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I Am Not Throwing Away My Shot


In my ongoing series of “Trudy discovers entertainment phenomena that everyone else already discovered ages ago,” I’ve recently become COMPLETELY OBSESSED with the soundtrack for the hit Broadway musical Hamilton. I’ve heard people online raving about this innovative hip-hop musical based on the life of American Founding Father Alexander Hamilton (lesser known than the other founding fathers because unlike Washington, Jefferson, Adams, Madison et al, he never got to be President). The musical is famous not only for bringing history to life and hip-hop to Broadway, but for re-imagining the key characters in the American Revolution as a more diverse cast made up mostly of people of colour. 

Like most fans of the soundtrack album, I won’t be seeing this famously sold-out show live in Broadway anytime soon … I will be seeing it in eleven months, as I managed to snare tickets for myself and my similarly-obsessed teenaged daughter for May 2017. By that time most of the original cast, including creator and star Lin-Manuel Miranda, will have moved on to other roles. But a similarly brilliant cast of musical theatre stars will take the show’s infectious melodies and intelligent lyrics into the future, and we will be there to see it, and I’m excited about that.

There’s so much to say about Hamilton— why people are so obsessed with it, why I’m so obsessed with it. The massive popularity of this show has excited a lot of comment regarding what it says about musical theatre, hip-hop, politics, American identity, diversity, and so many other things that I am interested in but may not know a lot about. So I’m just going to talk about the one thing I know: writing, specifically creative writing about history.

Hamilton, among so many other things, is a brilliantly crafted piece of literature, which is probably why Miranda won a Pulitzer Prize for writing it. The rapid-fire, often rapped lyrics are intricate and intelligent, and if (like me and most people) you’re introduced to the musical via the soundtrack album rather than via the stage performance, you have the luxury of listening over and over, replaying and re-hearing until you catch all the nuances. Musicals always play with musical motifs — a repeated thread of melody that accompanies a character throughout the story, used in different ways for different songs and scenes — but Hamilton adds an extraordinary level of literary motif, too.

Take, for example, the song “My Shot” (which is currently my alarm on my phone so I can wake up to its inspiring lyrics every morning). The real Alexander Hamilton is probably most famous for (possibly, depending on what you believe about the debated historical evidence) “throwing away his shot,” i.e. deliberately firing to miss in his fatal duel with Aaron Burr. In writing Hamilton’s songs, Miranda plays with this phrase in every possible way, spins its meaning in a dozen different directions as he builds a portrait of an ambitious young man determined not to “throw away his shot,” not to miss a chance either at personal success or service to his adopted country. Over and over, whenever given a chance to jump into the fray, Hamilton vows not to throw away his shot — at fame, at fortune, at leaving a legacy — and yet every repetition of that phrase points us forward to the inevitable conclusion, when he will throw away his shot, and leave that highly ambiguous legacy.

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In Which I Insult Shakespeare and Adore Tom Hiddleston

I’m still struggling a bit with what this blog actually is, in its tenth year, but this week I’ve decided it’s a cutting-edge review of all that’s new and hot in entertainment. So I’m bringing you a review of a three-year-old production of a 420-year-old play. Because I’m on top of things.

Lately I’ve started watching The Hollow Crown, the BBC’s TV adaptation of Shakespeare’s history plays. Apart from Richard III, the histories are often underappreciated and performed less often than the Bard’s tragedies and comedies. Sometimes, this obscurity is deserved. It may be unpopular to say this, but while a lot of Shakespeare’s plays earned him his reputation as the greatest English writer, others were … not so great. Every writer has hits and misses, and I’d venture to say that the history plays contain a large share of Shakespeare’s misses.

That said, The Hollow Crown (as much as I’ve seen of it so far) does great work with uneven subject material. Fabulous British actors, lavish sets and costumes, movie-quality production values — these adaptations are a joy to watch. So far I’ve seen Henry IV, Parts I & II. Those two plays really encapsulate the best and the worst of Shakespeare, and as a bonus, you get to watch and listen to Tom Hiddleston for four hours.

