Author Archives: Kimberly Truesdale

About Kimberly Truesdale

Kimberly Truesdale is a writing and literature teacher who has a line from The Great Gatsby tattooed on her arm and has worn out at least five copies of Anne of Green Gables. Follow Kim on Twitter @KimTrues or Facebook at Kimberly Truesdale.

Holidays With Jane: Trick or Sweet: Halloween Costumes

 

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The latest Holidays With Jane collection of modern Jane Austen adaptations is out now, which means I’m already thinking about Halloween. (And really, you should be, too, because it’s a wonderful holiday!)

The authors of the collection have been having fun laughing over some of our old Halloween costumes, and I couldn’t resist sharing with you…

Here’s me and my brother Robert sharing SweetTarts (and drooling all over ourselves) on our first Halloween together.

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And here’s my favorite costume ever: a crayon! I glowed in the dark. (Scavenger hunt clue!) My wonderful mother made this costume for me. I am not sure, however, why I am sneaking out of my grandparents’ sliding glass door like that… maybe I’d just stolen some candy from the bowl and was making a quick getaway!

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And then there are the Halloween parties as an adult, many of which I refused to have pictures of for reasons of not incriminating myself. But at a big house I lived in in Boston, we had a front garden that looked like this…

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Until Halloween rolled around and we decided to freak out the neighbors…

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What fond memories do you have of Halloween shenanigans?

 

Holidays With Jane: Trick or Sweet: Favorite Sweet Treats

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Halloween is all about the costumes and candy, right? Well, here are some of my favorite (and pretty easy to make) sweet treats!

Probably my favorite treat to make is lollipop ghosts! In my Persuasion story in the Holidays With Jane: Trick or Sweet collection, I actually have Anne Elliot make quite a few of these things. (If you’re participating in the blog hop scavenger hunt, this is one of my clues!)

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You’ll need your favorite lollipops (I usually use Tootsie Roll pops), tissues or tissue paper, rubber bands or twisty ties, and markers to decorate. Take a lollipop and wrap the tissue over the top. Use a rubber band or tie to cinch the tissue just below the head of the lollipop. Then decorate at will! These ones are drawn with markers, but googly eyes are also pretty fun!

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Another fun treat is eyeballs!

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You’ll need vanilla wafers (or your favorite cookie) and icing in whatever colors you’d like. Frost the vanilla wafer and then put a big dollop of a different color in the middle.

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Bones are also fun to make!

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You’ll need pretzel sticks, marshmallows, and (if desired) icing. Stick a marshmallow on each end of a pretzel stick. These ones have melted icing on them (but it can make the pretzel soggy if you don’t plan on eating them right away).

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And a piece de resistance for your party: graveyard brownies!

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You’ll need either pre-made brownies or to make your own, frosting, gummy worms, crushed up oreos, and any other ghoulish thing you’d like. You can do this in the pan or cut up the brownies (like above). Frost the brownies and then drop the crushed oreos everywhere. This should look like dirt. Then place the gummy worms all over, maybe even sticking them in the brownies! Here we’ve decorated with some skeleton hands (non-edible). If you want to get really creative, make little headstones!

So what are you favorite sweet treats for Halloween? Let me know in the comments. And be sure to check out Anne Elliot making lots and lots of googly-eyed lollipop ghosts in my Holidays With Jane: Trick or Sweet story!

Every Writer Should Read Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Philosophy of Composition”

Every once in awhile I remember how much I love Edgar Allan Poe’s detailed essay “Philosophy of Composition.” Don’t let its intimidating name fool you, though, this is an essay that is easy to read. In my intro to college writing course, I use this short essay to show the freshman college students how much thinking writing can take. And every now and again I return to it myself just to remember that even the “greats” like Poe do a lot of thinking and planning before they write.

Here’s the gist of “Philosophy of Composition”: Edgar Allan Poe–one of the most recognizable writers of our time, most students read something of his in high school–sets out to tell us all about the meticulous process of composing the–now iconic and very popular even at the time–poem “The Raven.” It’s an anatomy of a process that Poe likens to “a mathematical problem.”

The very first thing Poe does is think about form. He considers whether he wants someone to read his poem in one sitting or more than one sitting. A novel, he says, can easily be split into multiple sittings because it requires no “unity” of experience. But a poem must be able to be experienced all at the same time in order to produce the desired effect.

It appears evident, then, that there is a distinct limit, as regards length, to all works of literary art—the limit of a single sitting—and that, although in certain classes of prose composition, such as Robinson Crusoe, (demanding no unity,) this limit may be advantageously overpassed, it can never properly be overpassed in a poem. Within this limit, the extent of a poem may be made to bear mathematical relation to its merit—in other words, to the excitement or elevation—again in other words, to the degree of the true poetical effect which it is capable of inducing; for it is clear that the brevity must be in direct ratio of the intensity of the intended effect :—this, with one proviso—that a certain degree of duration is absolutely requisite for the production of any effect at all.

It’s almost a mathematical equation at that point: how long can a reader reasonably be expected to sit and read? And how many lines can he read in that time? Poe finally calculates that about 100 lines is the limit of how long a poem can be and still achieve its unity and effect.

After Poe has settled on form, he starts  considering his subject by thinking about the end, the effect he wants to produce in the reader (i.e. melancholy, contemplation of Beauty). Beauty, Poe claims, is the province of the poem. Other effects may follow, but it is Beauty that most suits the form.

When, indeed, men speak of Beauty, they mean, precisely, not a quality, as is supposed, but an effect—they refer, in short, just to that intense and pure elevation of soul—not of intellect, or of heart—upon which I have commented, and which is experienced in consequence of contemplating “the beautiful.”

