Story and Characters: Love-hate affairs across cultures

Earlier this month I was introduced to the most successful German-language musical of all time, Elisabeth das Musical.

This fictionalized account of the life of Empress Elisabeth of Austria has been translated into seven languages and seen by over ten million, although apparently never in the United States. It made me wonder why, since it has been successful not just in Germany, but Hungary, Russia, South Korea, and Japan. In fact, the cross-cultural adaptations are worth a study in themselves. Here is a multi-language compilation of the prologue. I’m particularly fond of the Japanese costuming. And here is the international trailer with an English introduction.

Personally, I love a good anti-hero and in this case that would be Death, not Elisabeth, the heroine of this story.

Having grown up in a culture similar to the one that Elisabeth grew up in, I’d like to share my take on this story.

Know then, that for most of history, people did not marry for romantic love. Most of those who ruled didn’t (I’m sure there were exceptions). The peasants, shop keepers, and nobles didn’t either, although they had, perhaps more freedom in that regard, depending on the time period, etc.

Today, we live in a culture rich enough to allow us to casually enter into marriage based on romantic love, with less thought given to the economics involved, than in the past. All it takes in most places in the US, is a drive down to City Hall or a Justice of the Peace, the payment of a fee, and you are married. Most people are free to fall in love and marry just for that. Whether it lasts or not is another matter. So, go into this knowing, that that was not the case in Elisabeth’s time, and it is not the case in most of the world even today.

My parents’ and grandparents’ generation in Communist Romania certainly thought of marriage in terms of economics, despite it being the 20th Century. Nobody cared about love. What did they care about?

Does he have a good, stable job?
Will he be able to support a wife?
Will he be able to support a family?
Is he husband material in other ways?
Is she wife material?
Can she have children?
What kind of mother will she be?
Do undesirable traits and behavior run in his or her family?
Can the families get along?

Living as part of an extended family that were always in your business, did not allow an unmarried man or woman the freedom to just fall for someone and call it done. Even if the respective families couldn’t stop you from marrying, they could certainly withdraw and refuse support, and often did. It was also not that unusual for the older generation (the grandparents’) to be responsible for child-rearing, and for younger cousins and sisters to be involved as well (as nannies and baby-sitters for girls must learn how to be mothers themselves some day), since the concept of a nuclear family was unknown.

And I can tell you without a doubt that the idea of living only for oneself, for one’s own selfish desire was not praiseworthy, was not encouraged, much less celebrated. In contrast, today, there are plenty of young men and women who pursue “their bliss” well into their thirties, often as a result of parental generosity.

Elisabeth (as portrayed in this musical) is in many ways a contemporary embodiment of what we so often see today. She is raised in an ideal environment, which, while desirable, does not reflect the reality of the world. One moment she swears off marriage for the freedom to do whatever she wants. The next, she’s fallen in love (at first sight no less) with the Emperor of Austria (a man intended for her older sister).

Then when she does have children, they are taken away from her to be raised by her mother-in-law. She fights to get them back, but then abandons them in retaliation for her husband’s unfaithfulness. Now, I realize that some of this is being done for story reasons, and that’s fine. Conflict, shattered expectations, and a character arc all demand it. Otherwise we’d have no Story, or at least not this story, and it is THIS story that is compelling.

Elisabeth sacrifices everyone (including her beloved son) for her own freedom, while at the same time enjoying an unearned material wealth. Audiences are drawn in and cheer on her declaration that she belongs only to herself.

While it’s interesting, and entertaining to watch the character arc, the love triangle between Elisabeth, her husband, and Death personified (and yes, I enjoyed the heck out of this play–I watched the German and Hungarian versions–and it’s in the “watch again” bin) there were so many times when I wanted to reach out and strangle her and shout “You are such a selfish, silly <insert expletive>!” Then I take a deep breath and remind myself that it’s a Story, it’s meant to be entertainment, and I should just enjoy it.

Which leads to “Why am I willing to watch this again, when I don’t particularly like Elisabeth as a person?” Yes, Mark Seibert as Death makes up for a lot, but he’s not on the stage that long. And it’s not just Seibert’s portrayal of Death, even though I’d jump at the chance to go see him on stage even if that meant actually going back to Europe. Kim Junsu’s portrayal of Death in the Korean version is just as good, if not better.

It’s the characters, stupid! Plot, logic, and inconsistencies matter not when the characters have you in their grip, just like with a book you read again and again, even though you know not just the ending, but every plot point along the way. It’s why I’m on a mission to watch the Japanese and Russian versions as well, provided I can find them.

