should Make Notes While I Write:
- Coffee, sweet coffee. I swear this is a paraphrase of something I read, but now I can’t find it.
- “Tell me you don’t love me and I’ll go. I swear it.” The dialogue in this scene on p. 218 is taken from one of the plays, also, but I can’t find it.
The first person to find each of these references will get an ARC of whichever book I have coming out next.
I am going to be on time with my TBR Challenge even if that does mean two posts in one day! Not only am I on time, but I have two contemporary stories for you!
First up, I have Pam Mantovani’s debut, Cowboy on Her Doorstep. This is a secret baby book, so the water’s nice if that’s one of your favorite tropes. The hero, Logan, is a cowboy AND an Army Ranger. Not only that, but he also teaches barrel racing to kids. We like him. The heroine, Kendall, is a deputy sheriff who was kinda hoping (not really) that Logan wouldn’t come back to town because (Surprise!) their one night of passion led to an adorable little girl. We like her, too. Plenty of small town charm in this one, although there is an interesting undercurrent of danger as well. I’m still hoping for a sequel with Audra.
Second up, I have Amber Belldene’s Not a Mistake. I used to half-joke that I was going to someday write inspiration erotica. Well, Belldene has beat me to the punch. Okay, so I would say the book is steamy rather than erotica, but her priests are human, complete with human needs and wants. Come to think of it, this one is kinda a secret baby book, too. Jordan is a brand new Episcopalian priest who slept with Dominic, her ethics professor. Yes, you read that right. Ethics. Don’t worry, he beats himself up plenty. Despite the trappings of contemporary genre fiction, there’s a lot of theology to unpack here also, and I like that.
So, there you go. Two contemporary books for your consideration. For next month, I have to pick a book outside my comfort zone.
I’m not a professor of Shakespeare, and I don’t even get to play one on TV, but I am an English major and a writer. As such, I would never underestimate the influence of the Bard. Even if you’re not into literature, here are my top reasons you should be reading/watching Shakespeare:
- It’s not highbrow. Sure the Early Modern English of Shakespeare is a bit tough for modern readers, but his original audiences were surprisingly diverse. Going to the theater wasn’t out of reach for the middle class, and I like to think Shakespeare actually played to the groundlings, the folks so poor they had to stand on the ground in front of the stage to watch the performance.
- Dirty jokes. You don’t have to dig too far to find them, either. Did you know that “nothing” was a common euphemism for lady parts back in the day? So give another thought to what Much Ado About Nothing was really all about. Also, if you ever have a chance to attend a performance in The Shakespeare Tavern or a place like it, they’ll help you find all of the dirty jokes with the help of gestures. (Cuckold horns, anyone?)
- He has the best insults. I’m kinda fond of “You scullion! You rampallian! You fustilarian!” from Henry IV, Part 2. When driving in traffic, I’ve found that “Thou art unfit for any place but hell” works well for those who cut you off. Maybe “Away ye three inch fool!” works if you’re being hit on by someone you don’t want to talk to. And, of course, there’s always the linguistically satisfying iambic pentameter of “You blocks, you stones, you worse than senseless things.” That’s an insult that just warms the heart, you know?
- All of the other words and phrases that Shakespeare gave us. Ever “wear your heart on your sleeve”? Maybe you’ve “been in a pickle”? We use Shakespearean words and phrases all the time. Maybe he coined them. Maybe he “borrowed” them. Either way, his works made such phrases popular, and, in doing so, Shakespeare has had a profound effect on the English language.
- Beloved characters. Who hasn’t experienced the idiotic young love of Romeo and Juliet? Or pined for the wrong person as happens frequently in Shakespeare’s comedies like Twelfth Night? (Love triangle, yo!) Or felt the jealousy of Iago or Cassius? Sure, we also have a Danish prince who’s lost his marbles, but even then we understand both the grief of losing a family member and also betrayal by those we love even if it doesn’t inspire us to stab someone through a tapestry or make a play within a play. Those same pains and desires that motivate you and me motivate Shakespeare’s characters.
