Diabolical Plots is giving away one free copy of Shadows of the Emerald City. Do you want to enter? It’s very simple. All you have to do is reply to this topic and name your character from any Oz-related media. (That’s the land of Oz, not the Oz TV show that takes place in a prison). We’ll pick a winner at random from those who respond.
You have until Monday 10/26/2009 at midnight CST to enter. If you’ve already paid for the special discount offer, then you can still enter–we’ll just refund your money if you win.
J.W. Schnarr writes horror stories from his home base of Calgary.Â He has been published in a variety of places, including Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine, Night of the Giving Dead, and Midnight Echo, to name just a few.Â As if that wouldn’t keep him busy enough, he is also the evil mastermind behind Northern Frights Publishing, an Indie publisher specializing in small market genre fiction and non-fiction.Â Hot off the press:Â Shadows of the Emerald City, an anthology of horror short stories related to The Wizard of Oz.Â The anthology has experienced a slight delay in release date, but will hopefully be available on Amazon in the next day or two.
If you’re not sure if you want to read the anthology, check out the reviews so far:
Apex rates it as 5 stars, and says she liked every story, a rare thing indeed.
Senses Five mentions my story, “The Utility of Love” as the first of the must-reads in the antho.
You can follow Mr. Schnarr through his blog.Â To find out more about Northern Frights Press, visit their website or become a fan on Facebook.
David Steffen: Shadows of the Emerald City is the first anthology Northern Frights has published. Â If you had to do it all over again, what would you do differently?
JW Schnarr: There are a TON of things I would do differently. This has been a huge learning curve for me. We had issues with software, contracts, correspondance, editing…the list goes on and on. I knew it was going to be like this though, and I got some great advice from A.P. Fuchs at Coscom Entertainment and Jacob Kier at Permuted Press. The ultimate goal for this anthology was to put out a book people would be interested in reading while ironing out the dozens of little hitches and problems that pop up during the birthing process.
David: What kinds of unique challenges has small press publishing provided?
JW: For me, most of those challenges came on the business end of things. I’m also flying pretty much solo, as I think a lot of Indies are. That creates all kind of challenges with the work needed to put a book together. It seemed never ending for about two months…and then one day I looked up and realized I could see the finish line. Also, trying to put a marketing plan together on a budget has been a challenge. I imagine all Indie publishers have similar challenges facing them: the biggest one is simply cutting through the glut of books being published to reach our audience.
David: Since NFP doesn’t have a huge marketing department, how have you market it?
JW: I’ve been doing a bit of viral marketing through social networking sites, and keeping discussions going in places like facebook and on forums. A large part of my plan has been reviews, and getting the word out that way. I think reviews are a really helpful marketing tool because it exposes people to the books while giving them in depth information and honest opinions on whether the book is worth finding or not.
David: How did the submissions for Shadows of the Emerald City compare with your expectations, in quantity, quality, subject material?
JW: Well, first off, there was a lot more porn in my inbox than usual. I had a bunch of submissions where writers had turned poor Dorothy into a sexual deviant…of all persuasions. It was really entertaining, but many of the stories fell short in just one or two little things and were swept away by more rounded tales.
I really had a lot more content than I thought we were going to get as well–I guess the subject matter set off a lot of matches in people’s heads. In the end, I had over 70 stories to choose from, all good, but unfortunately not all could make it. It really surpassed my expecations on all fronts, as far as quality, quantity, AND subject material.
David: How did you choose the theme?Â Why the Wizard of Oz?
JW: You know, I can’t say for certain when exactly I decided on this theme. The idea had been bouncing around for a little while, but I didn’t know all the ins and outs of Public Domain use until I really started researching. At one point I was actually deciding on whether to try this with Alice in Wonderland instead, but with the movie coming out I was kind of worried that the book would get snowed under and lost amidst all the hype of the movie.
NFP Anthologies are all going to be themed, and I really think an entertaining niche can be filled by letting writers explore the worlds of some of the most influential minds in the last hundred years or so. And hopefully some people went back and read some of Baum’s work in the process of creating new parts to his world. From the subject matter and responses I got, I know they did. Other publishers may be doing Zombies…We’re going a step further and bringing dead authors back to life.
David: Why did you start Northern Frights Press?Â What are your goals for NFP?
JW: NFP has its roots in a business plan I made up about a year ago to publish and market my own books. At some point I realized that I could easily turn the project into an Indie Press, something I’ve wanted to do since I was in high school. I love writing, but in College I realized I also loved editing and publishing as well. This has been a perfect mix for me, and allowed me to justify spending all that money on college getting a journalism arts diploma.
My goals for NFP center around a two year business plan where I’ll be growing our product base and getting the word out with new anthologies, novels, and electronic release in the coming months. NFP is going to continue to refine the publishing process, put out quality work from quality writers, and hopefully become a presence in the convention scene at some point. if, along the way, I can earn enough money to take a day off or two from drywalling, well, then it will have all been worth it.
David: After Shadows, what next?Â What’s the next theme?
