The Bridges Of Madison County Film Study

The Bridges of Madison County is a 1995 American one-true-love romance. The film is based on a 1992 best-selling, terribly written novel by Robert James Waller.

Stephen King gives the novel a roasting in his well-known book On Writing. Almost everyone who wants to be a writer seems to have read King’s writing book, part autobiography, part how-to guide. In the appendix, King includes a list of excellent novels and a list of terrible ones. He says writers must read bad writing before fully comprehending what makes good novels good. I feel Stephen King is too powerful to be so callous about others. But here’s what I’ve also noticed: Most powerful people came from nothing, and forever see themselves as ‘outside the establishment’. For them, there’s no epiphany in which they realise, “I’m big cheese now. I’d better be careful who I roast.”

Then again, Bridges of Madison County did sell 60 million copies. Maybe if you sell that many books, you’re a peer of Stephen King.

Is ‘Bad Writing’ Simply ‘Screenplay Writing’?

I have nothing like Stephen King’s clout. So I’ll tell you this. I picked up Robert James Waller’s novel Bridges of Madison County at a second-hand store for fifty cents. I took it home and sat down to read it. If Stephen King made it all the way through that novel he did better than me. I couldn’t make it past the first five pages. I’m inclined to absorb the style of whatever I’ve been reading lately, and the prose was so cringe I was worried it would infect my own prose. The guy wrote the novel in 11 days and it shows.

The conventional wisdom in Hollywood is that it’s easier to make a good movie from a bad book than from a great one. That’s probably true. No one has ever gotten The Great Gatsby right. A Confederacy of Dunces has allegedly driven some who’ve tried to adapt it mad. Did you hear that James Franco made a film version of As I Lay Dying? Exactly.

Phillip Martin, Arkansas Online

The book is written as badly as a screenplay. Ergo, it makes for a great screenplay. (Screenplays are work documents, never intended to be enjoyed for their line-level beauty.)

Who Gets To Be A ‘Good Writer’?

Stephenie Meyer is another romance writer whose best-selling vampire novel Twilight is frequently held up as an example of poor writing. Readers who love her work (mostly teenage girls and adult women) are assumed incapable of seeing bad prose for what it is. This isn’t true. Many of Twilight’s biggest fans write sophisticated think-pieces about the series’ problems, ideological and stylistic. Many will likewise point out that the prose becomes better as the series progresses.

There are clearly gender issues affecting pop criticism of pop books. There are also publishing industry issues at play. Why wasn’t the first Twilight book better edited? Why aren’t publishers spending more on editors in general? Well. Why aren’t readers spending more on books?

Genre Blend of Bridges of Madison County

The editors at Story Grid did an episode of The Bridges of Madison County. They consider this story an example of a Courtship Love story.

What Makes A Good Story?

There are many aspects to a great story. All aspects interrelate, but beautiful prose is just one thing, and maybe not even the most important thing to people who read one or two books a year.

Plotting and characterisation are separate from a novel’s line-level beauty. When ugly prose is adapted for film, the prose is no longer an issue. Now other aspects are allowed to shine (or fall flat). At least, this is the case when adept actors are cast in major roles. Meryl Streep and Clint Eastwood do a marvellous job of elevating cheesy dialogue of The Bridges of Madison County. They also share superb onscreen chemistry.

Clint Eastwood clearly saw the adaptive potential of this story. He produced it, directed it and starred in it. The movie is a particular type of satisfying. But because the line-level cringe has all but gone in the film, other issues reveal themselves.

On Setting and Authenticity

While audiences will accept films made with CGI or filmed against backdrops inside Hollywood studios, there’s a special appreciation reserved for movies filmed on site in off-the-beaten-track locations.

The Bridges of Madison County is authentic to its setting. True Grit is also set partly in Iowa, but The Bridges of Madison County looks a lot more like the actual place, being filmed there and all.

I’m giving this old story some fresh attention because three decades later audiences continue to enjoy the film, and theatres around the world continue to adapt the story for stage.

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Three by the Sea by Mini Grey Picture Book Analysis

Three By The Sea is a 2010 picture book by British writer-illustrator Mini Grey. This storyteller comes from South Wales, which is somewhat evident in the setting. The most widely borrowed picture book from Mini Grey is the wonderfully metafictional Traction Man series.

This one has metafictional elements also, and offers plenty of picture book techniques to discuss. I even get into colonialist ideology and heteronormative gender roles.