- Universal themes. We writers keep going back to Shakespeare’s well because he wrote about love, ambition, family troubles, jealousy, power—all things that resonate with us today. Shakespeare, in turn, found inspiration in other writers, especially for his histories. It’s the circle of literature. **holds up stuffed lion**
Now, I do have one quibble with Shakespeare. Or maybe I have a quibble with how we interpret his works. Why do some folks keep insisting that
Romeo and Juliet is a romance? Y’all, it’s a tragedy. So when I, in great literary tradition, went to the Shakespearean well as inspiration for Bittersweet Creek, I decided to give Romeo and Juliet a different ending. I do hope the Bard didn’t mind too much. Maybe he’ll forgive me since I played with southern vernacular and added a few references to his other works as well.
Many moons ago, my critique partner, Tanya Michaels, recommended Second Time Around by Beth Kendrick. Then I misplaced it. Then I got distracted. Oh, and there’s this stubborn subconscious thing where I feel I always have to take recommendations and hold them at arm’s length for a while even though I trust Tanya implicitly in such things.
As always, she was right. Second Time Around was the perfect book for me. It’s a book about English majors, for heaven’s sake! Also, it’s about a group of women–true women’s fiction, y’all! Secrets, camaraderie, witty repartee, writers, readers, literary references–it’s all Sally stuff. Okay, so it takes place in the Adirondacks instead of a small town in the South, but it does have its own “stealth magnolia,” our English major from Alabama. All in all, this would be an excellent beach read for the literary minded.
So you have Arden, who sets the whole story in motion. Then, Anna who is a pastry whiz but is also struggling with infertility. Jamie is brash but hiding a huge secret and tons of guilt. Cait has gone the literary distance to be an English professor, but she really wants to be a writer. Finally, you have Brooke, the aforementioned “stealth magnolia” who learns how to rewire a house and replace a toilet with a cast iron flange. These are no shrinking violets.
And, of course, almost all of them have men in their lives, particularly Anna whose marriage is on the rocks and Cait, who will reconnect with a former professor crush. Even so, it’s never trite, and Kendrick gives a satisfying, optimistic ending while resisting the urge to completely tie everything up in a nice, neat bow. All in all, I heartily recommend it. I also kinda want to be Brooke when I grow up.
A couple of quotes to hopefully inspire you to give this great book a try:
“I’m going to do what any self-respecting English major would do: pull something out of my ass.”
“To the English majors. We may not always be practical, but we have infinite potential.”
The e-versions of BOTH Bittersweet Creek and The Happy Hour Choir are on sale now through April 3rd. Here are some handy dandy buylinks:
The Happy Hour Choir–$2.99
This year, mi media naranja (aka my husband) and I decided to try to watch as many Oscar films as we could. Why? Because we wanted to see what the deal was. Why, in heaven’s name, are all of the top nominees white? Why can’t uplifting films get some respect? What the heck is going on with the Oscars these days?
So we settled in with the Best Picture nominees and have been working our way through other films as well. Before all is said and done, I plan to watch many of the snubbed films like Carol, Concussion, Creed–wait, I have have just figured it out. The Academy decided to exclude all of the “C” movies! No, that’s not it, because there’s also Beasts of No Nation, Sicario, and Straight out of Compton. If I’m missing a movie you think should’ve received a Best Picture nod, please do tell. Just understand that I draw the line at anything else like The Revenant or The House of Sand and Fog. (Side note: The last time we attempted to watch all of the Oscar movies, The House of Sand and Fog was among them. I’m still scarred lo these many years later)
Today I’m going to mainly talk about the Best Pictures nominees, although I’m sure I’ll sneak in some thoughts on specific performances. One of the unexpected benefits of this little experiment is that, as a writer, I’ve had new stories to analyze. Many of them are stories I wouldn’t have gone out of my way to see. I also wanted to see for myself the lack of diversity in films and will so note–it’s, um, depressing. Oh, and there will be spoilers, although I’ll try not to overdo it. So, here is an approximation of the order in which I would rank this year’s Best Picture nominees:
8. The Revenant
I’m told there’s some artistic merit to this movie? Fine There’s some haunting panoramas of landscape and some close up shots in the snow, so close that “blood” splatters on the camera. I don’t care. This movie was SO MISERABLE TO WATCH. I HATED IT SO MUCH THAT FLAMES…
