Friday, February 28, 2014

Rachel Around the Web

Hi all,

check out my piece on my lovely chat with Roma Downey and Mark Burnett about the Son of God film releasing today.

look! I hung out with these cool people 

Over at author Melissa Tagg's blog, I'm talking about Faith and Sherlock and Sherlock and Faith 

Sunday, February 23, 2014

So I live in this Country where hockey is EVERYTHING

It's part of our national identity and integral to our construct.

So Canada Hockey Gold Hockey Canada Gold Hockey Canada Gold!!

I was up to watch the 6 a.m. gold medal game at Sweden with the entirety of my country and it was exhilarating and wonderful.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Movie Rant: Carrie (1952 ) dir., William Wyler

This is the most spoilery thing ever. Okay? So for the three of you who are all: I WANT TO BE SURPRISED BY THIS PIECE OF TRASH MOVIE then please do not read about its preposterous plot and unsympathetic characters.  Mea Culpa, Theodore Dreiser

Good lord.

So, there's this scandalous Edwardian novel called Sister Carrie  by Theodore Dreiser which I read in University about a girl who moves to the big City and of course everything goes Sodom and Gomorrah for her and it is all about the CITY being immoral and a GIRL being able to survive only by sheer luck, a penchant for theatrics, and the help of men ( no matter whether or not she compromises her virtue). Anyways, there is also a MOVIE version starring Laurence Olivier and Jennifer Jones and the guy who plays the photographer in Roman Holiday whose name, I believe, is Eddie Albert.

And guys....

holy crikey! THE MELODRAMA!  the MELODRAMA! there was so much melodrama JUST in the music that  I watched it in little pieces over the long weekend here.

What strikes me about this film ( and I suppose the source material; though it has been so long that I cannot accurately speak to it ) is how much I hate how STUPID everybody is.

Let's start with Carrie: the beautiful ingenue type who captures the immediate attention of a shop keeper when they meet on her train into Chicago.  He is obviously a douchebag. She is not so dumb that she doesn't know he is a douchebag. When he gives her money ( because she almost slices her finger off at a sewing machine in a garment factory on her first day of employment) and begs her for dinner, she plans on showing up just to return the money. She knows, ladies and gents, that he is a douchebag.

But that never happens. And while she is at the restaurant about to give him the money she meets another douchebag. This one is George Hurstwood and he manages the restaurant and is married with a family and stuff.

He is the most idiotic character in the history of film ( slight hyperbole).  Carrie is installed in a rather distasteful arrangement at the Shopkeeper's apartment and even given a puppy while Hurstwood pursues her when Shopkeeper  (I think his name is Drouet ) is away.   They go to a play and sit in a carriage and she is all "No! I am virtuous and not a kept woman" Until she is no longer virtuous and still a kept woman.

She finds out that Hurstwood has a wife and kids ( because it never came up before while they were courting ); but she cannot blame him because his WIFE IS NOT A NICE WIFE and his wife DEMANDS MORE THAN HE CAN GIVE and he just wants love.

He wants love so much that he basically takes an open envelope with 10 000 in it and tells Carrie he got a divorce and kidnaps her on a train to New York. He's all: While we're on this train my divorce will go through!  And she is all: THIS IS SO ROMANTIC and they kiss.    They get to New York and it turns out a private investigator has followed them. This sometimes happens when you take ten grand that doesn't belong to you.   Carrie and George move to a tenement like apartment while George tries to work for a living. But he has trouble working for a living because no one wants to hire a thief and he is up in years and there is not a lot of work to be had.

Carrie becomes pregnant and she irons his shirts and stuff and makes his tea and sometimes he runs up a cigar on credit and it seems very How Green Was My Valley: all Triumph of the Poor.

But .... no!  You see, Capital D-Bag George didn't actually get a divorce and his wife is back and there's talk of bigamy charges and CARRIE LOSES HER BABY and George is all: it's okay because we really couldn't afford it. So don't you worry. And Carrie is all: THIS IS A TERRIBLE LIFE

Meanwhile, in the society pages, they learn that George's son from his first marriage--- the marriage including the family George just dismissed in order to move away with Carrie-- is going to be in New York! Carrie presses George's best suit and says: HE CAN HELP YOU FINANCIALLY! go see him!

