Charged in 1616 by the Earls of Pembroke and Montgomery to edit a folio of Shakespeare plays, writer Ben Jonson races against time to uncover the missing manuscripts by seeking out his former nemesis, the bedridden William Shaxper. But far more worrisome is that the Earl of Oxford's daughter, the Countess of Montgomery, wants the folio published as a tribute to her father. Could Lord Oxford's darkest secrets threaten the throne of King James? Chaucer Award Winner "Kline keeps the pages turning… a lively interpretation that will win Oxfordian approval and may even convince Stratfordians to suspend disbelief and enjoy it." —Kirkus Reviews "The writing is adept, and the narrative is compelling...'Shakespeare's Changeling' is historical fiction at its finest..." --Chanticleer Book Reviews
Oscar Wilde once said, “The books that the world calls immoral are books that show the world its own shame.” The American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom has a list of books banned by schools. Among these are “To Kill A Mockingbird” by Harper Lee, “The Grapes of Wrath” by John Steinbeck, “I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings” by Maya Angelou, “1984” by George Orwell, “The Handmaid’s Tale” by Margaret Atwood, and “Maus” by Art Spiegelman. Teachers and librarians are being intimidated by threats from ultraconservative political and religious factions that seek to shut down the minds of American students. This scheme to stop reading certain books, and in turn shutting off any discussion of ideas, is designed to control students and prevent them from becoming clear-thinking adults in the future, rendering them subservient to authoritarian dictates. Holding student minds hostage suppresses the progress of science and the arts. It silences the voices of minorities that helped build this country whether by free will or enslavement. The danger of suppressing critical thinking edits out the realities of the past as if they had never happened and darkens our uncertain future.
While times have changed since the Elizabethan era, human nature has not. Recently, we witnessed the specter of an insurrection to overturn our democracy. The lives of election workers and civil servants were threatened, and people have been encouraged to doubt the violence they have seen with their own eyes. The Shakespeare plays are rife with social upheaval and political rebellions. Surely the playwright was a royal insider, a highly educated poet and writer of court masques who had a talent for dramatizing revolutionary intrigue. This has led many scholars to recognize that the plays could not have been written by a grain merchant from Stratford with scant education and whose family was illiterate, but by someone with historical and political connections directly involved in the court of Queen Elizabeth I. Writers in the Elizabethan era had serious doubts that the man from Stratford was a writer at all. “Shakespeare’s Changeling” unfolds the story of Will Shaxper of Stratford, who seeks to improve his lot by working as an actor in the new medium of the London playhouses, alongside his renowned literary kinsman, the seventeenth Earl of Oxford, during a dangerous period of political upheaval, marked by life-or-death consequences.
Depending on whether you like your Shake-speare shaken or stirred, there are many places to look for interpretations that attempt to answer the question, “what the heck was Shakespeare (with or without the hyphen) talking about? What on earth did he (or she) mean?” Well, I’m not going to discuss that here! In the fashion of our times, I’m going to rant. In this case, it’s about what Shakespeare called the humblebee and what I truly hope is its intimate relationship with the layers of yellow pollen that descend like snow upon the South Carolina landscape. There’s no way to avoid it. You will wear it your hair, you will bring it inside on your shoes or you’ll inhale it if you’re a mouth breather taking your dog for a walk. Even your dog will bring it in. I hope our friendly pollinator, the humblebee, appreciates the powdery offering, and that it will gather up as much pollen as it can carry on its back legs or red hips and turn it into honey. Whatever. We’re expecting rain this afternoon, and hopefully it will wash away the powdery pollen. Still, after two years of living here, it won’t matter much because I know it will be back quickly and every year in its season, whether the bees who collect it are humble or just bumble into it.
When my son and his friend Steve were in high school studying Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar”, they came into the kitchen to discuss it with me. Steve said his favorite character was Lepidus, a member of the triumvirate ruling Rome along with Caesar and Marc Antony. Steve felt that Lepidus was probably a decent guy who found himself caught up in the evils of power politics, and that perhaps Lepidus became a heavy drinker to deaden the pain of living with the brutality. Something in Steve’s interpretation of the character’s vulnerability had a special meaning for him, and I’m grateful he shared it with me. After high school, Steve became a soldier and experienced the deaths of his fellow soldiers and innocent civilians in Afghanistan. At 30, he returned home and died of an aneurism in his sleep. My son and I still mourn the teenager in my kitchen who puzzled over Lepidus and seemed to identify with him, interpreting the character in a way most historians and scholars overlook. I feel this truly speaks volumes about Steve.
Letters found in the Vatican dating back to the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries are being studied by modern cryptographers. The unusual correspondence has strange corners with slits and sections where edges of the paper had been cut off. When folded by the sender, the intricately woven pattern was designed to lock a letter by sliding a piece of paper into a slit and sealing it with wax when it was in place. Opening such a letter would have been impossible to do without tearing it, indicating whether it had been read by someone other than the intended recipient. Letter locking was not always successful. Mary, Queen of Scotland, wrote such letters and some of her correspondence was intercepted by Queen Elizabeth I’s spies, leading to Mary’s nineteen-year imprisonment and eventual execution in February 1587. At age 22, Edward DeVere, seventeenth Earl of Oxford, led a bold attempt to rescue his cousin Thomas Howard, Duke of Norfolk, from the Tower of London after Norfolk’s love letters to Mary were intercepted. Oxford’s rescue attempt failed, and Norfolk was executed in June 1582. Many believe Oxford wrote under the pen name Shakespeare at a time when censorship was rampant in the struggles between Catholics and Protestants.
Mark Twain believed in getting around. “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness,” he wrote, “and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.” Twain was a world traveler and notable doubter of the notion that a grain dealer from Stratford wrote the Shakespeare plays. Such a man would not have had the extraordinary education, opportunity to travel to Italy, France and Germany, experience on the battlefield and knowledge of the royal court’s protocol. In “Is Shakespeare Dead?” Twain argues that any connection between Shaxper of Stratford and the scholarly and poetic Shakespeare canon is like a brontosaurus being pieced together out of “nine bones and six hundred barrels of plaster of Paris.” Twain believed that being trapped in the prison of unchallenged notions stifled thought. My award-winning novel portrays the relationship between Shaxper of Stratford and his noble cousin, Edward DeVere, 17th Earl of Oxford (1550-1604), an Elizabethan poet who maintained a troupe of actors and owned Blackfriars Theater, but was compelled to keep his playwrighting identity secret, successfully doing so with the help of his distant kinsman Shaxper.