So why did I hate it? First of all, it’s practically naturalism. Ever read Stephen Crane’s “The Open Boat”? You know that short story where a boat goes down and the strongest swimmer is the one who drowns, and we’re all supposed to shrug and say, “Oh, well, life isn’t fair. And then you die!” The Revenant is a lot like that, only you have to sit through TWO HOURS AND THIRTY-SIX MINUTES of death and violence and snow and cold water and bears and more death and more violence and more snow and….I think you get the picture. For the life of me, I do not understand why this story had to be told. And the director wants to immerse you in the story? Oh, good. You, too, can now experience snow and water and bears and being buried alive and lynchings and rape and cutting open a dead horse and crawling inside–I know it’s just how I want to spend my Friday nights! All of this, and I swear there is no point to this story. Someone’s going to jump into my comments and try to tell me there are glorious themes of survival and revenge and–save your breath. There’s NO POINT to this story. I suppose Tom Hardy gets his justs in the end, but that’s about it. Speaking of, he did a phenomenal job and should be a shoo-in for Best Supporting Actor based on the films I’ve seen thus far. As for Leo? I guess he did a great job? He couldn’t speak for significant chunks of the movie but has wheezing down to an art. Personally, my biggest regret is that the bear didn’t finish off his character so I could get out of the theater that much earlier. If The Revenant wins Best Picture, then the Academy will more than prove their problem with diversity and their unnatural affinity for all things “male.” There are practically no women in this film–one of whom is being raped. There are Native Americans in the film, but they are primarily either agressors or victims or sometimes both–not a lot of nuance.
7. Bridge of Spies
This movie was so unbelievably meh to me. Hanks is Hanks and has a few good speeches, but I don’t remember anything extraordinary. Mark Rylance did do a good job as the Russian spy–I don’t think he should win Best Supporting Actor, but the nomination felt warranted. I suppose the story was fraught with a fair amount of tension, but on the whole I was ZZZZZZZ. To add to my irritation, you can forget about any strong female characters. You have a moony daughter, a frantic and imperiled East German lover, and a nagging wife. No thank you. Bridge of Spies was about a bunch of dudes not really wanting to live up to the American ideal of innocent until proven guilty and that, as Ross Perot would say, is just sad.
6. The Martian
I hesitate to put this movie so low because I actually enjoyed it. It was loads better than I thought it would be and fairly family friendly aside from some language and Matt Damon’s derriere. I’m not sure that I would consider it Best Picture material, but it had nice pacing and Damon was quite entertaining. Several of the supporting characters are actually POC and one of the astronaut bosses is a lady! I know, right? Bonus points for showing diversity in the math and science departments! Bottom line: good movie, entertaining movie, but I don’t think it’s the best movie.
I hesitate with where to put Room, The Big Short, and Mad Max. I would say these three movies are fairly interchangeable here in the middle of the pack. So Room. Yeah. This one isn’t for the faint of heart. Sure it’s heartwarming that the mother can manage to give her child as normal an upbringing as possible despite their horrible circumstances, but then we have to watch what happens to her when she returns to the real world. I’m glad to see a story that addresses the violence perpetrated against women and children get recognition, but that doesn’t make this movie any easier to watch. It’s a great movie. I will never, ever watch it again.
4. Mad Max: Fury Road
I wanted to love this movie. I really, really wanted to love it, but I can’t. Maybe it’s because it’s Dystopian, and I have a well known bias against that genre. Maybe it’s because it’s yet another relentless juggernaut of violence and action and more violence and action. What elevates this movie up to this spot on my list is that it does function in many ways as an allegory against the patriarchy. I’m all about undermining the patriarchy. Also, Charlize Theron was robbed. She should’ve received a Best Actress nomination for this. Tom Hardy should win Best Supporting Actor just because he filmed this movie in the scorching desert and then The Revenant in the bitter cold. It could be a perseverance award. Also, this movie gets bonus points for a) guitar man and b) shiny spray and lots of talk about Valhalla.