JW: The next two themes are actually linked. Both are taken from classic science fiction written by the great H.G. Wells–War of the Worlds, and The Time Machine. I’ve gotten Artist Gavro Krackovic back to do these covers (he did the cover for Shadows of the Emerald City) and we’re currently exploring some ideas on how the books should look. I’m giving him the full covers to work with this time, so expect something amazing, front and back.
War of the Worlds: Front Lines will have a harder sci-fi/horror edge to it and focus on the wars between humanity and alien forces…not just the H.G. Wells aliens, but all aliens. And the stories will hopefully take place on as many different fronts and battlefields as can be imagined.
Timelines: Stories Inspired by H.G. Well’s The Time Machine is going to be a softer science fiction collection. I’m picturing dark, moody or introspective pieces, as well as the kind of horror that sneaks up on you. Hopefully these two books will compliment each other in style, and the covers will reflect that.
David: At what point in your life did you realize you wanted to be a writer?
JW: I was very young when I started writing. However it wasn’t until I was 12 or 13 that something happened that made me start thinking seriously about a life as a writer. We were doing a writing assignment in English class, and I remember I wrote some little thing about a monster hiding in a row of bushes that attacks a boy dropping his date off at her home. The teacher made me read it to the class, and just as I reached the part of the story where the creature reached out and grabbed the kid by the throat my teacher roared and scared the living piss out of the entire class. When I looked up, among all the babble and excited laughing there was this underlying realization that I actually had their attention, and they understood what I was trying to convey. This is a classic reader/author relationship of course, but at the time it was all new to me. I was hooked right there.
David: If you had one piece of advice to give aspiring writers, what would it be?
JW: READ!!! Read everything you can get your hands on. I have met too many writers who say they have no time for reading and can’t understand why their work isn’t growing the way it should. Honestly how can you expect to write well if you never read? Would you expect a musician who never listened to a note of music to be able to compose? Every published story and novel out there has a little blueprint in it for publishing your own stories and novels. Learn from those who have come and gone before you. Eventually you’ll start seeing the successful things they did with their work and be able to apply those things to your own.
David: What was the last book you read?
JW: At the moment I’m digging through The Encyclopedia of Mass Murder (research for my novel) but recently I read The Time Traveler’s Wife and it was fantastic. I don’t usually go for love stories, but there was enough science fiction in there to keep things interesting. I’ve been on a bit of a literary kick this year, stepping out of my more familiar stomping grounds of horror and golden age sci fi and picking up things like The Life of Pi and The Kite Runner. maybe I’m just turning into a suck.
David: Your favorite book?
JW: Tough call. I am Legend or The Hellbound Heart maybe, though both were novellas. My favourite book for years was Blue World by Robert R. MacCammon, but I’d feel like a traitor if I didn’t include a Stephen King or Poppy Z. Brite novel. There are so many good ones, it’s really too hard to decide on one.
David: Who is your favorite author?
JW: See answer above. Can I make a list? If so, it goes like this, in no order: Clive Barker, Richard Matheson, Poppy Z. Brite, Stephen King, Ray Bradbury, H.P. Lovecraft, Robert R. MacCammon. Right below this unholy alliance of writers there are probably several hundred waiting in the wings to take over a top spot.
David: What was the last movie you saw?
JW: Transformers 2! there’s a cheapo theater right by my house that shows movies like a month or two before they hit the video shelves, and for 20 bucks we can get movie passes, popcorn, and drinks…and she gets skittles. The theater is a grungy little thing that attracts all kinds of unsavoury people, but it has a feel to it that you can’t get anywhere else except in Forest Lawn, Calgary. Anyway, I thought the movie was alright, I tried not to think about the plot too much and focused on the robots instead.
As for recent DVDs I’ve watched, I picked up used copies of The Unborn and Last House on the Left…I probably could have spent my money better elsewhere. I was looking forward to Last House, but I watched the unrated version and the five hour long rape scene in the middle of the movie really pissed me off to the point where I didn’t really care what happened to anyone after that. Seriously when did that become entertainment? The Unborn was kind of fun…Monster and I made a game of picking out the continuity errors, and there seemed to be a lot of them.
David: What is your favorite movie?
JW: Conan the Barbarian. I can recite the entire movie line for line. I can even drop the music ques and horse/sword noises, if you want. I’ve probably watched it 200 times. People think it’s cheesey but it really captured a great feel for Howard’s writing…it’s moody and bleak, and enough blood gets spilled to fill a swimming pool. Plus, James Earl Jones as a Demigod in control of a doomsday cult? That’s two words: Awe. SOME!!!
David: Do you have any upcoming publications?
JW: Well the ones mentioned already are coming out in the next few months. Shadows and Light (Pill Hill Press) is out already I believe, and ASIM and Midnight Echo are both October issues, so those should be right around the corner if they’re not out yet. As work on Shadows of the Emerald City intensified I was kind of forced to put my short stories on hold, but there will be more coming soon! I promise!
David: Can you tell us about any works in progress?