In Shakespeare’s King Lear, Kent insults Oswald as “A knave, a rascal, an eater of broken meats, a base, proud, shallow, beggarly, three-suited, hundred pound, filthy worsted stocking knave; a lily-livered, action-taking knave; a whoreson, glass-gazing, superserviceable, finical rogue; one-trunk-inheriting slave, one that wouldst be a bawd in way of good service, and art nothing but the composition of a knave, beggar, coward, pander, and the son and heir of a mongrel bitch, one whom I will beat into clamorous whining if thou deniest the least syllable of thy addition.” Sparks.com translates that insult into modern English as “You’re a lowlife, a rascal who eats leftover scraps, an ignoble, arrogant, shallow, vulgar, pretentious, conceited, filthy third-rate servant who thinks he’s something special. You’re a cowardly, lawyer-loving bastard, a vain brown-nosing, prissy scoundrel who’d pimp himself out to advance his career, a bag lady. You’re nothing but a lowlife, a beggar, a coward, and a pimp, the son and heir of a mutt bitch. I’ll beat you until you whine and cry if you deny the least bit of this.” Whether written in modern or Elizabethan English, it certainly isn’t a friendly hello.
Authors fold their life experiences into their stories. Regardless of genre, the common struggle between good and evil forms the basis of ancient myths and legends and is hard-wired into human experience. John Steinbeck's empathy for migrant farm workers frames "The Grapes Of Wrath" just as Harper Lee's witness to the cruelty of racism is the theme of “To Kill A Mockingbird.” Sadly, while Shakespeare’s name has been granted literary immortality, traditional “scholars” have divorced the true author from his work and placed it at the altar of a man from Stratford. There is no record Will Shaxper, who signed his name six different ways, was ever a student in his local school or that a wealthy patron subsidized the university education he would have needed to write the famous plays. His family was illiterate. He owned no books. How could such a man have written the world’s greatest English plays? Meanwhile, Edward deVere, 17th Earl of Oxford, was a poet and playwright whose name was published as such in books of the time. My award-winning novel “Shakespeare’s Changeling” portrays the relationship between Oxford and his distant kinsman Shaxper, the upwardly mobile front man seeking to improve his lot via London’s newest playhouses.
One day while visiting England, poet Robert Frost took a walk with his friend, fellow poet Edward Thomas. They came to a fork in the road and stopped, debating which way to go. According to Frost, Thomas chose the path and later lamented his choice, believing that the road they hadn’t taken might have been more interesting. Frost’s poem “The Road Not Taken” was based on that incident. Its imagery has proven thought-provoking in many an English class. Frost stresses the quality of human nature in making a personal choice while simultaneously regretting not having taken possible alternatives. Frost wrote the poem for his friend. Sadly, Thomas died on the battlefield in World War I. Frost described his friend as “a person who, whichever road he took, would have been sorry he hadn’t taken the other. He was hard on himself that way.” Hamlet was hard on himself too, making precarious choices in the face of tragedy. Many of the events in “Hamlet” were experienced by Edward deVere, 17th Earl of Oxford (1550-1604), who wrote under the pen name Shake-Speare, the premise of my award-winning novel.
As you fight off the doldrums of winter, it’s a good time to decide whether you like your Shakespeare shaken or stirred. My award-winning historical novel reveals a new twist on the centuries-old mystery of the Shakespeare authorship. Many Elizabethan writers questioned whether the upstart crow from Stratford, who abandoned his wife and children to become involved in London’s newest medium of the theater, could have emerged from the countryside to become England's greatest playwright without the education to support the work. Perhaps William Shaxper of Stratford (who signed his name several different ways) was the front man for his distant noble kinsman, Edward DeVere, 17th Earl of Oxford, who in the brief chronicles of his time was recognized as the best for writing comedies and interludes, if his name could be made public as a playwright. Lord Oxford presented plays at Queen Elizabeth I’s court, and spent a year in Italy, observing the techniques of commedia dell’arte. He returned to England in 1576 and was the patron of a company of players, perhaps offering new plays to support the first playhouse built on the Thames that same year. It could hardly be a coincidence.
Queen Elizabeth I's New Year's gifts were well documented during the 45 years of her reign. More than 1,200 gift exchanges were recorded, including gifts she gave to others. I’ve read claims that this list has not received a great deal of scholarly attention from Tudor historians. Could this be because Edward deVere, 17th Earl of Oxford (1550-1604) the most directly linked candidate to have written under the originally published pseudonym Shake-Speare, was one of the gift givers? Presenting gifts to the Queen was expected from someone of his noble status – the same status that afforded him the education in the vast number of subjects referred to in the Shakespeare plays – the product of an education not available in the country schools of his day. No “famous” playwright from Stratford ever presented a gift to the Queen, nor is there a record of his having received one from her. Lord Oxford gave the Queen a pair of perfumed gloves in 1566, and there may be other gifts on record. Perhaps his masques presented at the royal court were also gifts to her. It may be that her special gift to Oxford was cloaking his identity as Shakespeare.
Writers use breath and breathing for their characters to convey a variety of moods. When Juliet asks Nurse for news about Romeo, the Nurse struggles to catch her breath before answering, causing Juliet to demand impatiently, “How art thou out of breath when thou hast breath to say to me thou art out of breath?” Authors recognize that different rhythms of breath and breathing reveal a wide range of emotions and help structure suspense. As humans, we take our next breath for granted, not questioning that it will be there unless sudden death renders it impossible. A pause forces the question as to whether there will be a next one. I have witnessed the sacred moment of a loved one’s last peaceful breath, as well as the suffering imbedded in the words “I can’t breathe” in the wake of brutality. Writers skillfully craft their storytelling with the reality of the ancient, hard-wired physical act of breathing. Shake-speare did so, and in my award-winning novel, he is characterized as Edward DeVere, 17th Earl of Oxford.
As you know, Shake-Speare’s “Hamlet” takes place during the Christmas season. Before Hamlet is warned that his dead father’s ghost has appeared, Marcellus offers his fellow watchman Bernardo and Hamlet’s friend Horatio powerful words on the auspicious nature of the holiday. Marcellus’ speech offers a brief insight into his character as he attempts to reassure his astonished comrades: “Some say that ever 'gainst that season comes Wherein our Saviour's birth is celebrated, This bird of dawning singeth all night long; And then, they say, no spirit dare stir abroad, The nights are wholesome, then no planets strike, No fairy takes, nor witch hath power to charm, So hallow'd and so gracious is the time.” Hamlet is alone when he encounters his father’s ghost. This time it speaks, revealing that he was murdered by his brother who married the queen and usurped the throne of Denmark. The ghost offers a frightening message of revenge, the desperate course Hamlet takes, a decidedly different contrast to the words of Marcellus. The rest is silence.
In Elizabethan England, Christmas was celebrated with great festivity. Poet Thomas Tusser, in his 1573 book "Five Hundred Points of Good Husbandry", described a special feast for the occasion. It’s easy to visualize partaking of this banquet in a wealthy household, knowing that average commoners would have reduced the size of their meals based on their financial circumstances. After all, the definition of the word “husbandry” includes the ability to carefully manage one’s resources. Tusser describes a banquet of bread and drink, a fire in the hall, brawn (meat from a calf’s or pig’s head also known as head cheese), pudding, souse (pickled pig’s meat served in a well spiced broth), and good mustard. And that’s just for starters. Beef, mutton, and pork were also on the menu, followed by pies, pork, veal, goose, capon, and turkey. Cheese, apples, and nuts were served as dessert. Beverages included mulled wine, hot spiced milk, cider, wassail, and beer. At the time, in many places, water wasn’t safe to drink. Christmas carols were to be sung in all households while plays and entertainments were often presented in the homes of the wealthy.
