Monday, November 30, 2015

The Short Stories of L.M. Montgomery

My current Montgomery collection...although the Anne series is *mostly* my sister's, but I did contribute to its purchase so I probably own about a book and a half of them. ;)
     If you cannot tell, I am a diehard L.M. Montgomery fan. Thanks to Anne of Green Gables, she was one of the first classic authors that I was exposed to, and she’s one of the few with enough books to have kept me reading: now, roughly fifteen years after I was first introduced to Anne Shirley, I’m still making my way through all of her books. I’ve almost finished them all, and thanks to Kindle, I’ve read all six L.M. Montgomery Short Stories collections. While I’m sure that’s not all of Montgomery’s stories (I own both Chronicles of Avonlea books, which include tales not in any of the free books) I’ve certainly read a fair amount of them. As I’ve often said, my hatred of ebooks is only exceeded by my love of free books, and the public domain titles available for free on Amazon have become my weakness.

     With this in mind, I’ve decided to put together a list of “the best of the best” of L.M. Montgomery’s short stories in honor of her 141st birthday and Eva’s Lucy Maude Montgomery Week. If you’ve ever watched Road to Avonlea you might notice that some of these plots sound familiar, as many of them were incorporated as episodes in the series.

     These stories are sort of in a vague order of preference. The first half of the list contain my very favorites (although those are not in a strict order) while the ones in the second half, while still good, don’t have that extra spark in them that the others do. I’ve tried to include at least one from each collection.

1. “The Materializing of Cecil” (from Further Chronicles of Avonlea)
To save face, an old maid invents a past beau…only to be shocked and dismayed when a man with the same name and occupation as her invention comes to town! One of my very favorites: I love the main character and the ridiculous situation she’s in makes me laugh even while I’m sympathizing with her plight.

2. “The Quarantine at Alexander Abraham’s.” (from Chronicles of Avonlea)
A man-hating woman and her cat are quarantined in the same house as a woman-hating man and his dog. Hilarity (and romance) ensue.

3. “The Brother Who Failed” (from Further Chronicles of Avonlea)
Uh. This story actually makes me cry. Just go read it.

4. “Each in His Own Tongue” (from Chronicles of Avonlea)
A pastor disapproves of his grandson’s love of the violin, but he soon learns that the love of God can at times be better expressed through music than in words.

5. “The Education of Betty” (from Further Chronicles of Avonlea)
A sweet romance about a man who decides to “take in hand” the wild daughter of his deceased friend. The story sounds deceptively simple and benign, but it’s one of the few that I re-read.

6. “The Genesis of the Doughnut Club” (from Collection No. 5, 1907-1908)
One of the few stories about an “old maid” that doesn’t end in marriage. It’s super-sweet and adorable nonetheless.

7. “The Unhappiness of Miss Farquar” (from Collection No. 2, 1902-1903)
A young woman jilted in love finds unexpected happiness in helping others.

8. “The Young Family Feud” (from Collection No. 5, 1907-1908)
Family feuds are a common theme in Montgomery’s work, but this is one of my favorite versions of the familiar plot.

9. “The Doctor’s Sweetheart” (from Collection No. 5, 1907-1908)
Another sweet romance, although the age difference is a little much, I’ll admit.

10. “By Grace of Julius Caesar” (from Collection No. 5, 1907-1908)
Two women are trapped on a rooftop to avoid a dog—will one of them be forced to marry the dog’s owner to get out of this mess?

11. “The Growing Up of Cornelia” (from Collection No. 5, 1907-1908)
I really liked this one, even if I wasn’t too fond of the ending, which seemed rushed and a tad bit unsatisfying, even if it did end happily.

12. “An Unconventional Confidence” (from Collection No. 2, 1902-1903)
A young girl unburdens her problems to a man while they seek shelter from the rain.

13. “Here Comes the Bride” (from The Road to Yesterday)
Including this one is a bit deceptive because it isn’t one of my favorites at all (too much Blythe name-dropping to please me) but I love the idea: it’s a variety of people’s  inner thoughts during a wedding. What’s so interesting is the varied perspectives—guests, bride & groom, the wedding party—and how some people’s judgments/gossip about certain other people are revealed to be totally wrong once the reader sees their thoughts. It’s an interesting concept, and I’d love to one day try my own hand at using it.

14. “A Sandshore Wooing” (from Collection No. 2, 1902-1903)
To escape the eyes and ears of her man-hating aunt, a young woman can communicate with her suitor only by sign language.

15. “When Jack and Jill Took a Hand” (from Collection No. 4, 1905-1906)
Two ten-year-old’s decide to hurry up the courting between their beloved aunt and the local preacher.  I love that it’s told from their first-person perspectives.

16. “The Conscience Case of David Bell” (from Further Chronicles of Avonlea)
It’s revival time in town, but David Bell, elder, hasn’t gone up to testify once! Judgements and speculations from the congregation abound, but Mr. Bell’s real reason for his silence and strange behavior shames them all.

17. “The Touch of Fate” (from Collection No. 1, 1896-1901)
A matchmaker’s meddling goes awry and separates a young couple.