JW: Currently I have two projects on the go. I’m working on a novel called Alice and Dorothy that answers the question: What if Alice Pleasance and Dorothy Gale were two real people who met and fell in love in a mental institution? It was originally my cast off idea for Shadows of the Emerald City and I realized I could tell the story as like a rock n’ roll style highway novel with lots of drugs, shooting and hot lesbian sex. I’m also putting together a short story collection of mostly previously published work. I’ll be adding some new stories of course, and those will both be on the ground running in the Spring of 2010.
David: Thank you for taking the time to answer some questions, JW.
JW: Anytime! Remember kids: Support Indie Press! Show some love so we can continue to love you back!
My guest today is Cat Rambo, fantasy and science fiction writer and editor of Fantasy Magazine, a market recognized as being professional by SFWA (Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America). Check out her website at http://www.kittywumpus.net and check out Fantasy Magazine’s website at http://www.fantasy-magazine.com
David Steffen: Cat, thanks for coming. I really appreciate you taking the time for this interview.
Cat, what plots or types of stories are you tired of seeing?
Cat Rambo: I am tired of seeing retold fairy tales that don’t do anything new with the fairy tale, where they just kind of say, okay I’m going to retell Cinderella but it’s going to be a shopping sale at the mall and don’t do anything new with that.
I have a great fondness for sword and sorcery. I grew up reading sword and sorcery. I read Fritz Lieber and C.L. Moore and a lot of Michael Moorcock, but I think there again you have to do something new for me to be interested. I get a lot of stories that are sort of Conan the Barbarian revisited but they’re not as good as Robert E. Howard. Unless you are as good as Robert E. Howard it’s probably best for writers to steer their way away from that.
David: Do you prefer certain subgenres of fantasy such as urban fantasy, contemporary fantasy, high fantasy, etc?
Cat: I love urban fantasy. Paradoxically enough, given how much of it is out there, I don’t get a lot of good urban fantasy. I like stories that tend to work on more than one level. We have, for example, a story that was very popular with our readers last year, Elena Gleason’s Erased, which I was just looking at again. That story on one level is about someone’s boyfriend who is invisible and what do you do when you’re confronted with an invisible boyfriend. But on the other hand, at a deeper level, it’s about what do you do in a relationship when the other person is vanishing. So I like the stories that work on more than one level. The stories where you go away and you find yourself thinking about later and think “Oh, yeah, okay, it works like this too.”
David: Are there any big changes on the horizon for Fantasy Magazine?
Cat: Oh, onward and upward for Fantasy Magazine. We have a web comic that will be appearing soon. We have been reorganizing and getting a lot of people in to drive individual areas like TV or books, and comics. So there’s going to be a lot. We’re hoping to up the amount of content to put out something interesting at least two or three times a day.
David: Can you elaborate about the web comic?
Cat: It’s a fantasy comic based on a setting that will be familiar to a lot of our readers, which is inside a fantasy role-playing game.
David: Are there any features coming up in Fantasy Magazine that you’re particularly looking forward to?
Cat: Right now we’re running a series called “Game-mastering NPCs”. The first of the five part series was just posted last week, talking about the importance of NPCs (non-player characters) to a roleplaying game campaign. Also, I’m particularly looking forward to some articles by Genevieve Valentine.
David: Which were you first, a writer or an editor?
Cat: First and foremost, always a writer.
David: Do you think that being an editor has changed the way you write?
Cat: Not really. It’s one more thing nibbling at my writing time. I think every writer experiences that in some form or another.
David: Has being an editor provided you with extra skills that have been useful as a writer?
Cat: Yes. One thing about reading slush is that it gives you greater confidence in your own writing. It has really driven home the importance of making the first paragraphs of a story draw the reader in.
David: Has the economic crisis impacted the magazine at all?
Cat: Not really. Previously we hadn’t been drawing in as much advertising revenue as we could have. We’re making an effort to do better in that respect, so we may actually be doing better now than before.
David: SFWA added Fantasy Magazine to their list of professional markets earlier this year. Has this sparked any change in submissions, either quantity or quality?
Cat: Yes, in both respects. We’re getting 500-600 submissions a month now, as well as seeing submissions from some pro writers we hadn’t seen before. It’s been a good thing we have the new online submission process, which speeds things up significantly.
David: I have noticed in my submissions a large reduction in turnaround time since the new online submissions system was set up. How exactly does that system make things faster?
Cat: We were just using Gmail before, so every couple weeks we had to check the junk folder just to make sure that things weren’t getting lost there. And there was stuff bouncing every once in a while. Someone’s spam filter would eat our stuff. So it just makes it a lot easier to track what’s going on and you’ve got a system also where we can see which slushreader is reading and who is slacking and go prod them. *laughs*
David: What are your personal pet peeves when reading stories?
Cat: Personal pet peeves? In terms of the stories or in terms of the way they’re presented?
David: Like little grammar mistakes that you see too often, things like that.
Cat: Oh, “its” and “it’s” drives me nuts. I taught composition a few times and I always tell students that is the one error that will get under my skin. Its/it’s and they’re/their/there. Nowadays we have spellchecker, so there’s really no excuse for having too many actual misspellings but we still see alot of the it’s/its.