In the play bearing his name, Hamlet is angry that his mother, his uncle the king, and the Danish royal court are imbibing waaaaay too much wassail in celebration of Christmas. He tells Horatio that the Danes are drunk so much, they’ve become the punchline of jokes. Not so funny to Hamlet is that watchmen (who hopefully hadn’t partaken the wassail) tell him they’ve seen the ghost of his father haunting the castle. Hamlet hasn’t yet seen the ghost when he complains about the excessive drinking, but soon sees the apparition and learns that his uncle murdered his father to usurp the throne and bed the royal widow. The word 'wassail' comes from the Anglo-Saxon toast 'waes hael', which means 'good health'. Originally made of mulled ale, curdled cream, roasted apples, eggs, cloves, ginger, nutmeg, and sugar, it was served in large bowls. Recipes can be found online. But don’t overdo it! Charles Dickens wrote that Ebenezer Scrooge saw his first ghost and told the apparition it was caused by an “undigested bit of beef, a blot of mustard, a crumb of cheese, a fragment of an underdone potato. There's more of gravy than of grave about you, whatever you are!” Something to think about as holiday guests descend upon you.
In Elizabethan England’s cult of Gloriana, literary noblemen and ladies were prohibited from signing their names to their published works and could only be identified as authors after their deaths. Strict censorship was enforced for political and religious reasons. The noble classes were also forbidden from associating with the base pursuits that took place in the public playhouses except to become patrons for troupes of actors. Even commoners who wrote plays, books, and political pamphlets that were considered offensive and inflammatory could have their hands severed or die by execution. Several books published in Elizabethan England list Edward DeVere, 17th Earl of Oxford, as a well-known poet and playwright of the time whose identity had to be kept out of the public’s awareness. In writing my novel, the idea leapt out at me that this kind of recognition could have endangered Lord Oxford, perhaps necessitating his use of the pen name Shake-Speare, and the need to hire his distant kinsman from Stratford to serve as his front man.
I have found the creative critique from my local writers’ groups very supportive. We’ve recently been discussing character development and the fact that sometimes, in some stories, characters “go off the deep end” and send the plot into bizarre and unexpected twists. For inexperienced writers, having one’s characters “go off the deep end” can be problematic. Most editors feel that it muddies the storyline when a character acts beyond the scope of normal behavioral expectations. I have found that crafting a skillful justification for the reasons why a character behaves unexpectedly when responding to a dramatic event can drive the plot in exciting directions, provided it is skillfully done. None of your characters will see or respond to an event in precisely the same way. The ability to skillfully “unhinge” your characters requires practice, along with the ability to step back and let them drive your story. Finding good pre-publication readers who will deliver you honest and constructive feedback is essential. Asking for these among the members of your writers’ group offers a good place to start.
Historical novels are for a special brand of reader – those who enjoy time travel and are well educated, who have no problem walking around in the past, as opposed to readers of fantasy novels that are constructed around an imaginary future. Historical novels don’t allow for suspension of disbelief the same way fantasy novels do. It takes a special reader to appreciate a heavily researched novel, one that required a great deal of research into a fragmented history several hundred years old, especially when that history is tainted with political intrigue. “Shakespeare’s Changeling” is enjoyed by readers who are willing to take up the challenge to learn why the identity of the author of the Shakespeare plays was probably NOT the grain merchant from Stratford whose name was never documented in the records of his local school. Now that’s something for intelligent readers to think about.
Today’s excerpt reveals the mysterious secret of the “dumb man” mentioned in the historical Last Will of Elizabeth, Countess of Oxford. She was the second wife and widow of Edward DeVere, 17th Earl of Oxford, who during his lifetime was recognized as a poet, writer of court masques, and royal jousting champion, believed by many to have written under the hyphenated pen name Shake-Speare. In her will, Countess Elizabeth left a bequest to an unnamed “dumb man,” perhaps a valued servant. It’s strange that she did not name him as was, and is, customary. The word “dumb” in its original meaning refers to someone who is mute and physically unable to speak. Taking it one step further, it could refer to someone who deliberately kept his mouth shut to protect important secrets. In my novel, the “dumb man” is Shaxper, Lord Oxford’s distant kinsman and literary front man who delivered Oxford’s plays to the Stationers’ Register for presentation in the public playhouses. Authorship of public plays by a nobleman would have been considered a demeaning and disgraceful pursuit. Legends told generations later about Shaxper from Stratford reveal that he kept his mouth shut, puffed on his tobacco pipe, and said nothing.
When Shakespeare’s Changeling was first published as an historical novel about the 17th Earl of Oxford’s authorship as Shake-Speare (as the name was originally published in hyphenated form in Elizabethan England), I was somewhat concerned about how the controversial story line would be received. Those who believe that a grain merchant from Stratford with scant (if any) formal education would have been able to write the works of Shakespeare have long vilified those who find that impossible because of the intellectual depth of knowledge in the plays and sonnets. I wasn’t sure how some Oxfordians would feel about a few plot twists I used to explain actual events that were long clouded by the dust of time. Until recently, Stratfordians have held a death grip on tradition’s bullhorn, claiming their “Shaxperian” author went to his country grammar school, although there is no proof of that. But, hey! Time has passed. My novel won a literary award. The exciting cover has ignited reader interest, and so I am no longer haunted by concern, knowing that controversy sells books. Alas, poor ghost!
Independent authorship is a full-time job. For me, it can be very demanding because of my continuous need to update and master new information and technology. As writers do, I’m learning all the time, but sometimes I find myself on the wrong end of the learning curve. I wonder what Shake-Speare would have said about our Brave New World of Technology that’s supposed to make our literary lives easier. All Shake-Speare had was a quill pen, genius, good source material, and paper, very simple by comparison to today's computers. Technology eventually works for me, but only after I’ve successfully mastered it. When I feel like I’m stranded on a desert island after a technological tempest with no hope of rescue, my sons step forward as my IT team. “C’mon, mom, just Google it. The answer you need is out there.” They’re right; it usually is.
Robert Frost is one of my favorite literary image-makers. Between 1913-1915, Frost was in England visiting his friend, writer Edward Thomas. One day, they chose to take a walk. Frost later described that they stopped at a place where “two roads diverged in a yellow wood.” They discussed which way to go and made their choice. Afterwards, Thomas expressed regret, wondering if the road they hadn’t taken might have been more interesting. Like all writers, this personal moment in time is reflected in Frost’s poem, “The Road Not Taken”. The imagery in it is thought-provoking as well as haunting. It engages our senses and seems to stress the problem of making a personal choice and later feeling a twinge of regret as to whether the choice not selected might have been a better one. Frost said he wrote the poem as a joke for Thomas, but sadly, his friend died on the battlefield in World War I. Frost described Thomas as “a person who, whichever road he took, would be sorry he didn’t go the other. He was hard on himself that way.”