18. “The Garden of Spices” (from Collection No. 6, 1909-1922)
A young boy escapes his aunt to visit the garden next door.

19. "The Wooing of Bessy” (from Collection No. 4, 1905-1906)
At first glance, this could be simply another of Montgomery’s romances, but the characters are a bit out of the norm. It’s not often that you see an age gap (even a small one) where the woman is older than the man- and it certainly causes a few eyebrows raised in disapproval in this story!

20. “The Dissipation of Miss Ponsonby" (from Collection No. 4, 1905-1906)
A story very similar to one episode in a later Anne book, it’s nevertheless entertaining, about two girls who conspire to help an old maid out of the house and away from her tyrant father’s eagle eye in order to attend a party.

21. “The Redemption of John Churchill” (from Collection No. 4, 1905-1906)
A recently released jailbird is redeemed by the love of his son.

22. “The Unforgotten One” (from Collection No. 4, 1905-1906)
An old nanny is distraught that the family she works for seems completely unconcerned about their first Christmas without a beloved cousin, raised with them like a sibling. But when she visits the woman’s grave, she encounters just how much the family loved the deceased woman.

23. “The Softening of Miss Cynthia” (from Collection No. 3, 1904)
Strict Miss Cynthia has no desire to take in some boy, no thank you. Not even if he is a step-nephew. Nothing can soften her…can it?
  
24. “The Little Black Doll” (from Collection No. 6, 1909-1922)
A young girl tried to make the last days of a servant girl better, even if it means giving up her most prized possession. The ending with the grandmother still bothers me on this one, though.

25. “Kismet” (from Collection No. 1, 1896-1901)
An estranged husband and wife pin their future on a horse race.

     If you’re interested, here are the links to all six short story collections available for free on Amazon. Sadly, many of my favorites are in the Avonlea collections, which to my knowledge are not available for free here, but these still include some good stories. I’ve also included links to my Goodreads reviews.


I shall end by saying a very happy birthday to Lucy Maude Montgomery, and I recommend you all check out the tag at Coffee, Classics, and Craziness to help celebrate the occasion. 

*These stories were also published by Bantam books in paperback form under collection titles such as "Along the Shore," "At the Altar," and "Among the Shadows." However, only owning one of these, I don't know how the stories are distributed among those collections.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Redeeming Prologues

     

     Opening and… a prologue! We have a prologue. Sorry, the story will have to wait. This prologue is sitting here before chapter one, so clearly we need to read it.a blogger’s snarky commentary upon Eragon

     Prologue. The word that’s become a byword of derision and horror. Every reader’s nightmare and bane of existence. Or at least that’s what we’ve been told. It seems like I can’t turn around on a writing website without hearing someone shout from the rooftops, “STAY AWAY FROM PROLOGUES!”

     But guess what? 


care gif

     I like well-written prologues.

     Note that I said “well-written.” Of course there can be badly written ones, but that’s not necessarily the fault of the prologue. No one blacklists climaxes simply because there are badly written ones out there; that would just be ridiculous. Then again, I’d be hard-pressed to find a story where a climax wasn’t necessary, while prologues are optional things.

     I suppose that’s why they are so disdained. They are not, strictly speaking, necessary. Sometimes there are stories with prologues that don’t really need them. I’ve even deleted an unnecessary one from my stories a time or two myself—Hidden Pearls had a prologue when I first wrote it at the age of fourteen. (another reason prologues have a bad reputation might be because a lot of young writers with little experience like to use them, especially in fantasy). However, after the story was finished I realized that the prologue wasn’t doing me any good. It wasn’t adding anything to the story, and the scant bit of foreshadowing it did get across could be used to better effect later in the book.

     Then again, “The Wulver’s Rose” has a prologue, and not only that, but it was my favorite part of the entire story, both to write and to read. (The epilogue is a close second. Maybe because I really enjoyed writing in first person…)

     But prologues are tricky things. I’ve read prologues that were just boring, dry information dumps, and prologues that really should have been labeled “Chapter One.” Some were prologues that literally had no purpose—they didn’t hook me, advance the plot, or give me other information I didn’t find later in the novel. My biggest prologue pet-peeve is when it's simply a random chunk transplanted from somewhere else in the novel, forcing me to later re-read the whole scene.



     So, how do you use prologues? Well, I could just be a cop out and tell you to re-read the above paragraph and figure it out for yourself. The main guideline: prologues need purpose. Don't just throw one in there for the sake of having one. Personally, my favorite way to use them is when a time jump is involved. If there’s something that happened a hundred years before your story begins that’s important to the plot, it may be best to set that scene in a prologue. Or, sometimes the prologue is set in the future. (That one can be a bit trickier to pull off, but it can be done) Prologues can also be used to impart important backstory information, but keep in mind that short, snappy prologues are generally best; long-drawn out (and dry) ones lose the reader's attention quickly. It’s true that prologues should be used with great discretion.

     But that’s not to say that you can’t use them at all.

     And to all those advice-givers who claim that readers skip the prologues?

     I don’t. So there.