I love, love, love the play Henry IV, Part I. I studied it for my senior honours project in college, so I spent the better part of a year reading and analyzing that play and its sources, and then I taught it in high school for four years. The next school I taught at didn’t have that play on the curriculum so it got put on the back shelf of my mind, and I haven’t read or watched it for well over two decades.

It’s such a rich and wonderful story (based considerably more on legend than on history): the aging King Henry IV, struggling to hold onto the throne he usurped from Richard II, is in despair as his son, Prince Hal, wastes his time with disreputable companions in London taverns and brothels. It features Sir John Falstaff, one of Shakespeare’s greatest characters, as Hal’s elderly partner-in-crime, and Harry “Hotspur” Percy, as an antagonist who is not merely the bad guy but also has genuine wit, depth and complexity. Prince Hal finally steps up and does the princely thing by defeating Hotspur in hand-to-hand combat, possibly saving his father’s thone in the process. The transformation of Prince Hal from wastrel to heroic prince, complete with the complicated web of motivations that drives him, makes this place endlessly watchable and anayzable (which is how I ended up spending my whole senior year in college on it).

Tom Hiddleston does a brilliant job with this play, selling the viewer completely on the fun-loving party boy, the dutiful prince, and the conflicted young man who says he is just biding his time till he reveals his true, kinglike identity — but is he just deceiving himself? Or us? Jeremy Irons is similarly brilliant as King Henry IV, and Joe Armstrong, the actor playing Hotspur, who I haven’t seen before, does a great job with this complex character. I’ve seen lots of criticism online from people who didn’t like Simon Russell Beale’s Falstaff (again, I’m not familiar with the actor’s other work) but I didn’t have a problem with it — he nails the crucial scene, where Falstaff and Prince Hal take turns role-playing Hal and the King, and Hal’s unexpectedly serious reply foreshadows his eventually rejection of Falstaff and all the old man represents. To sum up: it’s a rich, wonderful play with great characters, and this is a beautiful adaptation of it.

Henry IV Part 1

Then I watched Henry IV, Part Two, which is just a complete train wreck. And it’s not the fault of the Hollow Crown director, producers or actors — this one is all on Shakespeare.

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Closer Home

This is a pretty cool post for me to be able to do, because I love to talk about the KerrySchafersuccesses that my writer-friends have had, and Kerry is one of the writers I’ve been friends with the longest. Our relationship goes back to when we were both young aspiring writers living a few houses away from each other on a cul-de-sac in Oshawa, Ontario, and used to go for long walks discussing the books we wanted to write. We’ve kept in touch during all the years since, and Kerry has gone on to release a fantasy trilogy and a paranormal thriller under the name Kerry Schafer. Now she’s branching out in a new direction: this week her novel Closer Home comes out under the name Kerry Anne King. Since my novel What You Want has also just come out in paperback, and since writing women’s fiction is a bit of a change of direction for both of us, we are interviewing each other on our blogs today. I’m excited to tell you a bit more about Kerry and her new book. Read a quick synopsis of the book below, then continue on for my interview with Kerry.

When Lise Redding’s estranged sister, country-pop star Callie Redfern, is killed during a publicity stunt, the small-town music teacher is dragged from her quiet life into the spotlight.
Lise hadn’t spoken with Callie in ten years, ever since Callie’s betrayal split them apart, so she’s shocked to discover that she’s inherited her sister’s massive estate. Not only that, but Lise is now the guardian of her sixteen-year-old niece, Ariel, to whom she’s practically a stranger.
Overwhelmed by grief and her new responsibilities, Lise thinks things couldn’t get worse. But overnight she becomes the paparazzi’s latest obsession. Suddenly she and her longtime friend Dale are plastered over the front pages of the tabloids. Desperate to escape both the media and her memories, Lise sets off with Ariel on a search for the girl’s father. Yet instead of granting Lise a reprieve, the quest brings her face-to-face with long-buried secrets. Only by learning to forgive will she be able to find her way back home.