By the way, there is a 1981 picture book that goes by the same title. That one is by Edward Marshall and was featured on America’s Reading Rainbow.

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Open House on Haunted Hill by John Wiswell Short Story Analysis

133 Poisonwood Avenue Would Be Stronger If It Were A Killer House

“Open House on Haunted Hill” is a Nebula Award winning short (ghost?) story by John Wiswell, published in 2020. I’ve recently immersed myself in ghost stories from the 18- and 1900s. But how does one go about writing a contemporary ghost story?

Can modern writers still write an original and surprising ghost story? I mean, haven’t all the ghost tropes been done to death? Aren’t modern audiences super well-schooled in these tropes, if not from primary sources then from pop-culture descendants?

John Wiswell allays these particular fears. “Open House on Haunted Hill” may sound like a Shirley Jackson pastiche…

House on Haunted Hill

or a 1980s horror film…

But this is one of the kindest most original ghost stories you’ll read. If you’re in the mood for kindness (and who isn’t?), jump right in.

The 3000 word story is posted at Diabolical Plots.

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Young Adult And Middle Grade Books With Trans Feminine Characters

Young adult readers can now find better queer diversity scattered across young adult literature. Many of these new stories feature trans masculine characters. Here are some young adult stories featuring trans feminine characters.

VICTORIES GREATER THAN DEATH (UNSTOPPABLE #1) BY CHARLIE JANE ANDERS (2021)

Young adult science fiction adventure. A standout feature of this novel: The characters model consent.

Outsmart Your Enemies. Outrun the Galaxy.

Tina never worries about being ‘ordinary’—she doesn’t have to, since she’s known practically forever that she’s not just Tina Mains, average teenager and beloved daughter. She’s also the keeper of an interplanetary rescue beacon, and one day soon, it’s going to activate, and then her dreams of saving all the worlds and adventuring among the stars will finally be possible. Tina’s legacy, after all, is intergalactic—she is the hidden clone of a famed alien hero, left on Earth disguised as a human to give the universe another chance to defeat a terrible evil.

But when the beacon activates, it turns out that Tina’s destiny isn’t quite what she expected. Things are far more dangerous than she ever assumed. Luckily, Tina is surrounded by a crew she can trust, and her best friend Rachael, and she is still determined to save all the worlds. But first she’ll have to save herself.

Buckle up your seatbelt for this thrilling sci-fi adventure set against an intergalactic war from international bestselling author Charlie Jane Anders.

LAKELORE BY ANNA-MARIE MCLEMORE (2022)

Young adult. And what a fantastic cover. Just look at the colours in that water.

Two non-binary teens are pulled into a magical world under a lake. But can they keep their worlds above water intact?

Everyone who lives near the lake knows the stories about the world underneath it, an ethereal landscape rumored to be half-air, half-water. But Bastián Silvano and Lore Garcia are the only ones who’ve been there. Bastián grew up both above the lake and in the otherworldly space beneath it. Lore’s only seen the world under the lake once, but that one encounter changed their life and their fate.

Then the lines between air and water begin to blur. The world under the lake drifts above the surface. If Bastián and Lore don’t want it bringing their secrets to the surface with it, they have to stop it, and to do that, they have to work together. There’s just one problem: Bastián and Lore haven’t spoken in seven years, and working together means trusting each other with the very things they’re trying to hide.

ZENOBIA JULY BY LISA BUNKER (2019)

Upper middle grade.

Zenobia July is starting a new life. She used to live in Arizona with her father; now she’s in Maine with her aunts. She used to spend most of her time behind a computer screen, improving her impressive coding and hacking skills; now she’s coming out of her shell and discovering a community of friends at Monarch Middle School. People used to tell her she was a boy; now she’s able to live openly as the girl she always knew she was.

When someone anonymously posts hateful memes on her school’s website, Zenobia knows she’s the one with the abilities to solve the mystery, all while wrestling with the challenges of a new school, a new family, and coming to grips with presenting her true gender for the first time. Timely and touching, Zenobia July is, at its heart, a story about finding home.

IF I WAS YOUR GIRL BY MEREDITH RUSSO (2016)

If I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo

A new kind of big-hearted novel about being seen for who you really are.

Amanda Hardy is the new girl in school. Like anyone else, all she wants is to make friends and fit in. But Amanda is keeping a secret, and she’s determined not to get too close to anyone.