(I also, I feel the need to say here that I've never read Eragon, so if you're offended by the linked article highlighting the book's "bad writing," I have no opinion on the subject.)

(Second disclaimer- I'm not entirely sure what book the first picture is from--I think it's from "If I Stay" but I'm not positive. If it is, I haven't read the book/recommend it/endorse it/whatever. It was simply useful to me for aesthetic purposes.)

Saturday, November 7, 2015

The Jane Austen Tag

     I actually wasn't planning on doing this tag because of school and writing (and for the first time in a long while I'm not doing NaNo this year either...that feels weird...) but I impulsively decided to do it today, even though I just did a tag a post or two ago. (Not to fear: I have several long posts coming up. Or, on second thought, maybe that is something to fear)

     Of course, I also just realized that this is actually the last day of Jane Austen week on Naomi's blog. Gee whiz. A day late and a dollar short on that one. :P

I have, therefore, made up my mind to tell you, that I do not want to dance a reel at all — and now despise me if you dare.:


1. On a scale of 1 to 10, how much of a Jane Austen fan do you consider yourself? Well, at one time I would have said "10," but my fanaticism about Jane Austen has mellowed a bit. I still love her, of course, but I'm not rabid about it. I'd say I'm perhaps an 8?

Edmund and Fanny ~ Mansfield Park -:
BBC's Mansfield Park, aka "The movie I thought I would hate but was actually more than halfway tolerable." Or maybe just because the other version I had previously watched was just so unspeakably and horrifically inaccurate....
2. If "they" would make a new Jane Austen Movie, and you would be able to be cast in it, which Jane Austen character would you most like to play? Well, I have had the privilege of playing Mrs. Bennet in performance of P&P once, and that was hysterically fun. As far as main characters go, I think I could have a lot of fun playing Emma Woodhouse.


3. Is there any felicity in the world superior to a walk? Yes- reading.

4. Who's your favourite Jane Austen 'villain'? (As in 'villain' meaning 'the bad guy.') I'm not sure. I suppose I'll go with the crowd and say Willoughby on that one. I don't like him the way a lot of people do, though. 

5. What/Who introduced you to Jane Austen? Myself. Really! Unless you count a few historical fiction books (I don't even remember which ones) that mentioned Jane Austen. I decided I needed to read this lady, if she was as important as history was telling me. So, at the age of 12 I read Pride and Prejudice, and I can honestly say it was one of the best reading experiences I've ever had. A couple years later, friends loaned us a VHS set of the 1995 movie version, and my love of all bonnet movies began.


6. Did you love/enjoy Jane Austen immediately, or has there been a time when you hated (um, prejudged) it? I was shocked by how much I loved Pride and Prejudice, so I immediately dived in to Sense and Sensibility afterward...only to get completely lost and bored. (I was still twelve, after all). It took me another couple of years to try Austen again after that.

7. Who, in your opinion, is the funniest Jane Austen character? I do love Mr. Palmer in the movie version-- but then, it is Hugh Laurie, so that explains much. Also, Mr. Collins- including both film versions.

Pride and Prejudice Mr. Collins...bahahaha:

8. Do you quote Jane Austen randomly in public? I have before, but I'm not in the habit of it.

9. Are children allowed to eat cake on weddings? No, they should save it for the adults. Like me. (I'm kidding. Mostly.)

10. What is your reaction when you hear that an acquaintance (e.g. A lady at Church) of yours loves Jane Austen? Skepticism. Is this a real fan who has actually read more than one Jane Austen book, or some random person who's seen the '05 movie a couple of times?

Austenland
*judges you from behind my book*

11. Who writes better letters, Mr Darcy or Captain Wentworth? (If you forgot what the letters were, shame on you, instead tell me if you prefer Strawberries to Chocolate or not.) Okay...I'm actually not the hugest fan of Persuasion (and it's one JA novel that I've actually only read once) but I did remember being impressed with Captain Wentworth's letter. I should probably read that again, by the way.


12. Which Jane Austen heroine do you relate the least to? I can relate to every heroine at least a little...except for one. Marianne Dashwood. I do not understand Marianne in the least. Elinor, Elizabeth, Fanny, Emma, Catherine, Anne....there's at least one aspect or personality trait of each that I can relate to. Marianne, not so much. Honestly, her view of life and response to things is downright alien to me.

sense and sensibility:

13. What's your favourite Jane Austen house (from one of the movies)? Emma's Hartfield. It's a little big for me (my second choice would be Barton Cottage in S&S) but I really love all the interiors that you get to see in the 2009 film, and I love her house in the Gwenyth Paltrow version, as well. (which, for the record, is my favorite film version of the story, although the 2009 one is a close second)


14. What's your favourite Jane Austen dress (from one of the movies)? I love this one of Elinor's from the BBC version of Sense and Sensibility because it's defnitely something I'd probably wear if I lived in that time period, but I also love all of the outfits in BBC's Emma, as well.



15. Can you turn off lit candles with your fingers? Actually, I've never tried. The next time we have company (which is when we usually light candles) I shall attempt it.

Thank you for this tag, Naomi! And I apologize about my lateness.
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