Trudy: When we first met nearly 30 (!!!) years ago, you were working on a fantasy novel. Since then you’ve published a fantasy trilogy and a paranormal thriller. Is writing women’s fiction something completely new for you?

Kerry: It can’t really be thirty years. You’re a writer – please tell me you’re making that up! I am not going to do the math myself. The answer to your question is, technically, yes. Writing a novel in the women’s fiction genre was actually my agent’s idea, and something new for me. She pointed out that all of my books feature strong women characters, and that I seemed to be passionate about that. As usual, she was right, and making the transition was very natural for me.

Trudy: Your Kerry Schafer books all have what I’d consider a dark side — an unflinching look at things that are terrifying and dangerous. Is there any dark side to Kerry Anne King and Closer Home?

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Things You Can Do With an E-book…

…that you can’t do with a paper book. Here’s the follow-up to the last Shelf Esteem video. This one explores the advantages of e-books, and contains two tantalizing glimpses — one of my underwear (!!) and one of something even more exciting!

That’s right, it’s the paperback of What You Want, finally available for people who want to read on paper not screens. You can get it from Amazon.com, Amazon.ca, or directly from CreateSpace (which ends up in a tiny bit more of the money going back to the writer, just in case you’re interested).


Definitely Not a Mommy-Blog

One of the problems I face as I approach the ten-year anniversary of this blog is that the more time goes by, the less sure I am about what my blog really is. Is it a writer’s blog about writing? Well, sometimes, but definitely not all the time. Is it a place for me to work through ideas and post about my views on political and religious issues? Sometimes. Is it a place where I write about my daily life and keep in touch with a far-flung community of friends and readers? It started out that way in 2006, but in the years since, most of that activity has migrated to Facebook, and blogging doesn’t serve quite the same social function it used to. It almost feels like if you’re going to post Facebook statuses about what you did today, you should save blogging for when you have something important to say.

I can tell you what this blog isn’t, that’s for darned sure. It’s definitely not a mommy-blog.

When I started blogging regularly, my kids were eight and six. And a lot of what I wrote about daily life ended up being about parenting. I never thought of myself as a “mommy blogger” because I also wrote about writing, and about faith, and about TV characters I had crushes onbut I did write a lot about parenting because that was my life and my focus at that time. In fact, my blog was one of several that got studied in a mildly infamous academic study of Canadian “mommy blogs,” so I guess at least some people thought that was what the blog was about.

These days, I find I hardly ever blog about parenting. Those same two kids are now almost sixteen and (just as of this last week) eighteen. That’s right: my oldest child is an adult in the eyes of the law. Wow. Just … wow.

Even today, when the heyday of parenting blogs (and perhaps blogs in general) is several years past, you can still find a lot of people blogging about their day-to-day experience taking care of babies, or wrangling toddlers, or raising pre-schoolers or elementary-schoolers.

There aren’t a lot of “mommy blogs” (or daddy blogs) by the parents of teenagers. I wonder why that is?

When your kids are little, it’s so easy to write about the fun moments, the silly things they say, the days you want to remember — but also the frustrating times, the lessons you learn as a parent from the bad days. When they get older, there are still fun moments, still hard days, still lessons learned — but as the kids get older, I think most of us parent-writers are more keenly aware that our kids are not just extensions of ourselves, not just lenses through which we reflect on our own experience. They are their own people, with their own right to privacy. And even as the crazy stress of raising toddlers and preschoolers eases up (how wonderful it is to leave the house for work in the morning knowing that these near-adults will get themselves up and ready for school, and one can even drive there!), the struggles we face — because there are always struggles — are deeper and harder to resolve.

You can tangle with a tantrumming toddler for an afternoon and cuddle that same toddler, tired, at bedtime — and after they’re asleep, blog about what that whole hard day taught you. The struggle to help a teenager emerge into adulthood, and to stand back and not help when your help is not needed, takes months or years instead of hours. And it may be a long time before any of us figures out what we’ve learned from it.

So maybe those are some of the reasons we don’t blog so much.

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