Even the language barrier was not enough to dampen my enjoyment and I’m not a fan of theater in general. The fact that it was in a foreign language made it more interesting. I really admire the translators since they had to translate not just the words, but make the syllables fit, and oh, by the way, some of it still rhymes. Think of it this way. In English, “I” is one syllable; same in German, Hungarian, and Russian. But in Japanese, “I” is “watashi(-wa)” which is three or four, in Korean it’s “naneun” also three. From what I saw of the subtitles, they did it while preserving context in most cases. It’s shown particularly well here, in a multi-language compilation featuring several of the actresses portraying Elisabeth during the 20th Anniversary Tribute. Notice how the song smoothly flows from one language to the other (I identified German, Dutch, Korean, and Japanese. Finnish might also have been in there, although I didn’t verify it).

As a writer, I also appreciate how well the Story (not the plot) delivered a highly satisfying ending.

When it was all over, I asked myself, was this a romance (i.e. it had a happy ending) or was it a tragedy? And the answer is, it was both. The climax was a tragedy, but the denouement was a happily ever after. Yeah, that’s right. THIS and the compelling characters is why Elisabeth das Musical is such a hit.

Now I’m off to add “learn more about the Habsburg Empire” to my ever-growing list of stuff I’ll probably never get around to. I really do wish they’d have spent more time on this part of history when I was going to school.

One final thing. The story shows the rising nationalism of the time period. I believe it is historically accurate. If you’re going to get offended by the appearance of National Socialism and its anti-semitism (slogans, symbols, etc), despite their portrayal as the bad guys, you might want to skip this.

Creative Penn podcast

Many thanks to Joanna Penn for the shoutout about Intellectual Property Tracker on her Creative Penn podcast. Joanna is a successful author and entrepreneur, with many, many, titles (both fiction and non-fiction about the business and craft for writing) to her name. 

Remember that our Kickstarter ends on Feb. 13th, so don’t delay. 

Please help us spread the word by sharing this. Thank you.

Intellectual Property Tracker update:

You asked. We responded. We added a requested feature to the demo version.

In response to the request for a feature that allowed the tracking of  images related to covers and merchandising, I’ve added that functionality to the demo version and recorded a brief (4′) video to give you an idea of what it might look like. This new feature allows you manage the data associated with images as well as the licensing associated with them. Whether you’re just using images for covers or not, we think this feature will streamline your process and free up your time.

Thank you again, everyone, for your support. We’re very excited to see this project come together. You can help this project by supporting our Kickstarter here.

Intellectual Property Tracker Working Demo

A working demo on the initial concept of Intellectual Property Tracker. You’ll see some of the BASIC functionality and how the software can be used. The final product will be easier to use and have more features.

Please consider backing our Kickstarter as well. In addition to the final product, you’ll also get WMG’s Magic Bakery Workshop, a great self-paced course on copyright and intellectual property (that’s a $150 value). Check it out.

Demo of initial concept (NOT the final product)

Random musings on Romance and The Terminator

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I know it’s only January. But I’m nowhere near as bad as the grocery stores that were selling Christmas candy alongside Valentine’s candy and St. Patrick’s day candy, so bear with me.

I wouldn’t say I’m a huge Romance reader, i.e. it’s been some time since I’ve read a Harlequin novel of any kind. So, some of what I’m about to say comes from distant memories of it and some of it comes from the excellent material from the Genre Structure class I took (Psst, it’s really great and if you want to learn more about genre conventions, I can’t recommend it enough. In fact, all of WMG’s classes are top notch).

A lot of writers take pride in pushing the boundaries of genre, refusing to be constrained by it. Indie publishing has turned genre mixing into some sort of bloodsport though, where anything goes, which is fine to an extent.

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Characterization and Word Choice

One of the gripes I hear most from writers is about the challenge of making characters sound different, i.e. giving them each an individual voice. Let’s explore the subject, shall we?

One way of making your characters sound different is to give them an accent. And this can certainly work, as long as you use their brogue or twang sparingly, like you would spice. Add too much and it becomes distracting gibberish that’s hard to parse out.

The other way is to change their syntax. But don’t go all Jar-Jar on us. One of the best examples of syntax usage is R. M. Meluch’s character Dr. Mo Shah.

Dr. Shah’s voice sounded again from the intercom. “Captain? May I be having a word with you?” Confidentially, Mo Shah’s tone added.

“Oh. These are not being signs of slaughter. These are being medical communications. Physicians conferring with each other, I am believing.”

“He did not pass the drug scan,” Dr. Shah reported.

Farragut pursed his lips. Spoke at last: “What’s he doing?”

“The whole pharmacy,” Mo answered. “And the R&D lab.”

The Myriad: Tour of the Merrimack #1

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2019, A year of changes

First of all, Happy New Year, one and all.

Last year saw the words “The End” go on my space opera. It came in at a respectable 150,000 words. It’s a mix of futuristic nanotech, genetic engineering, the clash of cultures, feudal politics, sexy romance, and swords.