I’ve always imagined life to be like a cosmic waiting room. We spend our days on earth occupied with mundane time-consuming pursuits until our names are called for entry into the Next Room. Each of us are comprised of stories consisting of multiple chapters reflected by our choices. Some are thwarted by the brutal machinations of dictators while others face life threatening circumstances as fickle as the weather. Human beings tend to search for meaning while constantly interrupted by the rumblings of world events. Writers feel compelled to tell stories and examine beliefs and values. We want to be remembered as we move from our earthly waiting room towards the eternal revelations that lie ahead. In our books, we seek to open minds to the stories of others and offer a search for meaning while we wait to enter The Next Room.
Queen Elizabeth II’s funeral in Westminster Abbey marked the end of an era. According to its website https://www.westminster-abbey.org, the Abbey, a masterpiece of architectural design, has been the setting of royal coronations since 1066. Tombs of kings and queens, and memorials to many famous individuals and families grace the Abbey, which to date has been the setting of 16 royal weddings. In December 1571, Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford, courtier, poet, and writer of court masques, wed Anne Cecil, daughter of his guardian William Cecil, Lord Burghley, in the Abbey - but only after he was arrested and brought back to England. Apparently, he ran off to avoid the wedding, leaving Anne at the altar. He was brought back to England in August, with the Queen insisting that he go through with the marriage. A play entitled The Merry Courtship of Mistress Anne was performed at the wedding feast, and was said to have angered Sir Philip Sydney, one of Anne’s suitors, also a poet. Oxford and Sydney had a brawl during a tennis game that was witnessed and chronicled by a visiting ambassador. Sounds like just the kind of hot-tempered soul, a champion jouster and Italian traveler who would write under the pen name Shake-Speare.
The death of Queen Elizabeth II marks the end of an era. She ruled for 70 years, the longest reigning monarch in England’s history. Soon after her passing, John Chapple, the royal beekeeper, visited the beehives at Buckingham Palace and Clarence House to inform the tens of thousands of bees that the Queen had died, and that her son would now rule as King Charles III and become their protector. The very old English tradition of informing the little pollinators of the change in their ownership is meant to keep the bees from abandoning the hives and continuing their production of honey. Beekeeper Chapple placed black ribbons on the beehives and said a special prayer. The sweet tradition is also apparently practiced in Germany, France, and Switzerland. Today’s Book Bubble features Lord Oxford’s words in a letter to his former brother-in-law Sir Robert Cecil concerning the death of Queen Elizabeth I, who protected Oxford’s literary identity as Shake-Speare.
I’m excited to announce that my newest book will soon be published. “Inspiring Legacy: David and Carmen Kreeger’s Journey to Philanthropy” is the story of the founders of the Kreeger Museum. It describes how their passion for collecting original works of art became a large part of their lives, leading to the construction of the Kreeger Museum on Foxhall Road in northwest Washington, DC. Designed by architect Philip Johnson in the late 1960s as both a home for the Kreegers and to accommodate their ever-expanding art collection, the Museum’s travertine marble exterior and contemporary domes give the building a Mediterranean elegance. David, a notable Oxfordian, inspired me to write my award-winning historical novel, “Shakespeare’s Changeling.” You can learn more about the Kreeger Museum online at www.kreegermuseum.org and arrange a visit when you are in the DC area.
Writers of historical fiction observe and listen to history. We examine events from all angles, shake them up, take them apart, turn them upside down and reveal unknown and untold stories. In today's Book Bubble, we review something we learned in school when studying the man believed to be Shakespeare, author of the world’s most famous English plays. In my novel, William Shaxper of Stratford leaves his wife and family behind in his hometown so he can find more lucrative work in the new Elizabethan mass media: London’s public playhouses. He seeks employment with his distant kinsman, Lord Oxford, a well-known benefactor of a troupe of actors and a clandestine playwright in need of a front man to cloak his authorship. Distant kinsman Shaxper seizes the opportunity to act as his impostor, delivering Oxford’s plays to the Stationer’s Register. The rest is the tale of an authorship questioned for hundreds of years, even among Elizabethan era playwrights. Writers of historical fiction observe possibilities and probabilities of why certain mysteries exist and allow scenes to unfold themselves.
Revenge is a common theme in the works of Shakespeare. Many believe the name, originally hyphenated, was the pseudonym for Edward DeVere, 17th Earl of Oxford, a champion jouster, poet, and writer of court masques. Oxford had an irascible temper and ferocious wit. His anger can be attributed to a lifetime of machinations by his childhood guardian, Sir William Cecil, who siphoned off Oxford’s inheritance and invalidated his earlier marriage contract. Cecil married his 15-year-old daughter to Oxford with the Queen’s approval and thus was elevated to the title of Lord Burghley. Anyone raised with noble privilege (as Oxford was) suddenly orphaned at 12 and preyed upon by Cecil/Burghley in his post as Keeper of the Royal Wards and later father-in-law, would have been outraged! His revenge explodes in “Hamlet”, which reflects events in Oxford’s life. Oxford, the man with a volatile temper, a known writer, who used more than 31,000 words in his plays and sonnets - and even invented new ones - who was fluent in five languages, educated by the best tutors in England and had access to books in a variety of languages, is the most likely candidate to written under the pen name Shakespeare.
The name of the most ingenious English poet and playwright was originally hyphenated as Shake-Speare when first published. Many believe it was the pseudonym for Edward DeVere, 17th Earl of Oxford, known in his time as a champion jouster, patron of acting troupes and producer of court masques. Among these believers was the late historian David McCullough, who understood how the extensive education available only to the upper classes in the Elizabethan era contributed to the complexity seen in the plays and sonnets. McCullough wrote the Foreword to Charlton Ogburn’s 900-page tome, “The Mysterious William Shakespeare”, which detailed every aspect of Lord Oxford’s literary life from childhood into adulthood. A brilliant historian with a reputation for excellence, McCullough saw clearly how the education received by a nobleman who had been tutored since the age of five by the same tutors who had educated Queen Elizabeth would have been capable of writing the world’s greatest English plays, whereas a grain merchant from Stratford who had to work to earn his livelihood did not have the same educational opportunities to produce the works of Shakespeare. McCullough wrote the Foreword to Ogburn’s book because as an historian, he understood the connections between historical documents and the evolution of a great literary mind.