But when she meets sweet, easygoing Grant, Amanda can’t help but start to let him into her life. As they spend more time together, she realizes just how much she is losing by guarding her heart. She finds herself yearning to share with Grant everything about herself, including her past. But Amanda’s terrified that once she tells him the truth, he won’t be able to see past it.

Because the secret that Amanda’s been keeping? It’s that at her old school, she used to be Andrew. Will the truth cost Amanda her new life, and her new love?

Meredith Russo’s If I Was Your Girl is a universal story about feeling different and a love story that everyone will root for.

BIRTHDAY BY MEREDITH RUSSO (2019)

Birthday by Meredith Russo cover

Boyhood meets The Sun Is Also a Star in this unconventional love story by award-winning author Meredith Russo!

Two kids, Morgan and Eric, are bonded for life after being born on the same day at the same time. We meet them once a year on their shared birthday as they grow and change: as Eric figures out who he is and how he fits into the world, and as Morgan makes the difficult choice to live as her true self. Over the years, they will drift apart, come together, fight, make up, and break up—and ultimately, realize how inextricably they are a part of each other.

STAGE DREAMS BY MELANIE GILLMAN (2019)

A 100 page graphic novel.

In this rollicking queer western adventure, acclaimed cartoonist Melanie Gillman (Stonewall Award Honor Book As the Crow Flies) puts readers in the saddle alongside Flor and Grace, a Latinx outlaw and a trans runaway, as they team up to thwart a Confederate plot in the New Mexico Territory.

When Flor–also known as the notorious Ghost Hawk–robs the stagecoach that Grace has used to escape her Georgia home, the first thing on her mind is ransom. But when the two get to talking about Flor’s plan to crash a Confederate gala and steal some crucial documents, Grace convinces Flor to let her join the heist.

THE FOUR PROFOUND WEAVES BY R.B. LEMBERG (2020)

Fantasy. Although this is short, the prose is challenging and the world building sophisticated.

THE FOUR PROFOUND WEAVES BY R.B. LEMBERG

Wind: To match one’s body with one’s heart
Sand: To take the bearer where they wish
Song: In praise of the goddess Bird
Bone: To move unheard in the night

The Surun’ do not speak of the master weaver, Benesret, who creates the cloth of bone for assassins in the Great Burri Desert. But Uiziya now seeks her aunt Benesret in order to learn the final weave, although the price for knowledge may be far too dear to pay.

Among the Khana, women travel in caravans to trade, while men remain in the inner quarter as scholars. A nameless man struggles to embody Khana masculinity, after many years of performing the life of a woman, trader, wife, and grandmother.

As the past catches up to the nameless man, he must choose between the life he dreamed of and Uiziya, and Uiziya must discover how to challenge a tyrant, and weave from deaths that matter.

Set in R. B. Lemberg’s beloved Birdverse. 

Extra by Yiyun Li Short Story Analysis

“Extra” is a short story by Chinese-American author Yiyun Li. Deborah Treisman and Sarah Shun-lien Bynum discuss this story in 2021 at the New Yorker Fiction podcast. This was the second story Yiyun Li published anywhere. “Extra” was included in Li’s 2005 debut collection A Thousand Years Of Good Prayers.

Brilliant and original, A Thousand Years of Good Prayers introduces a remarkable new writer whose breathtaking stories are set in China and among Chinese Americans in the United States. In this rich, astonishing collection, Yiyun Li illuminates how mythology, politics, history, and culture intersect with personality to create fate.

From the bustling heart of Beijing, to a fast-food restaurant in Chicago, to the barren expanse of Inner Mongolia, A Thousand Years of Good Prayers reveals worlds both foreign and familiar, with heartbreaking honesty and in beautiful prose.

CHARACTERS OF ANY AGE CAN ‘COME OF AGE’

When we think of a ‘coming-of-age’ story we generally think of teenagers and young adults. Yiyun Li’s “Extra” is a good example of a coming-of-age story about a character who is in many ways a metaphorical newborn but not young in years.

As the story opens Granny Lin has just lost the job she worked at for her whole life. She is about to describe the experience as a dream. Yiyun Li could have chosen to interweave prior experience into Granny Lin’s story of the present, but did not. Granny Lin is an excellent example of a truly in statu nascendi character. Another author who wrote like this was Modernist short story writer of the early 20th century, Katherine Mansfield.

TECHNIQUES OF NOTE

“Extra” is a wonderful example of a short story which avoids giving the main character backstory. This isn’t just done to keep the short story short. There’s a narrative reason for it.

