WoB Talk

March 25, 2013

Let It Snow?

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kari Maaren @ 2:41 am

The weather is going all weird again.  Okay, it’s true that where my parents live, there’s still two feet of snow on the ground and a daily average temperature of -15 degrees Celsius.  Here in Toronto, however, it’s often a bit more spring-like by, well, the first day of spring.  This year, it snowed like mad on March 20th.  It’s supposed to snow again today.  I think the groundhog may have lied to us.

I don’t actually mind long winters, mostly because I have Allergies from Hell and don’t react well to spring.  When I lived in Vancouver, the allergies started up in mid-Febrauary and lasted until late November.  Here, they don’t begin until late March, and they end in early November.  I suppose that’s an improvement.  However, there’s also no ragweed in Vancouver.  There’s definitely ragweed in Toronto.  We hates it, precious.  We hates it forever.

For the first time in years, I’ll have a classroom course this summer, which means I’ll experience the joy of teaching in allergy/smog/humidity season.  I’m curious as to whether my office will remain as freezing cold in the summer as it is now.  It’s basically the only office in the entire English department that isn’t ten degrees hotter than it should be.  Instead, it’s at least five degrees colder.  No one can explain this.  I sometimes think that architects deliberately construct university buildings to be as maddening as possible.  Don’t even get me started on the six classrooms I’m using this term and their seemingly random approaches to how the light switches work.*

At any rate, this Rant is meandering all over the place, but it’s mostly about the weather.  It was going to be about stage fright, but that attempt got extremely pompous.  I am once again reduced to discussing snow…in Canada…in March.  And, you know, ragweed and stuff.

Soon, it will be April.  I guess we’ll see if the snow will stick around until then.

*You would think they would work by turning the lights on and off.  You would be wrong.

March 18, 2013

March 18 – 30, 2013

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kari Maaren @ 12:54 am

What a silly weekend it has been.  Let us continue the story of Marie’s defence and Barbara and Rahim’s investigation into Casey.  With luck, Marie will just keep on spouting improbably large words, and no one will notice how tired she is.

On Endings

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kari Maaren @ 12:49 am

As many of you know, I’m wending slowly but surely towards the ending of West of Bathurst.  It’s a strange and sometimes fascinating process that isn’t quite like anything I’ve ever done before.  I’ve written plenty of endings, but none for a work I’ve written serially over the course of seven years.  There’s something about creating a serial that sets it apart from other kinds of creation.

For instance, serials are published bit by bit, with no option for going back to change things around if you have a brilliant idea about something later on.  This is not a new observation, of course.  Serial novels, comic books, comic strips, and TV shows have been around for a while.  I’m sure Dickens looked back on early portions of his novels and muttered to himself about how he wished he’d left a particular character out of the story altogether.  I’m pretty nearly certain that the writers of Lost held at least one meeting per year in which someone went, “So when are we going to deal with those damn polar bears?”  Stories change and evolve as they’re written.  Authors shopping out manuscripts are often advised to rewrite so many times that the final (for now) version bears little resemblance to the first draft.  Serials, on the other hand, force writers to accommodate their own errors and false starts.

I’ve included plenty of elements in West of Bathurst that haven’t gone anywhere.  Morgan, Barbara’s stroppy former friend, was originally meant to be a major character, as was Fred, an early character who only ever got about six lines.  Other elements have come out of nowhere and taken centre stage.  Rahim was supposed to be a background character.  Jackie didn’t even have a name until a friend of mine observed how much the character resembled her.  Barbara’s Sherlock Holmes outfit originally appeared when I was on a bit of a Holmes kick, but it kept coming back and has recently become a pretty important part of the plot.  Marie’s tendency to lose her mind when she stays up all night just sort of happened, but it’s currently figuring into her Ph.D. defence.

Then there are the bits and pieces that appeared briefly early on but later became major plot elements, some on purpose and some by accident.  Nico was first mentioned a few months into the comic’s run.  I always knew what his deal was, but I didn’t bring him properly into the comic until Christmas of 2010, almost exactly four years after his name first came up.  I don’t know now whether or not I was ever planning to introduce him as a proper character.  After a while, everything sort of blurs together.  It’s possible to convince yourself that you know precisely what you’re doing, even if that isn’t true.

The hardest bit is the ending.  I’ll freely admit that when I started the comic, I didn’t know where it was heading, let alone how it would end.  Every once in a while, I would think, “So how am I going to resolve this?  Eh…I have plenty of time.”  Eventually, you wake up to the realisation that most of the time is gone now.  That’s when you discover whether you really have been setting things up for an ending all along…or whether what you have is a snarl of disconnected elements and a bunch of extraneous polar bears.  Sometimes, not even time travel can save you.

It remains to be seen whether I can pull this off.  West of Bathurst has been accused of being rather Lost-like in its tendency never to answer any of the questions it proposes.  I do know how it’s going to end, and I guess all I can hope for is that it’s not completely terrible.  If it is, then it will, I suppose, simply be echoing many other serials.

Endings are also rather sad.  I wish they didn’t have to happen.  But old stories do end, polar bears and all, probably so that the new stories won’t feel so very crowded.