And while George is chickening out from approaching his son whom he abandoned, Carrie leaves knowing that she is a millstone around George's neck.... because PEOPLE, this entire film is a WEB OF MISCOMMUNICATION!

George comes back and is all: NOOO! NOT CARRIE~

And Carrie pursues a career on the stage and starts making money while George starves on the street and spends his evenings at a flophouse.

One destitute night, George waits for Carrie outside the stage door and begs for a quarter and CARRIE is all: LET US HAVE OUR HAPPY ENDING!!! I will get you food and launder your clothes and we can live together.

And George is like: Imma gonna wait til you go and do something and then I am going to take a quarter-- JUST a quarter from your change purse and ruminate on suicidal thoughts while I flick the gas burner you're making tea on. Cause you see, in the book, I kill myself with gas so here before I set once more into my useless and meaningless emotionally-stunted existence, I am going to tragically THINK about suicide.

But no one dies.


Thursday, February 06, 2014

#Amwriting WOMEN! in TROUSERS? hellfire and brimstone!

It’s not scandalous for women to wear pants.  Not now.  But in 1910? It pretty much cemented you as an outcast in a social norm that believed one “bad girl” was the equivalent of five bad men so depraved and unbalanced and strange she must be.

While women strained against the rigid structure of the time and began carving small spaces of independence for themselves, pursued higher education, lived on their own as latch-key girls ( girls who, rather than at the helm of a boarding house or in a properly chaperoned coven of other working girls had their OWN APARTMENTS with their OWN LOCKS )  and even had careers: in shops, as telegraph operators and as journalists and writers, they still had a long path to trod.

A woman’s main duty and desire was believed to be a husband and a home.  Dressing according to the norms, corseting herself into the feminine curves and up-doing her hair like a Gibson girl she would be marketable, marriageable material and have no trouble securing, well, security.

Women made not nearly as much as men and women who had to go it on their own: whether by choice or circumstance were inherently ostracized.   While we still have dictates and fashion magazines and columns and ideals to look to in our modern society, we have far more wiggle room when it comes to shirking conventions and doing as we please.  But, in 1910, while women suffragists were just starting to break down several barriers and using their wiles and wits to invoke social reform and assert as much equality as male dominance would allow them, they were still slave to societal pressure.  Make-up! Fashion! The best skin care! And, to add,  articles on how to become a desirable woman .  The Gibson girl, a popular figure with her beautiful hair and doe-eyes and pristine porcelain features was a popular cameo of the time emblazoned on a haberdashery of knick-knacks and paraphernalia.

As is the case today, women were sorted and entreated to figure into one of these secondary boxes.   Collier’s magazine spoke to 7 distinct types of modern goddess: the boy-girl, the flirt, the beauty, the sentimental, the convinced, the ambitious, the well-rounded.

Figuratively and literally boxed by the restriction of their binding attire and stays and their inability to break through societal and work-place barriers, their methods of self-improvement were offered in much the same way we target and advertise today.  Of course, some girls, like my amateur detective Merinda Herringford had no qualms when it came to breaking the rules of her contemporaries.

She believes she is a woman by birth only; but keenly wants to move through the world and her staunch Edwardian society with the fluidity and ease of a man.  Highly intelligent ( at least according to herself ) and disciplined enough to stay on the very fringes of propriety, often catapulting over, she wasted no time in wearing Mother Goose shoes that showed her ankles or doubling a sash around her waist to gird her skirt to shocking height.  The worst? She believed in comfort.  So, obviously, she went for pants.   And not the flowy skirt-trousers and harem style pants that were slowly inching their way into Paris fashion. No, actual men’s pants.   Her best friend and housemate Jem falls prey to her penchant for pants and is caught on more than one occasion out on the streets of Toronto, proper society scoffing and appalled to see a woman in gentlemanly attire.

But,  on the heels of whatever adventure they were after, it made the ease and movement so much easier and…in Toronto winters?  Well, let’s just say Toronto winters aren’t the EASIEST: they are slushy disgusticulous snowy cold and dank and horrible.

In the second book of my proposed series, Merinda goes so far as to cut off her hair.  Remember this isn’t flapper era yet and she might as well have been kissing respectability completely goodbye. It’s hard enough for Jem to counterbalance her sense of adventure with her desire to maintain her feminine traits.And Merinda is not the easiest person to be associated with ... so strong her influence. She often wonders what kind of man could possibly want a woman in trousers. 