As an aside, the author has claimed that at time of writing she barely knew what a backstory was, a good example of how authors don’t necessarily need to know all the theory and literary terms before writing an excellent story. Some do, of course. Margaret Atwood can talk at length about storytelling as a craft, linking it to history, politics and myth.

Readers don’t realise until after the reading experience how adeptly Yiyun Li transitions between summary and scene. Sarah Shun-lien Bynum points out, “We barely notice the shifts between summary and scene because the routines of her life and the habits she creates are all summarised, but the summaries are rendered as visibly and palpably as a scene would be.”

The descriptions of routine — technically flashbacks — are so vivid and engaging that we don’t realise we’re not in the present time.

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Books About Non-binary Genders For Readers Of All Ages

Gender is in Western culture a relational concept. And “masculinity” relies on a binary relationship with femininity. Non-binary people have existed since the dawn of humankind, and are now cracking open proscribed Western gender expectations for everyone.

It’s not that trans people are “new” so much as that contemporary media genres from high literary modernism to pop art to basic gossip tabloids endeavour to maintain the myth of transgender novelty so that, by rendering us legible “for the first time,” they appear vanguard.

@9BillionTigers

Here are a few authors contributing to the conversation.

EUPHORIA KIDS BY ALISON EVANS (2020)

Australian young adult fantasy

Ever since the witch cursed Babs, she turns invisible sometimes. She has her mum and her dog, but teachers and classmates barely notice her. Then, one day, Iris can see her. And Iris likes what they see. Babs is made of fire.

Iris grew from a seed in the ground. They have friends, but not human ones. Not until they meet Babs. The two of them have a lot in common: they speak to dryads and faeries. They’re connected to the magic that’s all around them.

There’s a new boy at school, a boy who’s like them. He hasn’t found his real name. Soon the three of them are hanging out and trying spellwork together. Magic can be dangerous, though. Witches and fae can be cruel. Something is happening in the other realm Despite warnings to stay away, the three friends must figure out how to deal with it on their own terms.

Recommended for fans of Francesca Lia Block and Studio Ghibli films.

THE PRONOUN LOWDOWN: DEMYSTIFYING AND CELEBRATING GENDER DIVERSITY BY NEVO ZISIN (2021)

Australian non-fiction

The Pronoun Lowdown by Nevo Zisin

Thanks to the efforts of trans and gender-nonconforming activists, gender-diverse experiences are no longer able to be ignored. These lived experiences (the joyful and the painful) are being seen and heard. This book highlights, demystifies, and celebrates the lived experience of trans and gender-nonconforming folk.

The Pronoun Lowdown is an illustrated history of how the gender binary came about, from ancient Greece to now. Alongside personal anecdotes, it provides examples of subversive historical figures, and demonstrates the gender-neutrality of ye olde language (Shakespeare’s and Oscar Wilde’s included).

There are also examples of “how to” and “how to not” ask for someone’s pronoun, and other advice for avoiding generally bad behavior. (We needn’t be gendering a stranger’s dog, people. C’mon!) This book also breaks down how different languages navigate (or, struggle to navigate) pronouns.

FINDING NEVO BY NEVO ZISIN (2017)

Australian autobiography

Meet Nevo: girl, boy, he, she, him, her, they, them, daughter, son, teacher, student, friend, gay, bi, lesbian, trans, homo, Jew, dyke, masculine, feminine, androgynous, queer.

Nevo was not born in the wrong body. Nevo just wants everyone to catch up with all that Nevo is. Personal, political and passionate, Finding Nevo is an autobiography about gender and everything that comes with it.

GENDERQUEER BY MAIA KOBABE (2019)

American, graphic novel, memoir

In 2014, Maia Kobabe, who uses e/em/eir pronouns, thought that a comic of reading statistics would be the last autobiographical comic e would ever write. At the time, it was the only thing e felt comfortable with strangers knowing about em. Now, Gender Queer is here. Maia’s intensely cathartic autobiography charts eir journey of self-identity, which includes the mortification and confusion of adolescent crushes, grappling with how to come out to family and society, bonding with friends over erotic gay fanfiction, and facing the trauma of pap smears. Started as a way to explain to eir family what it means to be nonbinary and asexual, Gender Queer is more than a personal story: it is a useful and touching guide on gender identity–what it means and how to think about it–for advocates, friends, and humans everywhere.