March 11, 2013

The Road to Oz

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kari Maaren @ 1:19 am

I have not seen Oz the Great and Powerful.  I’m not sure whether I ever will.  I feel uncomfortable about commenting extensively on it without seeing it, but I also really don’t want to have to experience 127 minutes’ worth of uncontrollable rage just so I can knowledgeably light into a Hollywood movie.  However, I’ve heard a few things about the film, and I shall use those few things as a springboard to discuss my own relationship with the Oz material.  I get a bit upset when people do silly things to the story that defined my childhood.

I’m not talking about the film, either.  My dad read me The Wonderful Wizard of Oz long before I could read myself.  I must have been four or five the first time he did it.  At that point, like any pre-literate child confronted with a marvellous story, I virtually memorised it.  My dad, forced to read the novel to me over and over, started amusing himself by changing the words around.  The Scarecrow became the Crowscare; the Tin Woodman became the Wood Tinman.  I was particularly indignant over this second change.  “No, Dad,” I would say, “it’s the Tin Woodman.”  I loved everything about the story.  I had my own copy, which was illustrated with brightly coloured pictures I still visualise when I think of the novel.  In my imagination, Dorothy isn’t Judy Garland; she’s the little girl in the book.  When I did learn to read, I expect that book was one of the first I got through on my own.

I never got into the sequels, mostly because I didn’t know they existed.  We did eventually acquire a copy of The Marvelous Land of Oz, which I liked too, albeit not as much as the first book in the series.  No one ever told me there were more books.  However, by the time I saw the film (as well, later, as Return to Oz), Oz was part of me.  I played Dorothy in our grade seven production of the musical, and even though the Cowardly Lion refused to hug me on stage because I was unpopular and he didn’t want his friends to mock him, I had a great time doing it.  I had always identified with Dorothy.  Until grade 4, when I cut off most of my hair, I had even looked a bit like her.

The story is, on the surface, a very simple one.  L. Frank Baum, in his introduction to the book, frames it as aspiring “to being a modernized fairy tale, in which the wonderment and joy are retained and the heartaches and nightmares are left out.”  In his opinion, the “horrible and blood-curdling incidents” in fairy tales could be dropped, as modern children, with their strong moral educations, didn’t need them.  Funnily enough, however, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz contains plenty of heartaches and nightmares.  The protagonist, Dorothy, is an orphan who spends the whole book yearning to return to her dour aunt and uncle.  Her companions all long for attributes that they already have, and in the end, they have to be tricked into acknowledging these attributes within themselves.  Throughout the story, Dorothy’s life is in danger; several times, she nearly dies, and twice, she inadvertently commits murder.  Oz is far from a safe, happy landscape.  It’s a land in which half the population is enslaved, and everyone respects and fears a charlatan whose main power is his ability to put on a show.  The simplicity of the story runs up against the complexity of Oz.  This supposedly safe, sweet little children’s tale has teeth.

In addition, it has a fantastic heroine.  I’ve heard that later books in the series (which I’ll soon be reading, as I’m on a bit of an Oz kick now) tend to focus on female protagonists too; in fact, Baum himself was a feminist with a bunch of strong women in his life.  The one other book in the series that I’ve read seems to focus on a boy but actually doesn’t (and if that sentence confuses you, I can only suggest that you go find The Marvelous Land of Oz, which, like the other Oz books, is in the public domain and thus available for free online).  In the first book, Dorothy is really just an ordinary little girl, and this ordinariness is what makes her extraordinary.  She’s just some kid who happens to be swept away into a strange land.  She doesn’t have the tortured, complex backstory of more recent young protagonists—except, of course, in the hint that her parents are dead—but she doesn’t really need it.  What’s great about Dorothy is the way she simply keeps rising to the occasion.  She wants to go home, but she doesn’t waste time whining about it.  When a Scarecrow winks at her, her reaction is not to question her own sanity but to walk up to it; when a Lion threatens her little dog, she whacks it on the nose.  Like Lewis Carroll’s Alice, Dorothy has a certain practicality that allows her to cut through the Wizard’s bluster and figure out what’s really going on.  She’s not the Chosen One, but she kills two witches and discovers the truth of the Wizard.  She doesn’t need to turn up surrounded by prophecies or urged on by destiny.  She’s iconic without being a pointlessly blank slate.

Part of the reason I don’t want to see the new film is that from what I’ve heard, it turns the Wizard into the Chosen One.  Never mind Baum’s heroines; let’s tell the same tired story of the young man who is, despite his own apparent laziness, destined for greatness.  Let’s also turn the four powerful witches of Oz into potential love interests.  What a good idea that will be.  There’s no way, after all, that a story about a girl could appeal to anybody but girls.  This interesting logic, which appears to drive the entirety of Hollywood these days, ignores not just the popularity of Baum’s books but the popularity of The Wizard of Oz, the fiercely loved 1939 film that inspired this new “prequel” in the first place.  A sequel to this prequel was apparently green-lighted before the film was ever released.  Oh, joy.

Do yourselves a favour and pick up the original books.  They’re not in 3D, and they don’t have special effects or James Franco mugging for the camera, but unlike the Tin Woodman (in his own mind, at least), they certainly have a heart.  In many ways, everybody, no matter what gender, is a version of Dorothy Gale.

March 5, 2013

March 4 – 16, 2013

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kari Maaren @ 4:56 am

It’s one of those weeks.  I’m behind on everything and too tired to catch up.  Meanwhile, Marie is defending, and Barbara and Rahim are about to launch their investigation.  Casey’s probably hiding behind a tree somewhere.  He does that.

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