The difference between reading Books and Plays
I know a Good Story / August 30, 2016

In my first iteration as a college student, I had trouble choosing between English and Theatre as a major.  (We theatre geeks spell the subject with the British “re” instead of “er”.  It shows our snobbish devotion to British plays.) During every semester, almost every week, I’d wrestle with the issue: was my primary devotion to the stage or to books?  It turns out I lack the temperament necessary for a theatrical life.  I like regular hours, daylight, and sleeping at home instead of a green room.  What I do like is reading plays. In their dormant form, plays look the like every other book; reading them takes a slightly different set of skills.  With the publication of  Rowling/Tiffany/Thorne play, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, those differences have become apparent to a wider audience. Just remember, novels and plays are different ways of seeing a story. In a novel, the author controls the story world and lyrically shows the reader what he/she needs to see. The description may be confined to a few, sparse details (like Hemmingway’s) or may roll into long, lush paragraphs. These parts are where the narrator’s voice soars before dropping back to the dialogue of the…

Surviving a late Southern Summer
I know a Good Story / August 23, 2016

No one does the end of summer quite like the South.  The prairie states may be wilting under the furnace-blast of the sun, California may actually be on fire, (It seems to burn up every year) but for the last word in late summer misery, look below the Mason-Dixon line.  Here, the outdoors is a cauldron of heat and humidity sufficient to make snakes seek the comfort of air conditioning and lacquer the porch with mold.  It’s impossible to sleep when the air-conditioning fails, and HVAC repairmen are worth their weight in gold (a rate reflected in their bills). But the thing is, Southerners don’t complain about the heat.  In an interesting way, they relish it. It’s one of the things that makes this place so distinctive and it certainly fuels our art.  The endless, draining summers stew the atmosphere  of Southern literature so tragedies and harsh truths emerge.  Before August ends, pick up at one or two more tales about the South and enjoy the benefits of an omnipresent, overwhelming Summer. Always In August was one of my mother’s books and the title says it all.  There’s the usual ” ‘ole Southern family” with the “ole family place” (a…

Confronting My Inner Aunt Petunia
One of My Stories / August 18, 2016

Petunia as played by Fiona Shaw I do not like to keep house. While other girls grabbed 4H badges for their sewing and cooking skills, I got Ds in Home Economics. When I realized my husband wasn’t looking for a wife with a Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval, I was overjoyed.  But after 30 years of loathing laundry and hiding the dirty dishes, I’ve developed something worse than a bout of HouseFrau tidiness.  I have a latent streak of Aunt Petunia. For anyone who’s spent the last 20 years under a rock, Aunt Petunia is a minor villain in the Harry Potter series. She’s an unpleasant woman who devotes a lot of energy to forcing her narrow worldview down everyone’s throat.  She scrubs her house so thoroughly, all sense of “home” is rubbed right out. In my own defense, I’m not a complete Aunt Petunia. I adore my sister and nephews; I think they’re some of the greatest people ever made.  I believe in tolerance and diversity.  But I’ve joined Petunia’s obsession and quest to keep some surfaces squeaky-clean. Oh God, is that a scratch? At one time, oven surfaces heated things and tables held cooler ones. Spills were regrettable,…

The Awesome Power of Early Friendships and Late Summer Storms
I know a Good Story / August 16, 2016

I hate what’s happened to the word “awesome”.  For the last 10 years, reality shows and commentators abused this adjective until they reduced it to an on-air cliche.  It’s not fair and it’s not right. “Did you see so-and-so’s new Jeep?” “Yeah, it’s awesome.” “Sidney’s so awesome doing her little tap dance.  You should see her kick up her legs!” It doesn’t matter whether we’re discussing the Olympics, sugarless pudding or Donald Trump, everything is described as awesome when most of the time…it isn’t.  And that cheapens the word for those who wield such power that we gaze at them with a respect bordering on reverence.  The power that can end or alter the course of your life, like early friendships and late summer storms.  Either of these is an agent of incredible force; combined, the effect is explosive. That is one of the ideas behind Anne Rivers Siddon’s novel, Outer Banks.  On the surface, it’s a reunion of four middle-aged women who went to college together as girls but, it’s also a hymn to the power of our very first friendships. The older women all carry a patina of  achievement, loss, and experience but in each other, they also…

A Room Where the Soul can Live.
One of My Stories / August 11, 2016

Every since 1929, female writers all over the world have been chanting a sentence of Virginia Woolf’s like it was  a mantra.  Agree or disagree, ever she-scribbler knows the quote:  In order for a woman to write fiction she must have two things, certainly: a room of her own (with key and lock) and enough money to support herself. (Truth be told, I’ll bet a lot of male writers echo the sentiment but apply it to themselves.  Privacy and financial security are woefully lacking these days for those who craft belle-lettres.) As for me, I created that room in my imagination around the time I was 12.  I was reading an exercise in a self-help book my mom had borrowed (It was the 70’s and the adult world was awash in self-help books) that suggested the reader construct an imaginary place equipped with everything needed to be that person’s spiritual and physical retreat.  It was the reader’s famous “happy place” and, once constructed by the mind, it could be accessed whenever needed.  Well, of course I started imagining mine. What did it look like?  It was a spot for someone addicted to reading and writing. Books by the hundreds, books…

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