3. The Big Short
Often, I think a Best Picture nominee should be in some way timely, and this film about the housing bubble that lead to the Great Recession is entertaining and educational. It’s also filled with cursing and the occasional booby. I gotta give them some props for what they did structurally with this story. Ryan Gosling holds separate threads together and breaks the fourth wall to comedic effect. Occasionally, characters will explain certain minutiae of the crazy Wall Street system either while sipping champagne in a bubble bath or at a gaming table. (Yay, Selena Gomez!) If you’re looking for women and POC, you are once again out of luck. Marisa Tomei does the best she can with what she’s got, and there’s another boss lady in there. I know Christian Bale got the nomination, but it was actually Steve Carrell who I thought gave the better performance. One more thing that this movie does well is balancing the euphoria of beating the system with the despair of then realizing what you’ve done. Oh, and then there’s the general depression when you realize exactly how effed up our current financial system is and that all of those bankers got away with it.
Speaking of timely, Spotlight gives us the story behind how who-knows-how-many Catholic priests had been molesting children and how the Catholic Church covered it up. While there’s nothing explicitly graphic visually, the pathos of the victims resonates through their own words. The pacing and story are pretty darn good, and I don’t think you could fix the slight pacing problem anyway because September 11th intrudes, just as it did in real life. This is, above all, a movie about people–their weaknesses, their strengths, their compassion, their callousness. It’s also a mystery with our intrepid reporters doggedly chasing down clues. Stanley Tucci is. . . .well. . . . Stanley Tucci, that is to say, awesome as always. Rachel McAdams is good, but I don’t see her winning for this particular role. I’d say the same for Ruffalo. He does well, but I don’t think this is the best part he’s had to work with. Also, it’s yet another very white movie with, perhaps, an African American receptionist.
What? Trumbo wasn’t nominated, you say? I know. It should’ve been. The story of blacklisted screenwriter Dalton Trumbo is another story about people in all of their glory and shame. This movie was brilliantly done. It has a nice story arc and incredible performances, particularly from Bryan Cranston and the woefully overlooked Helen Mirren. Not a lot of roles for POC, once again, but several strong ladies and Trumbo’s daughter is an outspoken opponent of segregation. Remember when I was talking about timely? Trumbo informs us about the current political climate in the same way that Arthur Miller used the Salem Witchcraft Trials to inform his comtemporaries about the Red Scare. Trumbo is a cautionary tale about our continued polarization and the dangers of letting overzealous patriotism get in the way of the best parts of being an American. All this, and it’s entertaining, too! (I expect more .5s as I watched the aforementioned snubbed movies, but I haven’t got there yet. Several weren’t coming out until March 1st)
For my money Brooklyn is the best picture of 2016. Not only is it well shot and gorgeous in its setting and costuming, but it, too, speaks to the present day in its themes of immigration and what it truly means to be an American.* This film has so, so many layers. On its surface, it’s a bildungsroman and a love story. Underneath that coming of age story is one about National identity and how that influences our individual identity. The love story between Irish immigrant, Eilis, and son of immigrants, Tony, becomes a love triangle with Jim, a boy from the Ould Sod. This love triangle then becomes rather symbolic of how Eilis loves her new country but is also being pulled back to her old world. I’m a sucker for stories that come full circle, and Brooklyn does. Eilis goes from lost Irish immigrant on the boat to America to the savvy new American who’s showing a newbie the ropes. Great, solid story that makes the audience work through a full range of emotions, and–dare I say it–this one actually has an uplifting ending.
*As long as being American means being…white. I think there’s an African American extra in there somewhere.
Okay, and that’s Sally’s Best Picture Roundup. I’m not a doctor, and I don’t play one on television. I’m also not a member of the Academy, and they’re probably never going to invite me after I called them out. I won’t tell you exactly what my father says about opinions, but you can be sure that opinions are like a certain part of the body that everyone has. As an author, it’s my job to know story. That’s the only expertise I bring. Any movies that you think should’ve been nominated that weren’t?