Thursday, March 23, 2017

Clicking Our Heels – Astrology and the Stiletto Gang

Although every member of The Stiletto Gang is a writer, that’s where a lot of our similarities end. This month we decided to investigate if astrology impacts our differences. We specifically addressed what our respective birthday months are and whether we reflect our astrological signs or stones.

Dru Ann Love – March.
Strengths: compassionate, artistic, intuitive, gentle, wise and musical
Weaknesses: fearful, overly trusting, sad, desire to escape reality, can be a victim or a martyr
Pisces likes: being alone, sleeping, music, romance, visual media, swimming, spiritual themes
Pisces dislikes: know-it-all, being criticized, the past coming back to haunt, cruelty of any kind

Cathy Perkins – I don’t know much about astrology but I think being on the cusp gives me a blend of Aquarius’ intellectual approach to life and Pisces’ artistic empathy.

Linda Rodriguez – I am quadruple Scorpio, which means my sun sign, rising sign, Mercury, and Venus are in Scorpio. This means passion-and not necessarily only sexual passion, but passion for all kinds of areas in life – and I am an intensely passionate person. It also means fierceness, loyalty and commitment, and that I would make a terrible enemy. All that is true about me. The saving, softening grace is that I’m on the cusp of Libra, which adds a tendency to see all sides and natural diplomacy and a desire for everyone around me to be happy.

Paffi S. Flood – My birthday month is September. That means I’m a Virgo, and, oh, yes, I do. J

Sparkle Abbey – Mary Lee aka Sparkle’s birth month is February and so falls under the sign of Aquarius. The traits of the Aquarius sign say those born under this sign are progressive, original, independent and humanitarian and look at the world as a place of possibilities. I’d certainly like to think that’s true J. Anita aka Abbey’s birth month is October which means she’s a Libra. Libra’s are balanced with an analytical mind, have a social nature and deep commitment to loyalty. They tend to be idealistic, easy going and rarely feel that fighting or arguments are the best solution to a problem. That sounds about right.

Debra H. Goldstein – Pisces ….. fluid while I cut through the water

Jennae Phillippe – I am a September baby, and Virgo. I am amazed how much my work as a therapist finds me pushed up against astrological signs. People love feeling like they have an inside track to who another person is, and I feel like signs or the Myers Briggs personality tests help people feel like they can get a broad sense of who someone else is. But I think it relies pretty heavily on confirmation bias – we see Virgo signs in Virgos and ignore everything they say or do that does not match our idea of them as a Virgo. That being said, people think I match my sign pretty well.

Bethany Maines – I’m a May baby, so that makes me an emerald Taurus Snake (Chinese astrology). I’m not very green, but I’ll own stubborn, and “physically attractive”? My two year old told me I had nice hair, so I’ll take it.

Paula Gail Benson – My birthday month is September. I try to be trustworthy, loyal, and hard-working, Virgo traits. Sometimes my Virgo tendency toward perfectionism can deter me from getting things done. I love sapphires and have heard them called the “wisdom stone.”

Kay Kendall – My birthday month is February. Although I sometimes read my daily or monthly Aquarius horoscopes in newspapers or magazines (never online), I really don’t think in astrological terms.

Kimberly Jayne – I’m a September Libra. If you look in he horoscope guides for the definition of a Libran, you’ll see my face there – or you should. I’m a classic Libran with the good and not-so-good character traits. My gemstone is the sapphire, and I do love that stone when it’s lightest blue, as in the Ceylonese sapphire. They’re gorgeous!

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Reading vs. Writing

by Bethany Maines

On Monday night fellow Stiletto author J.M. Phillippe (visiting from Brooklyn) and I attended the local open mic night from Creative Colloquy.  The evening celebrated Creative Colloquy’s third anniversary and featured the Washington State poet laureate Dr. Tod Marshall. Creative Colloquy’s mission is to connect writers with their community and celebrate their works. And in keeping with that mission, Dr. Marshall reminded us in the audience to both battle for the arts and to rejoice in our creative communities. 