David: How about other things that bother you. For instance, some editors really dislike reading stories that begin with the character waking up.
Cat: I don’t like the beginnings that start out with kind of two heads talking in space where there’s no sense of location and you don’t know what’s going on. I don’t like beginnings that aren’t well-grounded and give us a sense of the story world.
I don’t like the endings, not so much the beginnings, where someone wakes up as the endings and is “Oh my God it was all a dream.” And it’s like “Oh, come on!”
David: It sort of makes you wonder “Why did I spend my time reading this?”
Cat: That’s it, it insults the reader: “Ha ha I tricked you and you wasted all your time.” I don’t like stories that take the “I’m cleverer than you approach” to the reader.
David: I’ve heard that some editors like a little humor, but so many people have different views on what’s funny. How do you judge a humorous piece in submission to Fantasy or do you generally steer clear of humor pieces?
Cat: I like humor. I love a good funny story. I love, for example, the Terry Pratchett books which I think are just wonderful, or the Jasper Ford Tuesday Next stories. I like humorous pieces that don’t depend on cliches. If it’s a joke that’s been told before, I’ve heard it before, so I don’t really want those. Good humor is very hard to write and it’s far too scarce in the submission pile.
David: What was the last book you read?
Cat: It was a really cool Japanese murder-myster that Ann Vandermeer turned me onto. I just did a workshop with her and she recommended it. It’s titled “Out”, written by Natsuo Kirino.
David: Your favorite book?
Cat: I will go with a classic and say Thomas Mallory’s Le Morte D’Arthur which is one of my desert island books.
David: Who is your favorite author?
Cat: I will be slightly pretentious and say James Joyce because I do love what James Joyce does with language.
David: What was the last movie you saw?
Cat: We went and saw The Hangover which I thought was a lot of fun. We love Zach Galifianakis. We’d seen him in a documentary called the Comedians of Comedy and he was so hysterical in that.
David: I saw that last week as well. There are a few moments in that movie that are sure to be nominated for the MTV Movie Awards’ WTF award.
Cat: *laughs*. It just had so many moments like that where you were just like “Oh my god where are they going to go with this”
I kind of want to go so Land of the Lost simply because I loved it when I was a kid. I like Will Ferrell but I”m just not sure the combination is going to work. I like Will Ferrell. I have liked him in a great many things, and then I have seen him in many things where I’ve said “Well okay that’s not as interesting as it could be.”
David: What is your favorite movie?
Cat: I really love the Wizard of Oz.
David: I just wrote a story specifically for a Wizard of Oz horror anthology called Shadows of the Emerald City.
Cat: Oh cool, what a neat idea. I had just been reading John Kessel’s The Baum Plan for Financial Independence. Which I think kind of pokes gentle fun at the economics of Oz which is kind of a funny way to do it.
David: Do you have any upcoming publications that you’d like to tell us about?
Cat: Indeed I do. I have a collection coming out with Paper Golem Press. The title is “Eyes like Sky and Coal and Moonlight.”
David: That’s a catchy title.
Cat Rambo: That’s the title story.
David: Is it a collection of reprinted stories or all-new writing?
Cat: I think It’s about half and half, there is about 50 percent new stuff, and a couple Strange Horizons stories, and the Weird
Tales stories. Kind of the best stuff that’s appeared in publication. I’m really happy about that, because somethings appears in small magazines then sort of vanishes like a leaf on the wind. It’s nice to get a chance to put stories I’m really pleased with out in front of folks.
David: If you could give only one piece of advice to aspiring writers trying to get published, what would it be?
Cat: Be persistent. More than anything else you have to cultivate the hide of a rhinoceros, put your head down and keep plugging away.
David: Do you have any works in progress you’d like to tell us about?
Cat: I am finishing up a young adult novel called Phat Fairy. It is my reaction in some ways to reading the Twilight series.
David: What did you think of the Twilight series?
Cat: I thought that they were decently written but I thought they were just an appalling message for young women. You have this utterly passive heroine whose main motivation is nailing her man. I really didn’t think they were a good message for young women at all. I have a goddaughter who will at some point be reading YA fiction, so I wanted to make sure there was at least one book out there with a healthier message. Though I am not trying to write a message-driven book either.
David: Thank you for taking the time to answer some questions, Cat, and letting us get a glimpse into Cat’s world of writing and editing. Also, thanks to Frank Dutkiewicz, Brad Torgerson, and Gary Cuba for your contributions to this interview.
Stay tuned for more interviews! I’ve got a full schedule, at two interviews a month, lined up through mid-October!
