Happy Deathday, Mr Dahl

The Twirl and Swirl of Letters
Roald Dahl

From Wikipedia. Photograph by Carl Van Vechten

Roald Dahl died 20 years ago today, 23 November 1990.

What can I say about one of my favorite writers that hasn’t been said before?

Roald Dahl, the writer who continues to weave his way through my life. As a child, I loved his books. I wanted powers like Matilda’s. I loved the story of the BFG. My sister had a Book On Tape of it, and we listened to that story on car rides to visit my grandparents or on family vacations. In elementary school, we read James and the Giant Peach during a very long fire drill. As a young child, I read Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator first, and never forgot those Vermicious Knids.

But then I hit that barren wasteland of middle school, where it was no longer cool to love his books. They were kids’ stuff, to be regulated to a far corner, to the back of our minds, to be remembered fondly but never admitted.

High School brought a return to the awesome. My prom theme was Golden Ticket, styled after the Gene Wilder movie Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, complete with golden tickets, candy everywhere, and a (fake) chocolate waterfall. But still, I ignored the books.

Cue sophomore year of college. My roommate, the fantastic Holmes, got a copy of a collection of his adult short stories. She made me read “Genesis and Catastrophe”. I was hooked on the way my stomach felt after reading that story. I began to read more, to crave more. “Lamb to the Slaughter” introduced me to Alfred Hitchcock Presents, and the story “Beware of the Dog” brought me to 36 Hours (a really good thriller).

Through it, I read a book called The Irregulars, about Dahl’s time as a spy during WWII, which subsequently kicked off my interest in the RAF (or may have just helped to spawn it, I’m really unsure of how that came to be).

I’ve read most of his adult stories by this point. When I travel, I bring Over to You, a collection of his RAF stories, with me. It’s a slim book, perfect for sticking into a computer bag. I want to read My Uncle Oswald, a novel about his delightfully devious character of the same name.

Recently, Holmes and I have started rereading some of his children’s books. We recently finished Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. I never realized how delightful of a morality play it is. The evil children all meet their very fitting ends, all receive their punishments in accordance to their crimes. Its delightful how twisted the tale is. In rewatching the Gene Wilder movie, we realized how much it distorts the story, how it takes away from Charlie being such a deserving character. In the movie, he misbehaves as the other children do. And Grandpa Joe is such a bad influence in the movie.

Dahl’s wicked sense of humor appeals to all ages, from the child looking for a creepy bedtime story, to the adult looking for a good gut-twisting story. There’s a magic to his work, an appeal that transcends ages.

In honor of Mr Dahl, I shall be eating chocolate today (a favorite food of his, in fact, he allegedly was buried with some), and reading a portion of Over to You.

Read one of his short stories today. I promise that you won’t be disappointed.

Here’s to many more years enjoying Roald Dahl’s stories, the fantastic, the strange, the heartbreaking, the wicked.

Looking Ahead: Some Goals for 2010

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As 2009 winds down, I turn my thoughts from Christmas dinner (roast beef and English roast potatoes…yum!) and the year ahead. 2009 was a good year and the blank expanse of 2010 is promising (if daunting). I have a few writing goals set for myself.

1. Write one(+) short story a month

Given that my short story production this year was…three…this will be a definite improvement. I hope to write a variety of genres. Fantasy, sci fi, historical, mystery…who knows?

2. Submit work/enter contests

I’ve received some encouragement to submit various short stories to magazines. I’ve wanted to submit my work since high school, but never felt that I was good enough for publication outside of the school literary magazine (and have refrained from my college’s lit mag because my work is so atypical of what they publish). Part of my hesitation is rejection, but I know I’ll have to deal with it. Aim high, fall fast; I have years to improve.

3. Read more

Yes, I need to read more. I always do (I’ve joked about changing the name of the blog to She Reads Too Much). Fortunately, my courses for next semester look like they’ll be chock full of interesting (and informative) reads: I’m taking a course on Dante, Petrarca and Boccaccio along with one on Florentine architecture.

4. Write another novel

I’m going to write the first draft, with hope. Either my pilots or my alt reality WWIIesque Resistance piece. Although this may be pushed aside due to writing my thesis/distinction piece/grad school applications. Though, I do have roughly a month before the semester begins, and two months summer vacation…hmmm…I’ll just have to not let research distract me too much. 😀

Photo (C) Beth

Characters Without a Plot may Apply (the same is true for plots without characters)

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I’ve decided that I’m going to participate in NaNoWriMo this year; however, I’m not going to be working on Per Ardua ad Astra for it. This will leave me free to not feel guilty about writing parts of it now.

Lately, I’ve had a hankering to work on short stories. So? I’m going to write an anthology of shorts. At the moment, I don’t have a particular theme connecting everything. It may be a collection of spec fic shorts. Or maybe a bunch of stories about my pilots. Who knows?

As I haven’t written short stories in a long time, one may end up being a novella. The stories might be flash fiction. They might be traditional shorts. I’m getting rather excited about this. I’ve developed a character sans plot; now, perhaps he’ll get one. Or two. Maybe I’ll be uber-geeky and write a fanfic.

Changing for the sake of simplicity…or greater insanity?

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I’ve been thinking lately about my current WIP, The Continent. My current reading list includes several books on espionage during WWII, and The Resistance for means of inspiration and ideas.

I’m beginning to wonder if my story would be better suited taking place during WWII. Logistically it makes a little more sense, but at the same time it would require dramatic reimagining of different characters, their relationships, etc.

I still want to keep the vaguely sci-fi, alternate universe vibe it has. But how to do it without being ridiculous? And how to write it without TC becoming just another war book?

I’m sure I’ll figure it out in time, with more thought.

Short stories, fairy tales and writer’s block

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They’re slipping from my fingers. Plots, characters, dainty ideas and robust ones. Try as I may, I fear that I cannot hold onto them, or bend them to my will.

As The Continent is still in its planning phases, I decided to work on some short stories and maybe some flash fiction (stories under 1000 words). But as I put my pen to paper, I have nothing.

Could it be that I’m just out of practice? Despite writing daily for over a year (not to mention those years through high school and early college), I haven’t composed much in terms of completed stories, only the novel and three quarters of a rather blah fan fic. I need practice with pulling together a tight story. Why does my Muse abandon me like this?

On the plus side, I’ve decided to do “research”, otherwise known as reading a whole lot, and hoping that some good comes of it. There’s no one quite like Ray Bradbury when it comes to short stories.