I’ve always imagined life to be like a waiting room where we spend our days occupied in personal pursuits. We work towards our goals as we wait for the inevitable moment when we are called for entry into the Next Room. Each of us has a story consisting of multiple chapters that is reflected by our choices, while others may be thwarted by the brutal machinations of political leaders. There are unique stories in that experience, too. As human beings, we search for meaning while we are constantly interrupted by the rumblings of world events. Writers feel motivated by the need to tell our stories and to examine beliefs and values. We want to be remembered as we move from our terrestrial waiting room towards the revelations that await us. Opening our minds to the stories of others gives us pause to search for meaning in our own lives.
Many options are available for staging Ophelia’s mad scene as she makes her entrance in “Hamlet” mourning the murder of her father. Some directors stage imaginary flowers to suggest her madness, while others use sticks or straw to portray her delusions. Ophelia mentions rosemary, pansy, fennel, columbine, rue, daisies, and violets, each symbolizing a specific personality trait. She gives pansies to her brother Laertes, symbolizing thoughts, perhaps wanting him to solve their father’s murder. Rosemary symbolizes remembrance, but Ophelia doesn’t single out anyone to receive it. Different interpretations may vary to imply that she wants everyone to remember Polonius, or fears that their memory of him will fade. She gives fennel, for flattery and egotism, and columbine, for disloyalty and adultery, to the King. Ophelia gives rue to the Queen, symbolizing remorse and repentance. Because Ophelia tells the Queen to wear her rue differently than she does, it shows a contrast between Ophelia’s virtue and the Queen‘s wanton ways. Ophelia keeps the daisies and violets for herself as symbols of her innocence and fidelity. The great variety of interpretations enriches every Shakespeare production.
Robert Frost is one of my favorite American poets. One day while visiting his friend Edward Thomas in England, the two decided to take a walk. After a while, they came to a fork in the road and stopped, debating which way to go. According to Frost, his friend chose the path. Later, he regretted his choice, concerned that the other road might have been more interesting. Seen on its own, in Frost’s poem “The Road Not Taken”, the imagery is haunting and thought-provoking, engaging symbolism. The poem stresses confidence in making a personal choice while simultaneously expressing a twinge of regret over not knowing where the alternative path would have led. Frost claimed that he wrote the poem as a joke for his indecisive friend. Sadly, Edward Thomas, himself a writer, died on the battlefield in World War I. Frost described him as “a person who, whichever road he took, would be sorry he didn’t go the other. He was hard on himself that way.” Hamlet had even more precarious decisions to make while facing the tragedies that engulfed him, many drawn from the life of Edward deVere, 17th Earl of Oxford (1550-1604), who wrote under the pen name Shake-Speare, the premise of my award-winning novel.
--they fold events from their own lives into their books. John Steinbeck's empathy for the plight of migrant farm workers frames "The Grapes Of Wrath" just as Harper Lee's early witness to the cruelty of racism is portrayed in “To Kill A Mockingbird.” To divorce the Shakespeare plays and sonnets from the true author’s life experiences is to claim that the world's greatest English plays occurred by spontaneous combustion. The myth that a grain merchant from Stratford who owned no books and whose family was illiterate could have written the world’s greatest English plays is bizarre, to say the least. Even poets and playwrights in the Elizabethan era couldn’t believe the grain merchant was an author at all, and they said it. Meanwhile, Edward deVere, 17th Earl of Oxford, was listed as a poet and playwright in published books of the time, followed by the caveat that his identity could not be publicly connected to the works. My award-winning novel allows readers to catch a glimpse of the mysterious author that “experts” want you to ignore in favor of a front man who delivered his master’s plays to the Stationers’ Register. “Shakespeare’s Changeling” draws back the curtain to reveal the symbiotic partnership between the true author and his distant kinsman, the impostor.
In Elizabethan England’s Cult of Gloriana, literary noblemen and ladies were prohibited from signing their names to their published works and could only be identified as authors after their deaths. Strict censorship was enforced for political and religious reasons regardless of social station. Punishments for all social classes included hanging, beheading, dismemberment, and torture. The noble classes were forbidden from indulging in the “vulgar pursuits” of the playhouses, except as patrons of troupes of actors, and women were totally prohibited from acting onstage. When the 17th Earl of Oxford’s name was revealed as a playwright in several books of his time, he may have had no choice but to write under the pen name Shake-Speare. Even more remarkable is that his distant kinsman, upwardly mobile William Shaxper of Stratford, stepped up to act as his front man. It makes for some award-winning storytelling!
Understanding the works of Shakespeare isn’t difficult when you recognize that while the times have changed since the Elizabethan era, human nature has not. These days, we witness the specter of an insurrection to overthrow our American democracy along with the proliferation of assault rifles used to gun down innocent citizens while they shop for groceries, attend religious services, sit in classrooms, and celebrate Fourth of July parades. There are threats against the lives of election workers, government leaders, and civil servants who are just doing their jobs. As the January 6 committee investigates evidence of a conspiracy, similar social upheaval and political rebellions are presented in the Shakespeare plays, along with their consequences. The playwright had a special talent for dramatizing rebellions. This has led many scholars to recognize that the plays could not have been written by a grain merchant from Stratford with scant education and whose family was illiterate, but by someone with historical and political connections directly involved in the court of Queen Elizabeth I. Writers in the Elizabethan era had serious doubts about the Stratford man’s identity as Shakespeare. My award-winning novel unfolds the story of a well-crafted, symbiotic deception spawned by two distant kinsmen during a period rife with political upheaval and marked by severe life-or-death consequences.
Mark Twain believed in getting around. He felt that staying in one place for a lifetime was a terrible idea. “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness,” he wrote, “and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.” Twain was a world traveler, a highly visible and notable doubter of the Stratfordian theory of Shakespeare authorship. His thoughts also applied to journeys of the mind. Twain believed that nothing shuts down thinking like living in the prison of unchallenged notions. In “Is Shakespeare Dead?” Twain argues that any connection between Shaxper of Stratford and the scholarly and poetic Shake-Speare canon is like a brontosaurus pieced together out of “nine bones and six hundred barrels of plaster of Paris.” There is no evidence that the grain merchant/glove maker from Stratford ever attended school. He may have been the front man for his distant kinsman, the 17th Earl of Oxford, a well-documented poet and playwright of the Elizabethan era who maintained a troupe of actors. My award-winning novel tells the story of their exciting symbiotic relationship.
“Let Your Life Speak” is a meaningful principle among Quakers. It encourages each person to become aware of their skills, abilities, and talents to generate a positive impact in the world. In 1974, my husband Peter founded a school based on this principle and the educational research of Dr. Georgi Lozanov. First known as The Interlocking Curriculum School and later as Thornton Friends School, it used Lozanov’s steps of introducing a curriculum subject (decode), committing it into long term memory with words and music (concert) followed by an exercise (activation) based on the material learned. He taught this method in inner city schools and transformed them into centers of success. He spread Lozanov’s word that fear was a barrier to learning at a time when looks or words of disapproval shut down creativity and critical thinking. Today, fear has been magnified by intruders in schools brandishing assault weapons. We know that the violence is wounding the minds and hearts of our children. It’s also killing them. We cannot afford to strip away America’s future by dumbing down our schools and tossing more weapons into the hands of already burdened teachers. We must let our lives speak loudly and clearly to enact positive change.