When I read L. Frank Baum’s original The Wizard of Oz, his description of the Emerald City got me thinking. In that version of the Wizard of Oz, there was a city law mandating that all people entering the city must have sunglasses attached to their head. The shades literally locked over your ears (though they seemed to not notice the fact that the tin man and scarecrow don’t really have ears). The stated reason they gave for this was that the emerald city was so dazzling that you needed to wear the sunglasses or you would be blinded. Inside the city, everything was green, green buildings, green clothes, green horses, green-skinned people, everything. They even get Dorothy a green dress. Well, they have their audience with the Wizard and everything, and then leave the city, having the shades removed at the gate and Dorothy is surprised to find out that her dress has changed to white. Later they find out that the shades weren’t just shades, they were tinted green! The city wasn’t really as green as it claimed to be, but everyone thought it was because they were wearing green sunglasses! Now, there’s some inherent flaws in this whole plotline, such as the fact that they didn’t notice that each other turned green as well.
Anyway, imagine a race that grew up in such a world, where they were forced to wear green shades all the time. It’s sort of a specialized way of being color blind. It’s still monochrome, but instead of seeing in shades of gray, it’s shades of green.
But the most interesting thing would be the question of what happens when you take an adult, who’s lived their life in a green world, out of that world and let them see the full spectrum. The first question, and an interesting one, is whether they would be able to see the other colors at all. I took a psychology class in college, and one of the random tidbits I remember from it is that vision isn’t inherently built into our systems. It is learned through experience. They explained one experiment in which they put polarized glasses on a kitten and kept them on it for the first couple months of its life (probably not ethical these days, but the results are interesting nonetheless). When they finally took the glasses off, the kitten couldn’t see light that was polarized in the other direction! It had never seen that kind of light so its brain never learned to process it. I don’t recall if the cat developed the full optical abilities later in its life, but I think animals have to learn pretty early.
So along these same lines, would people who grew up in the Emerald City be able to see other colors at all? I don’t think they would. What would they see instead? Would they see everything, but shifted into the greenscale? Would non-green things be essentially invisible to them, hiding in giant blindspots? I’m curious.
Let’s assume that they’re physiologically and mentally capable of processing the full range of colors. Can you imagine what a wondrous time it would be, just taking them for a walk, showing them multicolored flowers, seeing songbirds, or even a rainbow? It would be like a drug! They would never want to go back to the Emerald City again! And if they did, and they told their friends about colors, their friends would laugh and think them crazy!
Would a monochrome society develop any differently than a full-color society? At least some areas would. Art would be viewed very differently. Florists would probably have much less demand. Marketing people would have to rely on other tactics rather than color of packaging. I’m sure there are many other ways. Can you think of any others?
Would people as individuals develop any differently?
Now, this idea was covered in some extent by the movie Pleasantville, but in a rather different way. In that movie, the main characters enter a classic 50s TV show, which is of course in black and white, and are stuck there for a while. But that is really a different thing. That society didn’t develop that way, it was an artificial construct by entertainment censoring standards in the 50s, as well as the lack of the development of color TV technology at the time. It wasn’t forced on them by their government, it was just how the artificial world was fabricated. Along with the lack of color were other oddities, such as no one being aware of sex, or toilets, or reading, and firemen that didn’t do anything but rescue kitties from trees. When color started bleeding into the world, it represented a loss of innocence, which some people thought was a good thing and others thought was a bad thing. It’s a great movie, but again, it’s usage of color is rather different than the Emerald Citizen concept. Emerald Citizens are otherwise normal people, knowing of copulation and defacation and firefighting.
In The Matrix, there’s at least one mention of Oz–not surprising of course with the parallel world analogy. But another parallel that might not be so obvious is that the cities inside the matrix tend to all be tinted green, as though seen through a green filter, just like the Emerald City. And in both cases, the populace is largely controlled by an uncaring dictator who controls them by misleading them.
Also, a friend pointed out an interesting side effect that might be visible to Emerald Citizens when they first see the outside world, assuming they are physiologically capable of seeing other colors. When you look at one color or image too long, then when you close your eyes or look away you often see an afterimage, everything still in the same place but with all the colors inverted to their negative–black becomes white, green becomes red, etc… So these people might see everything in tints of red for a while until their eyes cope and adjust.
On a related side-story, I took a car trip with my older brother a decade or so ago. I wasn’t old enough to drive yet, so he did all the driving, and I tended to be lulled to sleep by the sound of the engine. On more than one occasion I woke up to find the whole world was tinted green! The effect faded after a few seconds or a minute, and then everything was normal again. It was bizarre! I recently found out that it was probably just another afterimage. I must have been sleeping in direct sunlight so that the sun glowed red through my eyelids. After hours of red exposure, I woke up, and opened my eyes, and everything was tinted green–the negative of the red filter provided by my eyelids. Crazy stuff. 🙂
While writing a story for JW SChnarr’s Shadows of the Emerald City horror anthology, I began to wonder why people assume the Witch of the West is the villain? I thought the same as a child, but looking back at that movie I don’t understand why she is seen as the villain at all. It can’t just be the maniacal laughter and green skin, can it? I’ve known several very nice people with laughs that could scrape the paint off a wall, but that doesn’t make them evil. And to discriminate based on green skin? I’d like to assume the makers of the movie weren’t selling a racist agenda in their children’s movie. I should note that the Witch in the original book did not have green skin, but she was described as being very very old, homely and having only one eye, so it could still be that she was assumed to be the villain just because she was unattractive or very old.