As with every time I go to a reading event I'm struck by what different skills reading and writing are. It's difficult to differentiate the presentation from the work being presented. For every rushed reading, there’s one that gives space for the audience to savor the moment. For every mumbled poem, there’s one that echoes from the rafters.  For every awkward and misplaced laugh in the middle of a story, there's one that ought to be a comedy special.  Delivery, timing, and pronunciation, all take a reading from blah to amazing.  Or at least important enough to make people stop talking to their friends at the table.  Are the amazing readings better?  Or just benefitting from better delivery?

It makes me wonder: what could I be doing to present my own work better in live readings? Should we authors all be forced to take public speaking classes? Improv classes? Should we be forced to listen to recordings of ourselves (God nooooooooooo!!!)?  Is there a secret trick that I could be using?  What if I just I hire an actor to read for me?  In all probability I shall simply have to rely on the very exclusive, top secret trick of practice and repetition.  As long as no one makes me watch a recording of it, that will probably be fine.


Bethany Maines is the author of the Carrie Mae Mysteries, Wild Waters, Tales from the City of Destiny and An Unseen Current.  You can also view the Carrie Mae youtube video or catch up with her on Twitter and Facebook.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

The Myth of the Lone Writer

by J.M. Phillippe

Anyone who tells you that writing is a solitary activity is telling tales. Even ignoring the number of published authors who are actually writing teams (such as The Stiletto Gang's own Sparkle Abbey), and others who use ghost writers, no writer I have ever met has ever been published without a high level of support from an entire team of people. That support usually starts with other writers -- people who share the insane desire to try to create worlds out of words for others to play in.

I first met members of my personal writing support team at Western Washington University, where I took my first steps toward becoming a writer. Coming back to Washington still feels like coming home for me, and I feel more strongly tied in to the writing communities out here than in either of my other two homes (Los Angeles, CA and Brooklyn, NY).

Tod Marshall read poems in honor of Spring
 in between scheduled readers.
So I was more than happy to go with fellow Blue Zephyr Press author (and The Stiletto Gang blogger) Bethany Maines to the Creative Colloquy Third Anniversary Party in Tacoma, WA. With special guest MC Tod Marshall, the Washington State Poet Laureate, the event boasted five scheduled guest readers (all published in the Creative Colloquy literary magazine, either online or in print), and an open mic that offered a chance for others to share their work as well. Authors read to a packed house at the B Sharp Coffee Shop, and prizes were given out to audience members via raffle tickets throughout the course of the evening. (I, sadly, did not win anything.)

What I noticed most about the gathering was how many readers had teams of support with them. It seemed to me that not a single writer was there alone. And if they started off the night alone, the act of sharing their work to the group suddenly made them seem less so, as others congratulated them for reading, for having the nerve to stand up and share their words in a public space.

It was a pretty, and pretty public, space.
Being there with someone from my own support network made it all the more obvious that writing is rarely the loner activity it's often portrayed as being. During my week visit, I had countless conversations with Bethany and others in my writing group and extended reading network about my latest writing project (a contemporary fantasy series based on a short story I wrote for a contest last year) that shaped the world I was creating. We got to spend rare time together writing in the same space, making use of the ability to use an auxiliary brain to track down words we couldn't quite remember, being inspired by the steady clicking of the computer next to us, and generally enjoying the company of someone who gets it when you say that your characters aren't cooperating. All of this was before we even shared the actual works themselves, a process that begins with beta readers, and, basically, never ends. Even after a work is published, it still takes other people -- namely an audience -- to bring it to life.

I don't often get time to go to readings or literary events, and so I am not often reminded of just how many of us writers -- and people willing to support us -- there are. You'd think I'd feel intimidated, but whenever I am in a space like that, I just feel excited and proud to be part of the community around me. I'm always just so happy to know that I'm not alone in the struggle, and in the celebration, of writing.

J.M. Phillippe is the author of Perfect Likeness and the short story The Sight. She has lived in the deserts of California, the suburbs of Seattle, and the mad rush of New York City. She works as a family therapist in Brooklyn, New York and spends her free-time decorating her tiny apartment to her cat Oscar Wilde’s liking, drinking cider at her favorite British-style pub, and training to be the next Karate Kid, one wax-on at a time.