Then he figures out how to produce this effect, taking into account everything from tone

Regarding, then, Beauty as my province, my next question referred to the tone of its highest manifestation—and all experience has shown that this tone is one of sadness. Beauty of whatever kind, in its supreme development, invariably excites the sensitive soul to tears. Melancholy is thus the most legitimate of all the poetical tones. (my emphasis)

to the repeating of a refrain over and over again to stick in the reader’s mind

Since its application was to be repeatedly varied, it was clear that the refrain itself must be brief, for there would have been an insurmountable difficulty in frequent variations of application in any sentence of length. In proportion to the brevity of the sentence, would, of course, be the facility of the variation. This led me at once to a single word as the best refrain.

to the most melancholy sounds he can think of (“o” and “r” being both “sonorous” and “producible”)

That such a close, to have force, must be sonorous and susceptible of protracted emphasis, admitted no doubt: and these considerations inevitably led me to the long o as the most sonorous vowel, in connection with r as the most producible consonant.

which leads to him finding a word that fits these sounds (the famous “nevermore”)

The sound of the refrain being thus determined, it became necessary to select a word embodying this sound, and at the same time in the fullest possible keeping with that melancholy which I had predetermined as the tone of the poem. In such a search it would have been absolutely impossible to overlook the word “Nevermore.” In fact, it was the very first which presented itself.

to the exact way the poem will build in intensity (the narrator asking ever more frenzied questions and the bird speaking the same word over and over)

The next desideratum was a pretext for the continuous use of the one word “nevermore.” In observing the difficulty which I at once found in inventing a sufficiently plausible reason for its continuous repetition, I did not fail to perceive that this difficulty arose solely from the pre-assumption that the word was to be so continuously or monotonously spoken by a humanbeing—I did not fail to perceive, in short, that the difficulty lay in the reconciliation of this monotony with the exercise of reason on the part of the creature repeating the word. Here, then, immediately arose the idea of a non -reasoning creature capable of speech; and, very naturally, a parrot, in the first instance, suggested itself, but was superseded forthwith by a Raven, as equally capable of speech, and infinitely more in keeping with the intended tone.

to the final “moral” overtones produced by the last two stanzas.

It will be observed that the words, “from out my heart,” involve the first metaphorical expression in the poem. They, with the answer, “Nevermore,” dispose the mind to seek a moral in all that has been previously narrated. The reader begins now to regard the Raven as emblematical—but it is not until the very last line of the very last stanza, that the intention of making him emblematical of Mournful and Never-ending Remembrance is permitted distinctly to be seen:

“And the Raven, never flitting, still is sitting, still is sitting,
On the pallid bust of Pallas just above my chamber door;
And his eyes have all the seeming of a demon’s that is dreaming,
And the lamplight o’er him streaming throws his shadow on the floor;
And my soul from out that shadow that lies floating on the floor
Shall be lifted—nevermore.”

It’s an almost dizzyingly intricate dance between technique and personal style. Poe’s goal is to puncture our idea that literature springs whole from the thigh of the writer. It’s a labor-intensive, hard-thinking project. But at the end, you could produce something like “The Raven.”

If you’re a writer–of any kind, really–take a few moments and read “Philosophy of Composition” and “The Raven.” I hope they inspire you as they have done for me.

The Moment of Confusion

I’ve had this interview between round-table icon Charlie Rose and award-winning Shakespearean actor Mark Rylance bookmarked for a year now because I really wanted to share the idea that Rylance posits toward the end of the interview.

It’s a wide-ranging interview which touches on Rylance’s long career; his experiments with “original playing” practices of Shakespeare’s plays, including staging, costuming, and pronunciation; his fascination with Shakespeare’s wit and humor; the sense of collective consciousness he feels in the room that allows a play to take on new meanings in front of each audience; and the idea that one should go on the stage and “play to win.”

Toward the end of the interview there’s this exchange (transcript below):

Rose: You’ve said that for the audience to have a sense that something has happened, there needs to be a fleeting moment of confusion.

Rylance: I’ve been to some plays where a lot has happened, but you feel like no one ever was really confused. None of the actors… I think even when a single cell grows in to two, there must be a moment of confusion at even a cellular level. And certainly in human endeavors, certainly in my life I spend a lot of time confused, particularly at moments of great importance…

Rose: Confused about consequences, confused about–

Rylance: Yeah, what’s the right path to take. Most plays will be about that kind of thing. You want to feel you’re in the presence of, um, not always in the presence of someone who knows exactly what they’re doing, but people who are considering different options.

When I first saw this interview, I recognized immediately what Rylance is pointing at when he discusses that “moment of confusion.” It’s something that most artists struggle to communicate. And it’s something that’s hard to play accurately.

As a writer, I know what’s going to happen to my characters. I work with an outline, so I have an idea of what needs to happen. Yes, there are spontaneous moments of inspiration when even I get surprised. But mostly I know what’s supposed to come next.

The same thing with the acting I’ve done. I already know what the character will do and say. I know where I will walk on the stage and how someone else will react.

So the key in both instances is to try and forget all of that knowledge and make the moments feel organic for the characters, make them feel like real people wrestling with real problems rather than characters who already know what’s going to happen to them.

In this way, I think taking time away from your writing can be the most valuable thing you do when editing. Once I step away, I’m able to return with fresh eyes and read through my story to see if my characters feel premeditated. Does it seem like they already know what their future holds? Or does it seem like they are experiencing that genuine “moment of confusion” that marks most of our lives.