I am a native Washingtonian recently transplanted south by choice. As a child, I toured each monument, memorial, and museum in the Nation's Capital more times than I can count. I felt as if they belonged to me personally as part of my American heritage- and they were right in my backyard! We always took out of town family and friends into the city when they came to visit. Never, ever did I see any “tourists” scaling the walls of the Capitol, brandishing weapons, and forcing their way inside, using American flags as weapons to beat and murder the police. I never imagined seeing any “tourists” scaling the Capitol’s walls while Congress met to certify the 2020 election, which meant that our American tradition of a peaceful transition of power would continue. Like many Americans, I was horrified when I watched the rioting unfold in real time on January 6. Meanwhile, threats against our American democracy continue as The Big Lie is spread by authoritarians in our midst. Preserving our democracy is the most important safeguard against losing each one of our rights as Americans.
Great literary works are created when writers see the totality of the motivations that drive their characters’ thoughts and actions and weave these relationships into a compelling narrative. It’s important to note that while times have changed, human nature has not. John Steinbeck's empathy for the brutal treatment of migrant farm workers can be seen in "The Grapes Of Wrath.” As a child, Harper Lee witnessed the racism she portrayed in “To Kill A Mockingbird.” It is easy to see their personal connections to their work, but the same cannot be said for Shakespeare. Scholars have hung their academic credentials on a merchant-author from Stratford whose family was illiterate, who owned no books, and while they claim he attended his local school, there is no record of it. There is nothing to connect him to the complexity of subjects covered in the Shakespeare plays. And yet books published in the Elizabethan era refer to the 17th Earl of Oxford as the author and producer of court masques, but that his doings cannot be made public. But while Academia has divorced the true playwright from his work, my award-winning novel will offer you a brilliant reconciliation.
A year ago, a friend shared a post that Facebook had deleted for good reason. Its contents announced a book burning in a southern state that encouraged right-wing parents to check out specific books from libraries and toss the books into a neighborhood bonfire. Historically, as practiced by the Nazis and authoritarian groups hellbent on the destruction of any thoughts other than theirs, book burning is intended to end all critical thinking and quell useful protest. There are now more assault weapons on our streets, killing children and adults in schools, grocery stores, theaters and just about any venue in our homeland. Sometimes even the police are outgunned. Americans recognize that thoughts and prayers without action are empty words. Politicians who pocket thousands of dollars from the gun lobby get amnesia when it comes to turning the tide of violence caused by too easily attainable assault weapons. When Congress takes a recess, it is time for representatives to go home, meet with and listen to their constituents. Voters worried about the increase of assault weapons used to kill American citizens on our soil must make their voices heard.
As an author, I’ve observed that while time periods of history have changed, human nature has not. When murder and violence thrive, evil thrives, and in the US, it thrives when politicians routinely pocket thousands of dollars from gun lobbyists more concerned with legalizing their profits instead of the safety of ordinary people: school children, grocery shoppers, religious congregants, movie goers, and many more. Guns originally built for military use in the Vietnam War have been allowed to proliferate onto our streets and into our homes. Parents had to identify recent school shooting victims using DNA technology because their children’s bodies were lacerated beyond recognition. We grieve while politicians, their pockets brimming with gun money, tell a grief-stricken public that it’s just not time to talk about it. But the proliferation of these weapons demonstrates that our need to speak the “unspeakable” is long overdue and has never been more important.
On a recent podcast of “Don't Quill The Messenger”, I discussed my experience writing historical characters for my novel, “Shakespeare’s Changeling.” The interview went well thanks to host Steven Sabel and DQTM’s engineer Jake, who edited out my sudden and seemingly endless coughing jag. In addition to learning the importance of having drinking water nearby during a long presentation, it occurred to me while listening to the final version that writers transform into authors when they find their voice – their unique storytelling style that spins a web of intrigue to snare the reader’s attention. It requires a serious commitment to the art of writing, the ability to think critically, the willingness to accept editing that enhances the work, and follow the axiom “show, don’t tell.” Writing is a solitary activity except when shared with likeminded writers who are committed to supporting each other’s work and advancing each other towards authorship. You can listen to the interview #ShakespearesChangeling at dontquillthepodcast.com and wherever you get your podcasts.
I was recently interviewed for a podcast called “Don't Quill The Messenger” on the subject of my award-winning historical novel, “Shakespeare’s Changeling.” Steven Sabel is the talented host of the DQTM podcast series, and because he has a theatrical background, we enjoyed a sparkling conversation about creativity and the importance of an entertaining novel to introduce readers to the Shakespeare authorship question. Research on the subject is rich, extensive, and quite complex. “Shakespeare’s Changeling” allows a reader to walk in the shoes of the actual historical figures of Elizabethan England who not only gave birth to the playhouses but also kept a mysterious secret to protect the true author of the plays with the help of his distant kinsman. You can listen to #ShakespearesChangeling at dontquillthepodcast.com and wherever you get your podcasts.
This coming Sunday is Mother's Day in the USA, which reminds me of one of the most difficult mother/son relationships Shake-Speare ever wrote. The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark portrays the protagonist’s extremely problematic relationship with his mother. Devastated by his father’s sudden death under suspicious circumstances, Hamlet’s emotional wounds are compounded by his mother’s “o’er hasty” remarriage to his father’s brother. Hamlet even describes a cost-cutting move: “Thrift, thrift, Horatio! The funeral baked meats did coldly furnish forth the marriage tables.” In other words, food served at the marriage feast consisted of cold leftovers from the wake after his father’s funeral! Hamlet rails against his mother for overlooking his father’s suspicious death at the hands of her new husband. There is a strong connection between Hamlet and the life of the 17th Earl of Oxford, the most likely candidate to have written under the pen name Shake-Speare, He was 12 when his father died suddenly. The adolescent earl suspected he’d been murdered, and when his mother hastily married the man he believed was the murderer, the psychological wounds ripped open. Young Oxford was sent to Sir William Cecil, Keeper of the Royal Wards, who closely controlled his inheritance, his marriage to Ophelia-like Anne Cecil, and his noble reputation from being identified with the base pursuit of playwriting.
Directors have many options when staging Ophelia’s mad scene in “Hamlet.” There are clever interpretations when she enters, singing as she mourns the murder of her father, carrying wildflowers and herbs she has gathered in the fields. Some directors prefer imaginary flowers to underscore the depths of her madness. Others use sticks or straw to portray her delusions. Seven flowers are mentioned in “Hamlet”, some being given by Ophelia to those witnessing her distress, while she keeps some for herself. In a traditional interpretation, Ophelia carries a bouquet of rosemary, pansy, fennel, columbine, rue, daisies, and violets. To her brother Laertes, she gives pansies, symbolizing thoughts, perhaps wanting him to solve the reason for their father’s murder. She doesn’t give the rosemary to any one person, and since it symbolizes remembrance, perhaps it’s meant that everyone should remember . . . but wouldn’t each character have a different perspective on exactly what to remember? She gives fennel, symbolic of flattery and egotism, and columbine, representing disloyalty and adultery, to the King. The Queen receives rue, representing regret and repentance, and is told to wear hers differently, perhaps to contrast her wanton ways with Ophelia’s virtue. Ophelia keeps the daisies and violets as symbols of her innocence and fidelity. The variety of interpretations enriches each Shakespeare play.