Let’s look at both sides, witch vs. wizard:
The Wizard is in a position of power where he has spent a lifetime misleading the public and frightening his citizens into submission. A little girl from a far-off land approaches him, asking for assistance, and his response is to send her on a mission to kill his most dangerous adversary. In return he makes promises that he’s incapable of keeping, giving snake oil presents to Dorothy’s helpers and then escaping before fulfilling his promise to Dorothy. His only explanation is: “I’m not a bad man, only a bad wizard.” That’s a terribly weak excuse considering the magnitude of his crimes. The Wizard escapes without providing his promised payment AND without paying for his crimes, and we think the story ends happily?
The Witch: The Witch’s eastern counterpart is dispatched without warning by a powerful child adversary who claims she didn’t mean to do it. But of course, that’s exactly what any child-assassin would say in that circumstance. And honestly, when was the last time an intact house fell out of the sky by coincidence? And if it were an accident, what are the odds that it would land on the Wicked Witch of the East? The Witch would be a fool to believe Dorothy at her word. Then, despite the child-assassin’s claims of innocence, the girl accepts a mission from the Witch’s greatest adversary to go kill the Witch. How can anyone fault the Witch for trying to kill Dorothy? It’s clearly self defense! Even in the moments of her death, the Witch has no reason to question her own judgment–somehow the girl knew her one weakness and used it with no hesitation. Dorothy claimed it was an accident, but again, what are the odds of that?
In a discussion with writer Jeanne Tomlin about this topic, she said the following:
“It’s hard to separate this subject from the very real persecution of women that witch hunts in Europe covered up. What you are looking at and questioning is some pretty basic sexism. Any time a female creature (especially in a Disney movie) wants power, then she is by definition evil since power by rights belongs to males. Blech. I prefer to concentrate on less depressing parts of fantasy.”
While there probably is some degree of sexism at play here, particularly since the source material was written over a hundred years ago, I don’t think that’s the whole picture.
If I had to pick who was the most powerful character in the story, I would say it was Glinda, yet she’s not portrayed as evil. She plays a positively depicted female in power, despite her ridiculous bubbly voice, and her unfortunate fashion sense (was that pink monstrosity of a dress EVER in style?). She’s the only one who is shown using magic of her own, even if she does show it by riding around in a bubble. The Wizard’s magic is smoke and mirrors, and the Wicked Witch of West seems to have no magic, save through magical mediums: the broom, the crystal ball, the monkeys. Glinda is the only one who shows any inherent magic, and she’s the only one who can determine the magical nature of the slippers. If sexism were the only agenda here, I think Glinda would be portrayed differently.
Glinda and Dorothy are both portrayed very positively, but every single major male character has a major flaw that mars his character: the heartless, the brainless, the cowardly, and the impotent. Granted, it may be a stretch to call the Tin Man and the Scarecrow male, but they were referred to with male pronouns in the book, and were played by male actors for the movie.
It seems to me that the sexism of Witch vs. Wizard is perhaps not so much a fault with the filmmakers, but is due to assumptions made by the viewers. Looking at it objectively, it seems very clear to me that the Wizard is the villain because of his behavior.
What do you think? Do you think the Witch is the real villain, or the Wizard, and why?
Wicked, the novel by Gregory Maguire
(the review of the musical is much further down)
Let me start by saying how much I love the land of Oz. I’ve always been fascinated by Oz, and by Wonderland, ever since I was a kid. I don’t know what it is about these strange parallel worlds that fascinates me so much. Maybe it’s because they were some of the first really speculative stories I was exposed to as a child. In any case, anything in either of these universes is almost an automatic hit with me, but Maguire has managed to write the only Oz story I’ve ever hated.
I read Wicked a few years ago, and hated it. Then I saw the play last year and LOVED it. I decided to give the book another try, just in case I’d been wrong. Nope, I still hated it. The book has almost nothing at all to do with the play, other than sharing the same characters and a couple settings.
For those of you aren’t familiar with the premise of the book, it’s a retelling of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz from a new point of view–the Wicked Witch of the West. He attempts to explain why the witch is perceived as wicked, how she came to own the west, how she came to be called a witch, etc… Honestly, with a premise this great, how could I not like it? I have plenty of reasons.
The book is split into several sections, each basically covering a portion of Elphaba’s life (Elphaba is the Witch of the West’s name). But it often seemed like all the important events were occurring off-camera. We see part of Elphaba’s life, then it skips 5-7 years between sections, then Maguire works the events of those years into pace-killing infodump summary that made me want to skip ahead. Then repeat, repeat, repeat.
Not only that, but each section introduced a whole new cast of characters–who for the most part were not seen either before or after that section. So I felt like any characterization of them was just a waste of time.