A HOUSE FOR EVERYONE: A STORY TO HELP CHILDREN LEARN ABOUT GENDER IDENTITY AND GENDER EXPRESSION BY JO HIRST AND NAOMI BARDOFF (2018)

Australian picture book

A House For Everyone  Jo Hirst picture book cover

Jackson is a boy who likes to wear dresses. Ivy is a girl who likes her hair cut really short. Alex doesn’t feel like ‘just’ a boy, or ‘just’ a girl. They are all the same, they are all different – but they are all friends.

At lunchtime, all of Tom’s friends gather at school to work together building their house. Each one of them has a special job to do, and each one of them has a different way of expressing their gender identity.

A very simple story that challenges gender stereotypes and shows 4 to 8 year olds that it is OK to be yourself. An engaging story that is more than just an educational tool; this book will assist parents and teachers in giving children the space to explore the full spectrum of gender diversity and will show children the many ways they can express their gender in a truly positive light.

Gallatin Canyon by Thomas McGuane Short Story Analysis

Gallatin Canyon by Thomas McGuane header

“Gallatin Canyon” is a short, grim road trip story by American author Thomas McGuane. This story served as the title of McGuane’s 2006 collection. In 2021, Deborah Treisman and Téa Obreht discussed its merits on the New Yorker fiction podcast.

SYNOPSIS

A man and a woman drive through Gallatin Canyon, toward Idaho, where the narrator (the man) intends to use his obnoxious guile to undo a business deal. “I’m a trader,” he tells his companion, on what will be their last day together. “It all happens for me in the transition. The moment of liquidation is the essence of capitalism.”

Stephen Metcalf, 2006

McGuane’s first collection in twenty years.

Place exerts the power of destiny in these ten stories of lives uncannily recognizable and unforgettably strange: a boy makes a surprising discovery skating at night on Lake Michigan; an Irish clan in Massachusetts gather at the bedside of their dying matriarch; a battered survivor of the glory days of Key West washes up on other shores. Several of the stories unfold in Big Sky country, McGuane’s signature landscape: a father tries to buy his adult son out of virginity; a convict turned cowhand finds refuge at a ranch in ruination; a couple makes a fateful drive through the perilous gorge of the title story before parting ways. McGuane’s people are seekers, beguiled by the land’s beauty and myth, compelled by the fantasy of what a locale can offer, forced to reconcile dream and truth.

The stories of “Gallatin Canyon” are alternately comical, dark, and poignant. Rich in the wit, compassion, and matchless language for which McGuane is celebrated, they are the work of a master.

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Two Weeks With The Queen by Morris Gleitzman Novel Study

Two Weeks With The Queen is an Australian middle grade novel by Morris Gleitzman. My edition is copyrighted 1989, though other places on the web will tell you this book was first published in 1990 or 1991.

I was in Year Seven in 1989. Fast forward to 2021 and my own Year Seven kid is studying this book in their first year of high school. Fair to say, this is a story with longevity.

My kid proudly announced to their English teacher, “This is the first book I’ve read on my own without pictures!” Um, this is true, despite the many, many books in our house, and nothing to be proud of when you’re almost 13, still doggedly attached to graphic novels and comic books, repelled by walls of text. I was wondering which book-without-pictures would crack the seal for my stubborn reader. Well, this is the one that did it. Kudos to Morris Gleitzman.

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Marriage á la Mode by Katherine Mansfield Short Story Analysis

“Marriage á la Mode” (1921) is a Modernist short story by Katherine Mansfield, first published in a December edition of The Sphere: An Illustrated Newspaper for the Home. Magazines don’t normally publish summery stories in winter, but it makes more sense to know this magazine was aimed at British citizens living in the colonies.

This story was later published in The Garden Party And Other Stories.

Love letters are a risky business. Revealing yourself to another person opens the risk of rejection, but if you had to do it onstage? What if the recipient of your ardour and your expression of vulnerability thought it was funny, and shared your most private, loving self with others for jokes?

Have you ever sent a love letter? What about a revealing email? A selfie? A naked selfie? This story is 100 years old, but we are still sharing ourselves with others in ways that leaves footprints. In fact, we now do this in a variety of uber-revealing ways. People we trust still betray us by sharing our secrets more widely, without our permission. With the Internet, the size of the audience, and the size of possible shame, has grown many times over. The point of shame in this story is probably even more relatable to a contemporary audience.

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