Today’s insults are nothing compared to the elaborate ones written by Shake-Speare. Many believe the name, first published in hyphenated form, was the pen name for Edward DeVere, 17th Earl of Oxford, an Elizabethan nobleman infamous for his irascible temper and spontaneous wit. Oxford was a tiltyard champion who, like other noblemen fighting in the war against Spain, sailed his own ship against the Spanish Armada. He was renowned for writing and performing court masques, and for a time owned the lease on Blackfriars theater. Some of Shake-Speare’s finest insults are: “The tartness of his face sours ripe grapes” and “I was seeking for a fool when I found you.” Rather than being a glove maker or grain merchant from Stratford with no record of ever having attended his local country school, who is never known to have left England or fought in a war, whose family was illiterate, Oxford was a courtier fluent in five languages, who had spent a year traveling through Italy, France, and Germany, and had access to the best private libraries in England. For historical information on Lord Oxford and why so many of us believe he was Shake-Speare, visit https://shakespeareoxfordfellowship.org and enjoy my award-winning novel.
I’ve always been fascinated by the power of words and how authoritarians ban and burn books that disagree with their point of view. In their attempts to control others by silencing the opposition, their power is derived from keeping people uninformed, confused, and fearful of expressing opposing views. When information is restricted, research, creativity and invention are diminished. Facts become lost and distorted. One case in point is the exhaustive research on the Shakespeare authorship that is frequently maligned by corporate interests and scholars sniping from ivory towers built on intellectual quicksand. There is a great deal known about the true author whose name was first hyphenated as Shake-Speare because it was intended to be a pen name. Be bold enough to ask questions, enjoy my novel, and explore the nonfiction research on your own, as I did.
Once upon a time, I believed that authorship was a solitary pursuit, an art that you practiced on your own before finally submitting your finished work to editors, agents, and publishers. I still thought so, even after winning a book award for “Shakespeare’s Changeling.” Recently, however, I joined an amazing group of fellow writers, several of them published, others hopeful, and everyone with works in progress. I have found that their input has transformed my work exponentially through a more effective use of pathos. Reaching into the spice rack of human experience, I’m learning more effecftive ways to blend tragedy with the lighter, more absurd aspects of our shared experiences, finding that it yields a note of comic relief in the sad face of tragic, grim reality.
I’ll never forget April Fools’ Day 2008 when one of my Pre-K students from France snuck up behind me and taped a paper fish to my back. He laughed himself silly over it! Between gasps, he explained that “Poisson d’Avril” or “April Fish” is a French custom that coincides with April Fools’ Day. Children in France cut out paper fish and tape them to the backs of unsuspecting friends, exclaiming “Poisson d’Avril!” I laughed, and so did the rest of the class. In researching more about the custom, no one seems to know why a fish is part of the April 1 story, but I must admit that walking around with a paper fish stuck to one’s back is rather funny, perhaps even funnier than putting it on someone else’s back in the first place. Another aspect of “Poisson d’Avril” in France is the spreading of humorous fake news. It bears no resemblance to right wing political fake news, which is not funny at all. In fact, there’s something rather fishy about it.
In all forms of literature, authors portray body language, facial expressions, breath and breathing to create a variety of moods. In "Romeo and Juliet" Nurse rushes in and struggles to catch her breath when Juliet asks her for news of Romeo. “How can you be out of breath when you have enough breath to TELL me you’re out of breath?” Juliet demands. Breath and breathing reveal a wide range of emotions. Here, it serves two purposes: the first, to illustrate Juliet’s impatience, and second, to lend comic relief at a difficult time drawn from Nurse’s characterization. Writers use breath, breathing, body language and physical movement to allow their characters a wide range of emotions by portraying common physical traits recognizable to us all. As always, doing this successfully requires a delicate balance.
Lately, I’ve been thinking about Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and the qualities that have enabled him to evolve from a comedian into a great world leader. Comedians are not numb to tragedy, nor are they immune from it in their private lives. They see into the depths of human emotions, unifying people through shared experiences. “Pathos” is the Greek word referring to actual experiences and artistic representations that evoke suffering, pity, and compassion. Comedians unite people through empathy and commonly shared experiences, which are a function of pathos. To this day, Zelensky’s earlier career has laid a common groundwork that has unified his people against the authoritarian invasion of a Russian dictator who seems hellbent on destroying everything in his wake. War is not a joke, but the platform of empathy has fortified the courage of the Ukrainian people. Hopefully, it will inspire the rest of the world.
Ukrainian families were living their lives in peace when a vile dictator dropped bombs on them, destroying their homes, schools, and hospitals, depriving ordinary people of food, water, safe shelter, and the right to their existence. Putin lied when he offered three truces and “cease fires” while continuing to rain bombs down on innocent civilians, blocking any paths to their escape. It seems inexplicable that one brutal, power-crazed dictator can condemn so many innocent people to death, but it has been done before, too many times. Sadly, it is human history repeating itself. We watch the news and grieve with the victims and seek to help, and recognize that there is not one racial, ethnic, or religious group on the planet that has not been the victim of genocide at one time or another. This is not the first wake-up call for humanity. It’s well beyond time for us to evolve beyond the torment.
One of the best places to teach young children about peace is on the playground. My new neighborhood is experiencing serious growing pains on this issue as evidenced by some very emotional community Facebook posts. Some point out that smaller children are being bullied by older ones and that they have experienced anger from the parents of the perpetrators when confronted about their children’s behavior. For their own safety, young children should be supervised on the playground, not just to protect them from physical injury, but to model behaviors like fairness, sharing, compromise, taking turns, and respecting the area by cleaning up trash on the playground after finishing a snack. Bullying will stop when the perpetrators see that responsible adults are present. Since the Facebook arguments began, I’ve seen more adults monitoring the playground, and hopefully modeling positive behaviors to make it a peaceable place.
When my son Jon and his friend Steve were studying Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar” in high school, they came into the kitchen to discuss it with me. Steve told me his favorite character was Lepidus, a member of the triumvirate ruling Rome with Caesar and Marc Antony. Steve said he felt that Lepidus was probably a nice guy who found himself caught up in the evils of power politics, and that maybe he drank so heavily to deaden the pain of living in a brutal world. I don't know if Steve ever read anything more about Lepidus, but something in his interpretation of the character’s vulnerability meant something to him, and I’m grateful he shared it. After high school, Steve became a soldier and experienced the deaths of his fellow soldiers in Afghanistan. At 30, he returned home and died of an aneurism in his sleep. Jon and I still mourn the teenager in my kitchen who puzzled over Lepidus and felt some sympathy for him that most historians have overlooked, which truly speaks volumes about Steve.