Monday, March 20, 2017

The New Cinderella

by Paula Gail Benson

Are you familiar with the new Cinderella? I mean the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical that played on Broadway from 2013 to 2015 and now is touring around the country? If you haven’t had the opportunity and get the chance, please go see it, particularly if you were enchanted by its television predecessors, the first with Julie Andrews (1957), then Lesley Anne Warren (1965), and Brandy (1997). Here’s the website for the touring schedule:
Just be forewarned: this is not your traditional Cinderella story. This is a new empowered Cinderella, who helps to bring out the leadership capabilities in the man she comes to love. If you think I’m kidding, take a look at the cover for the Broadway original cast album, which also is the national touring company’s poster. It doesn’t feature a beautiful girl in a pumpkin carriage, or with a glamorous Fairy Godmother, or even with a handsome Prince. Instead, it shows a large glass slipper and inside the glass slipper is the image of a girl holding a glass slipper looking up at a crescent moon. One poster also has the log line: “glass slippers are so back.”

So what’s the history of this phenomenon? It was actually written as a television musical with Julie Andrews as Cinderella. According to Wikipedia, the original production had to fit into a 90-minute time slot with six commercials, so Oscar Hammerstein wrote it in six short acts, which he said took seven months.

I remember seeing the Lesley Anne Warren version and being captivated by the songs: “In My Own Little Corner,” where Cinderella explains how she deals with a harsh world through her imagination; “Impossible,” in which the Fairy Godmother sets the magic in motion; “Ten Minutes Ago,” with Cinderella and her Prince realizing their instant attraction while waltzing; “The Step-Sisters’ Lament,” gleefully demonstrating the pangs of jealousy (“With very little trouble/I could break her little arm”); “Do I Love You Because You’re Beautiful,” has the Prince contemplating his doubt upon Cinderella’s disappearance; and “A Lovely Night,” shows Cinderella relishing the upper hand as she describes a ball she couldn’t possibly have attended (“I do not know these things are so/I only can suppose”).

While the first two television versions followed the traditional story, the third had Cinderella running away from home after particularly cruel treatment by her step-mother. The Broadway and touring company version begins with the Prince (now called Topher instead of Christopher) battling a dragon and heading home from school to take over his princely duties. A trusted mentor has been handling the kingdom’s business pending Topher’s return and hopes to continue to do so by making Topher a puppet ruler. Meanwhile, a revolutionary character, Jean-Michel, is standing up for the rights of the common people, while ineptly romancing one of the step-sisters. When the mentor seeks to distract Topher’s attention by having a ball to find a bride, the more familiar part of the story begins, with certain distinctions. One difference is that the Fairy Godmother is a local “crazy” woman, to whom Cinderella has been kind. Another little twist is that the first act ends with Cinderella losing her slipper on the stairway, then going back to retrieve it before Topher can get it, making all of us wonder what the second act may have in store. Never fear. There’s another event at the palace, where Cinderella introduces Topher to Jean-Michel and the common people, then leaves behind her slipper before vanishing.

In each television and stage version, the names of the step-sisters changed: Portia and Joy (1957), Prunella and Esmerelda (1965), Calliope and Minerva (1997), and Charlotte and Gabrielle (2013 on Broadway). I may be wrong, but the mystery writer in me noticed that Douglas Carter Beane, who wrote the new book for the Broadway version lists a daughter Gabby in the credits, so I’m guessing that may be the reason for the name Gabrielle as well as a change in character so that Gabrielle becomes Cinderella’s confidant instead of her adversary.

After we saw the stage production, John W. Henry, my theater buddy, who remembered well having produced a local production of the original show, asked me what story had been incorporated into the new version. I had to think about this question a while, but I finally decided that it was a reverse of the Beauty and the Beast plotline, where, instead of having to fight off the angry villagers, Cinderella gets Topher to champion their cause.

I enjoyed this version because when teaching short story writing, I have often used the Cinderella model to show structure. The problem is that if you stick with the traditional tale, Cinderella has things happen to her and never takes a proactive role. I encourage my students not to let that happen with a protagonist. I’m glad that the people behind this new production took my advice!