Sure, there were a few major events that happen on-camera, but even those were hard to get into. Part of it was the head-hopping. The predominant style these days is to choose a single POV character for each section/chapter of a book, and stick entirely with that character. I think this is a very positive trend, because I think it can be so much more immersive. I like to see the world through the eyes of the character using the narration as a lens. It’s a hard thing to do as a writer–trust me, I know–but it’s a worthy goal, a writer’s Everest. But the head-hopping in this book killed any potential it had. By head-hopping I mean that the point of view (POV) jumped from person to person within the scene. Elphaba would mentally describe Glinda for a paragraph, and then suddenly Glinda would mentally describe Elphaba, etc… I find it distracting.
And Maguire’s use of sex constantly annoyed me. Now, I’m no prude when it comes to sex in stories, but the sex has to serve a purpose just like everything else. It has to carry its weight. Sex can be a great tool for characterization, showing motivation, exploring relationships between characters. But instead of using sex to enhance the characters and plot, Maguire’s uses sex like pink flamingo lawn ornaments–it’s only effect is to distract and annoy. You can’t go a chapter without the subject coming up in the strangest of places. Perhaps it’s a countercomment on the total lack of sex in the film and book? I don’t know. A way to ensure that it didn’t end up on the kid’s rack? Could be. For instance, about 1/3 of the way through the book, many of the characters go to the Philosopher’s Club, a cultish sex club reminscent of Eyes Wide Shut. But neither Glinda nor Elphaba went in. Boq the munchkin, who had been a major character in the prior section, went in, but we barely see him for the rest of the book. Fiyero, the Winkie who becomes Elphaba’s only love, goes in but he seems unaffected by his experiences inside there. Crope (or is it Tibbet?) goes in, and gets some kind of STD and wastes away from it, but he’d always been a minor character. On the subject of Crope and Tibbet, both of those two were just token homosexual characters with no individual personality, as if they were an afterthought to meet some sort of equal rights requirement from his publisher. I got the impression we were supposed to gasp at the idea of homosexuals in Oz, but no effort was made to make them into real characters.
And the premise of this book is for us to try to understand the Witch better, right? Well, by the end of the book she’s actually more despicable than I had thought she was in the movie/original book. In the movie/book, I think the Wizard is the villain, not the Witch. Think about it. A little girl goes to the Wizard for help. He says he’ll help, but only if the little girl acts as an assassin and goes to kill the Witch. Dorothy doesn’t want to do it, but feels she has no choice. After that, the Witch’s actions are all self-defense. She knows Dorothy is her intended assassin–what is she supposed to do, sit and wait for her to come and kill her? We as viewers know that Dorothy could never intentionally kill anybody.
But in Wicked, what really convinces me that she’s a bad person is how she treats her son. She’s not entirely sure he’s her son (long story), but when she leaves the convent (another long and uninteresting story) the other nuns make her take the child with her. The narration makes it very clear that he is her son, referring to Fiyero as the father, etc, so we know he is. But whether or not he’s her biological son is beside the point. He’s her responsibility either way because she’s accepted custody of him. But she totally ignores him. She has no idea where he sleeps (on the floor in one of the children’s rooms), what he eats, what he does (lives in constant torment by the other children). He’s so unloved that he will do anything for approval, including getting kicked around by the cruel other children. Elphaba sees this and doesn’t care, nor does she lift a finger to stop it. One day Liir (the boy) is playing hide and seek with the other children, and one of them convinces him to hide in the fishwell, where he can’t get out on his own. Then the kid leaves him there where he sits for DAYS and almost dies. During this time Elphaba doesn’t even realize he’s gone! It’s this that really convinces me she’s a villain. I liked some other aspects of it, but this is what really made me hate her. I couldn’t like anyone who treated their own child that way.
Apparently somebody liked the book, because it’s already spawned two sequels, “Son of a Witch”, which I’m assuming is about Liir, and I saw a new one about the cowardly lion.
Wicked the musical
As far as I’m concerned, the only good thing that came of Wicked the book is that it gave someone the idea to make Wicked the musical. This play is great! I like musicals in general, and this was better than average. It was everything the book should have been. Instead of being a meandering, slow-moving plot about a despicable character, it tells us about an Elphaba that I can actually relate to. The play is much more focused on the relationship between Glinda and Elphaba, which gave it a much stronger core. In the book, the two were only anywhere near each other in one section. The musical is focused around both of them, starting at Shiz, the college they both went to, and progressing to their meeting of the Wizard. From there, their paths diverge, but they are still both relatable. They both want to change the world, but Glinda tries to do so by society-approved advancement through government, and Elphaba tries her own radical ways. We already know how this works out for them, of course, but I still rooted for Elphaba because she was clearly a good person at heart with a good cause.