Lucky, and very rarely, for her; there is one who does.

I have studied Edwardian photographs extensively and several periodicals dating to early 1910s: confessions of a bachelor girl!  bachelor maids! A new wave of women!

It’s a tad funny in our society where we can ease into life in a much more liberated way and, for the most part, do and go and live where and as we please; but it’s not THAT long ago that women like my Jem and my Merinda underwent intense scrutiny.

This picture of women in trousers just makes me delight! Look at them! In men’s clothes! Shocking!

….as shocking as a female stepping out in a skirt high enough to show her ankles:

Wednesday, February 05, 2014

Film Review: "the Making of a Lady"

The Making of a Lady is a quick-spun Edwardian gothic inspired by Frances Hodgson Burnett’s 1901 novel The Making of a Marchioness.  I had read the book in the fashionable Echo reprint editions (actually not at all fashionable; just bland out-of-print reprints on demand ) when I was working through Burnett’s adult canon.  I remembered enjoying it greatly.

The film is squeezed into a 90 minute adventure by ITV and I thought it worked very well despite the time constraints.  Emily Fox
Seton is the prime example of a working woman at the turn of the century.  She is poor, has no connections, no marital prospects and, when is passed over for the job of a secretary at the same time she risks losing her flat, she is forced to decide how much she values security.   This challenge comes in the form of Lord Walderhurst, a retired army colonel, late of the Indian Regiment (Burnett always sewed in colonial mysticism, n’est pas? )who asks her to marry him, citing her pragmatic mind and reasonability.
Having always wanted to marry for love, Emily hesitates; but finally, recognizing that she is setting herself up for life in a practical way and helping a respectable gentleman secure the heir he needs to keep his inherited estate, agrees.

Soon Emily is mistress of a beautiful house which will put one in mind of Northanger Abbey: all of its twists and turns and secret passages and an omen-like appearance of a black raven.  Ten miles from the nearest village, it is a cloistered space occupied only by Emily and her new husband and a minimal amount of house staff. 

The next sequence is my favourite of the piece: the gentle blossoming of a true affection between Emily and her new husband.  The shackles pervading through the convenient aspect of their marriage are trumped by Lord Waldehurst’s gentleness and growing affection for Emily.  I don’t remember a lot about the book’ but I do remember that, at one point, Lord Waldehurst expresses surprise that Emily has taught him to miss her.     While a cementation of physical attachment is necessary if Emily is to fulfill her role as mother, Walderhurst shows great restraint in not wanting to take advantage of her.   Soon, the physically shy Emily ( perfectly rigid as per the constructs and restraints of her time ) is set slightly more at ease--- just as her husband is deployed back to the regiment.

When Lord Osborne, next in line to inherit the estate, and his beautifully exotic wife arrive to act as companions to the now pregnant Emily in the wake of her husband’s time in the East, strange things begin to happen and Emily is put in mortal danger.   While fantastical and sensationalized ( and face it, slightly ridiculous in the vein of one of those Alcott dreadfuls ) it is just a really suspenseful and chilling adaptation that heightens the Gothic elements of the tale and brings it to a halted, breathtaking climax and sweet, substantial denouement.

ITV did a lot with 90 minutes and you will feel greatly for the heroines.

On a secondary level, I appreciated the story for its exploration of women’s circumstances in the early Edwardian period.  There is a sense of desperation to Emily borne of the fact that her independence is rather a millstone. In a crucial scene, Lord Walderhurst appraises Emily’s unattached status and lack of family as something wonderful. No obligations, he believes, freedom in the truest sense. Ironically, it is her lack of security and financial attachment that threatens dire circumstance. Later, when safely entrenched as Marchioness Walderhurst, her new husband approaches the subject again; noting that, with the exception of her duty to provide an heir and tend to house, she will be remarkably free. Of course, in a lovely twist, Emily’s new-found freedom is stolen from her as the world closes around her and several trapped, confined locations (including a priest hole in the wall and a small, rickety house falling to decay on the grounds) become the only places she can steal away to when her life is endangered.   On a tertiary level, I snickered at Walderhurst’s well-meant treatise on freedom because while she is promised liberty as mistress of a house, she still is required to fit her feminine role and have a child—locking her into her new life forever.