The new year is also supposed to see a new short story and two novellas, all as part of anthologies.

On the self-publishing side, I plan on re-releasing a short story in June and a novella in February. The novella is a bit of conundrum. I’m tempted to expand it and make it a second edition, one with additional content and some added steam (i.e. that means sexier), along with a sexy cover that I can’t wait to show you.

The major change this year is that all my self-published ebooks will be available to my newsletter subscribers two weeks before they are released to the rest of the world. So, if you want to take advantage of this, you have to be on my subscriber list, i.e. my super-fan list.

If you’re not on the list, you can sign up under “Newsletter Opt-in” on the right-side of the screen. Go ahead and do it. It’s easy.

I’m not into making new year’s resolutions, but I will say that my goal is to make 2019 a more productive year overall, with sequels and side stories for my space opera and a sequel to Promethea Invicta. Speaking of Promethea, I’m eagerly awaiting a better microphone (due here next week) so I can produce an audio version. I’m also very excited to announce a collaboration with Tom Kratman. More to come on that.

Meanwhile, my short story, Equality (first published in MAGA 2020 & Beyond) is live as of today directly from me via Bookfunnel (in your favorite format), as well as from these vendors (Print, Kindle, Kobo, iBooks, Scribd, D2D). And of course, it’s available through your favorite library as well; just ask your librarian.

Kal Sprigg’s review of the Aquaman Movie (no spoilers)

I watched Aquaman last night.  I’ve got to say, I haven’t been this hyped up about a DC movie in… well, ever.  Which is pretty amusing considering Aquaman has been sort of a joke for a long, long time.

The movie manages to live up to that hype.  It’s fun, it’s got good action, an understandable plot, and motivations for the characters that actually make sense.  They do a great job showing Aquaman’s character, in little things he does, not just the big dumb hero stuff of saving the world.  Some of it is sort of check the box, (save the nuns, check, save the trapped guy, check), but a lot of that stuff is cliche for a reason: it shows that he actually cares enough about people to risk himself to save people caught in the middle of his battles.

Read the rest: King of the Seas: Aquaman Movie Review (no spoilers)

Why I’m the exclusivity contrarian

Exclusivity is one of those words that conjures up images of fashionable, stylish clothes, of expensive shopping, of status symbols. It also conjures up images of being part of a carefully selected group, of prohibiting the unworthy from entering.

Thing is, that first type of exclusivity, the one that conjures up designer clothes and shoes, exclusive clubs, requires a barrier to entry–usually price. Sometimes there’s value to go with it. Sometimes there’s not, just a polished turd with fantastic marketing. Those tend to fade away pretty quickly. The things that stand the test of time tend to be well-made as well as well-marketed, although the most exclusive need not advertise at all. It’s a bit of that “If you need to ask the price, you can’t afford it.”

Then there’s the type of exclusivity that sounds great, but isn’t. It’s the type of exclusivity that’s all about limitations–you cannot leave, you have no say, the other party can alter the deal at any time. You may have entered into the agreement willingly, but if you can’t withdraw consent, you’re at their mercy, aren’t you? If you’ve ever entered into a bad deal, whether in real estate or in a personal relationship, you have a good idea of how things can turn for the worst, and unfortunately, often do.

So now, let’s talk about Amazon’s Kindle “Unlimited” (KU) program. Although readers pay $9.99 a month to be in it, the amount of times it’s referred to as “free” tells me that people have conditioned themselves (and others) to think of this subscription service in a flawed way. It’s the same mentality that some people have that that tax refund at the end of the year was not their money in the first place; they don’t realize they’ve given the government an interest-free loan all year. While it’s called Kindle “Unlimited” it does NOT mean that you can read all the ebooks in Amazon’s inventory. Quite the opposite. If anything, it’s a limited program rather than an unlimited one.

To be clear, I’m going to focus on this from the perspective of an author, not a reader although my own experience as a reader was negative as well. The KU selection was limited mostly to people I didn’t read and the few that I read, it was cheaper just to buy their books, which I did.

 

The subscription model is not the issue. The exclusivity requirement is.

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Equality: A Short Story Re-released today

I’m happy to announce the release of the ebook version of “Equality: A Short Story.” To get your free copy, click here. It will remain free until the end of the year, so get it now.

Libby lives in a peace enclave for a reason. Here, her beliefs live and breathe, forming a cocoon. They embrace her like a mother’s loving arms. Peace. Security. Social consciousness. All in one place. Twenty-four-seven.

Coming home late one night, she walks through the park, happy and secure.

Until a man with a mask and a knife jumps in her path.

Will Libby survive the aftermath and the shattering of her beliefs?

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