There are a lot of amazing songs in the soundtrack. Particularly noteworthy are “What is this Feeling?” where Galinda (it’s spelled Galinda in the early scenes where she insists on an aristocratic air, and Glinda in the later scenes where she’s more down to Earth) and Elphaba profess their immediate loathing for each other and “Popular” where Galinda gives Elphaba a much-needed makeover. Galinda/Glinda was played by Kristin Chenoweth on Broadway, who some people might know as Olive Snook on the now-cancelled TV series Pushing Daisies. She deserves special mention because she plays such an amazing Glinda the Good Witch. Spot-on, the voice, the look, everything is perfect. I didn’t actually see her in the part but she did an amazing job on the soundtrack, and she is perfectly suited for it. Also good songs are “The Wizard and I” sung by Elphaba, and “A sentimental Man” sung by the Wizard. Some of the lyrics were very impressive with their clever rhyming. For instance, the Wizard: “There are very few at ease with moral ambiguities…” And Glinda: “Don’t be offended by my frank analysis. Think of it as personality dialysis. Ever since I’ve become a pal, a sis–ter, and advisor, there’s nobody wiser. One slight pause in the middle of sister and it all works.
Now, I should note that the play deviated from every other version in major ways. It wasn’t particularly faithful to any of the other renditions. But the ways it veered off the beaten path were so compelling, and they made such sense with the world of Oz that I didn’t mind at all.
For one thing, the origin story of the scarecrow and the tin man were totally different, but the way they were changed tied them very closely to Elphaba’s story. Their original backstories were fine for the original book, because they didn’t have to be tied closely together to the witch.
The Tin Man in this rendition turns out to be Boq. While they’re in school Boq has a crush on Galinda, but she convinces him to take pity on Elphaba’s sister Nessarose, because Nessa’s in a wheelchair. He asks her out, and then never has the nerve to break it off. She becomes mayor of Munchkinland to the East, and eventually labeled the Wicked Witch of the East. She’s so afraid that he’ll leave her that she never lets him leave, always keeping him cooped up even though he wants to travel. He feels smothered, and one day during an argument between Nessa and Elphaba his heart gives out on him. Elphaba tries to save his life, and using the Grimmery, the magic book given to her by the Wizard, which she barely understands, she tries to find a spell that will save him. Instead of healing him, the spell changes him to a form where he doesn’t need a heart at all–the Tin Man.
The Scarecrow turns out to be Fiyero. He is engaged to Galinda for quite some time, and works in the military for the Wizard. But he defects in order to save Elphaba’s life. He’s captured by a troop of soldiers and they carry him away. Elphaba casts another spell to try to save his life, casting a spell that his bones may never break, that he’ll never die, and will not feel pain. Thus he became the scarecrow.
The Nessarose portrayed in the book and the play are totally different in almost every way. They’re both crippled, but with totally different disabilities. In the book, she has no arms. This makes her very dependent on other people–she can’t even walk unless someone helps her balance. While in the play she’s in a wheelchair. Book–she’s a religious zealot, following the religion of her father, but using it to become a Tyrant in the East. I couldn’t find anything about that Nessa to like. Play–she’s very sweet and it’s easy to feel bad about her bad fortune in life. It’s very sweet when Boq asks her out to the dance, and I really enjoyed seeing her face light up, even though I figured it would end badly one way or the other. Again, Maguire seemed to go out of his way to make sure every character was totally unlikeable. Just because a character is labeled as a villain doesn’t mean they can have no redeeming qualities!
Obviously I feel very strongly about these two versions of this concept. I guess the other positive thing I can say about Maguire’s version is that it certainly got me aggravated enough to give me a topic to go on about.
I read the original story by L. Frank Baum. I don’t think I’ve read this since I was a kid, if even then. I thought it was reasonably good, though it, not surprisingly, had a dry explanatory tone that is common in older literature. Also, there’s a lot of “As you know” dialogue. The scarecrow is constantly saying “I’m too dumb to do ____”, and similar statements from the Tin Woodsman and the Lion. What interested me most were the differences I noticed.
(just in case anyone hasn’t read this book from 1900!)
1. The ruby red slippers from the movie are actually silver. I suspect they made them red in the movie to show off their new color technology.
2. The Tin Woodsman is quite ruthless, beheading animals left and right, including a wildcat which was doing nothing more than chasing a field mouse. I’m sure they cut this to avoid blood.
3. The Lion is actually lion-shaped, not people shaped. Not a surprise there, since they had to have a guy in a lion costume.
4. The Emerald City is not really emerald. Everyone in the city must wear sunglasses by law that are locked onto your head, supposedly to protect you from being blinded by the dazzle. But the glasses are secretly tinted green, so everything looks green.
5. The Wicked Witch of the West does not use a crystal ball, she has just one eye which can see everything. Also, her skin is not green.
6. The Wizard takes on a different form for each of them–a giant head, a beautiful fairy, a ball of fire, and a 5-eyed 5-armed rhino-headed beast.
7. The Wizard gives them different gifts than the movie, though they are the same sort of “snake oil” placebo gifts.
8. It’s not all a dream in the book.
Actually the ending is quite amusing. Dorothy’s apparently been gone for quite some time, because Henry has had time to totally rebuild the house. Dorothy appears in the yard, Aunt Em finds her, and the first and only thing Em says is “Where did you come from?” That is a strange reaction for your dependent who has been missing for at least weeks, presumed dead in a tornado, that suddenly appears out of nowhere.