Emily’s wrestling with each well-thought choice is part of why I loved her. She is, indeed, a pragmatic character; but she shows great resolve.  And watching her deftly fall in love with her husband made for one of the sweetest romances I have seen in a bit.

Tuesday, February 04, 2014

Pygmalion and I ( or I *heart* Ray DeLuca) #amwriting

Do you know the story of Pygmalion? The sculptor who falls in love with his sculpture? I don’t always talk about my current writing projects here; but I am nose-deep in finishing a murder mystery set in Edwardian Toronto. At the helm I have Jemima Watts and Merinda Herringford---two bachelor girls who try their hands at private investigation.

Sometimes, they assist their long-time friend Jasper Forth of the Toronto Police .  When a few girls are murdered in Corktown, Toronto’s Irish neighbourhood, they find themselves ditching the commonplace mysteries they usually solve for the really, truly criminal ….

 I have so much fun with them.   They’re two halves of the same coin, inverted parts of my strange little personality and all giggles and spark! 

(At least in my unbiased opinion)

a shoe-shiner in St John's Ward having a nap 
As much as I love Jem and Merinda, I love, love, love to distraction, Ray DeLuca.    Ray is my favourite play-thing these days. I have to actively reel him in and sometimes shove him so far stage left because if he pops out I cannot contain myself.  He’s just a really, really wonderful and unpredictable and surprising character to write.   I’ve been scribbling since I was a kid and honestly, with the exception of one other character borne of my hyper-sensationalized brain, I cannot think of anyone I have such  creative affinity with.   He just fits.  Ray’s a composite of a lot of things I wanted to draw into the story: the immigrant experience ( Toronto saw a massive influx of Italian immigrants at the beginning of the 20th Century), a firebrand voice ( Ray is a muckraker: an investigative journalist who uses his time on the beat to instill his articles and rallies with ideas for social reform and the uncovering of political corruption) and a writer.   I wanted a writer. A true blue, sensitive writer.   Ray is fun (and challenging ) because English isn’t his first language and one of the exciting adventures has been to learn enough passable Italian to infuse his voice with some authenticity as well as embrace the cadence of his speech.  He is, thanks to his profession ( and so easy for me ) quite fluent and proficient in English. A quick

study.  But his timbre and vocal mannerism is something I try to infer without falling desperately into complete dialect.  I try to see the stumbling blocks. I imagine his voice like a brook: trickling happily along and getting stuck on a few logs and rocks along the way.   His writing is of huge importance in the story ( and of very huge importance to my lovely Jem ) and I try to capture what stepping stones he might have to ford, what little barriers might catch him in his way.

The fun part about writing this book is that it has become a bit of an over-turned vessel. I cannot actively stop myself from ideas that just cascade out. I think this is largely due to my fascination and love for my characters ( they feel like friends) and because it is set in my city.   A love letter to my town.  Toronto has often, for me, been the greatest love affair of my life.  Ray reflects my love for the city and, like Velcro, picks up pieces of my fascination and historical and social curiosity.
Ray. Sigh. I turn into a giggly school girl:

Yonge Street, 1910 
He’s also snarky, romantic, quick, witty and has an abominable temper.      When I first started white-boarding and plotting the novel, I spent a ton of time going through archival photos of Toronto in the 1910s: the city has a great historical record and is well-documented in photograph. In ways it has changed drastically; in other ways it seems very much the same --- chugging along; spliced by street-car tracks, influenced by multi—culturalism; a patch-work quilt of neighbourhoods sewn into a sprawling urban entity.  Ray feels the city greatly and, as he says, it digs its way into his arteries, winnows itself into his valves and pulses through his blood.   For Jem, Ray emblematizes the best and the worst of the city: light and dark, somber and quick --- she first detects this when she smells his old trench coat.  Ray, to Jem, carries the snow and the smoke; the lake and the ink of the press, the fog and the sunshine all on his coat. Wherever he goes.  Why wouldn’t he? He’s a journalist on the beat.

immigrants in the tenement-like housing of St John's Ward 

I have been a bad little blogger of late because I have been trying to finish this novel.  It is, as Jem says of Ray, “my favourite weakness.”    And part of the weakness is encouraged by my penchant for a certain reporter who is never without his bowler hat, or ink around his cuticles, a snide half-smile or his notebook and pen poised at the ready…