Oscar Wilde aptly commented, “The books that the world calls immoral are books that show the world its own shame.” The American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom lists books that have been challenged or banned by schools and libraries over the years. In the United States, these books include “To Kill A Mockingbird” by Harper Lee, “Beloved” by Toni Morrison, “The Grapes of Wrath” by John Steinbeck, “1984” by George Orwell, “The Handmaid’s Tale” by Margaret Atwood, and most recently, “Maus” by Art Spiegelman. Fear of ideas is nothing new. Many teachers worry that allowing their students to INQUIRE, DEBATE AND THINK FREELY will defy curriculum standards, enrage parents, demolish test scores, and destroy classroom management. In my opinion, the true danger is not the authority to keep students dull and motionless hostages in their seats, but rather the suppression of critical thinking, the editing out the painful realities of history as if they had never happened, the refusal to exchange ideas, and the failure to inspire inquiry and research. Nothing will hamper human progress more than the dumbing down of the human mind.
The recent banning of books recalls the widespread censorship in Elizabethan England. In 1599, the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Bishop of London signed the Bishops’ Ban. Satires, epigrams, histories, and plays published without permission of the Queen’s Privy Council were tossed into the fire. Writers of political pamphlets had their hands cut off. The religious governmental authorities believed that personal attacks against the Crown and the nobility were imbedded in published social and political satires. Books were also banned for sexual innuendo and “offences against morality.” In such an environment, it’s notable that the Shakespeare plays have survived since many contain sexual innuendo and characterizations of scheming assassins and power-hungry monarchs. Shakespeare was the pen name for a nobleman who was well protected by his royal lover and hidden under the guise of his Stratfordian imposter.
Supernatural spirits drive dramatic and frightful plot twists in the Shakespeare plays, so it seemed only natural for me to write a ghost into my novel at the scene of the fire that destroyed the original Globe Theater on June 29, 1613. During an actual performance of a play called “All Is True,” a cannon was fired to announce the stage entrance of King Henry VIII. Richard Burbage’s poorly planned “special effect” sparked a tragic conflagration that burned the theater to the ground. London’s Globe was not rebuilt until 1997, 384 years later. It was a unique challenge and incredibly fun for me to write a ghost scene and successfully use it. This Book Bubble features the ghost.
I truly appreciate the creative support of my friends in my local writers’ group and my Twitter followers who retweet my Bublish Book Bubbles on a weekly basis. In my writers’ group, we have recently been discussing character development and the fact that sometimes, in some stories, characters “go off the deep end” and send the plot in a bizarre and unexpected direction. Some editors see that as a problem for new writers because it can muddy the storyline when a character behaves beyond the scope of expectations. I have found that when a writer crafts a skillful justification for a character to act unexpectedly to create or respond to a dramatic event, it impacts the story, and the plot becomes driven by the characters. None of them will see the event the same way or have the exact same reaction to it. The ability to skillfully “unhinge” characters to dictate the plot requires practice, and the need to step back and let the characters drive the story.
I have found that there are the people who read an author’s work of historical fiction, and then there are the people who REALLY READ it, delving into the rich details of history carefully interwoven into the plot. Those readers who devour historical fiction and are willing to discuss my book with me always provoke an exciting exchange. Neurons light up the dark skies of the mind like fireworks on the Fourth of July when long-held beliefs are questioned. Brain cells of the world, ignite! Enjoy my book. You have nothing to lose through a lively intellectual challenge.
Most people consider writing a solitary task, but that’s not exactly true when it comes to publication. Raw, thin-skinned first-time writers lusting to be published can be easily discouraged when confronted by editors armed with seam rippers tearing apart the sacred fabric of their words. That’s when joining a writer’s group made up of cooperative and supportive colleagues can be extremely helpful. There is great joy in receiving and giving constructive feedback in a safe, non-threatening environment where everyone is motivated to practice their literary skills. If the group is angry and attacking, leave, but not without having grown a much thicker skin than you had when you came in. Trust your creative instincts, believe in yourself as a writer and be willing to accept constructive feedback. Remember that within every writer’s group, there are readers.
A wise teacher once assured me that in moving away from the past, we also move towards the future and start out on a new path. Obviously, one can’t move on from one aspect of life to another without confronting something new. Time ebbs and flows like the tides of the ocean. As the year 2021 draws to an end, we begin 2022 with cautious optimism while anticipating strange and unfamiliar new experiences. May the New Year bring all of us health, happiness, safety, courage, and prosperity as we encounter the challenges yet to come.
As the holidays are almost upon us, so is the newest version of Covid, the Omicron variant. It forces us to stop and think whether the family gatherings we have longed for since the start of this pandemic can safely proceed. My Book Bubble this week is a prayer, that whatever you do in terms of celebration, you and your loved ones will take precautions to be safe while at the same time you enjoy each other’s company, whether you are near or far.
Shakespeare mentions Christmas only three times, even though “Hamlet” is full of discernable references to it. The modern celebration of Christmas as we know it began 200 years later with Queen Victoria who popularized brightly decorated indoor Christmas trees that were part of her husband, Prince Albert’s, German traditions. The Julian calendar used in Elizabethan times, which gave New Year’s Day as March 25, is not the same as the Gregorian calendar adopted in England in 1752. Still, Twelfth Night marks the length of Christmas celebrations in Shakespeare’s time, when plays and masques were performed. It's fascinating that the play "Twelfth Night" was enjoyed by audiences more than 400 years ago.
Once upon a time in Elizabethan England, the Queen wanted to have it both ways. I was astonished when I learned this, which is why I wrote my award-winning novel. It’s well known that the Queen enjoyed the company of Lord Oxford, her favorite courtier, a fine musician, poet, champion jouster, and writer of court entertainments. But because of his deep emotional wounds, explosive temper, caustic wit, and noble status, she forbade him from publishing any of his works under his own name because they revealed dark truths that were better kept hidden. Enter stage right, the Poacher, a grain merchant from Stratford with scant education, the front man paid by his noble kinsman to deliver plays to the Stationers’ Register.
Just today, a professor friend forwarded me a post that Facebook has since removed. She was appalled by its contents, as am I and other intellectual friends. The post announced a community book burning. It encouraged conservative right-wing parents to have their children check out certain books from their school libraries and toss the books into a neighborhood bonfire. Historically, as practiced by the Nazis and other groups hellbent on the destruction of thought, book burning was meant to suppress intellectualism. Fortunately, the Internet makes that virtually impossible since published ideas don’t exist in only one printed form. Still, the symbolic act of book burning shows that we are still living in barbaric times.
I am now in the midst of the month that marks the one-year anniversary of my husband’s final illness and death. Peter was an inspiring author of 16 books, founder of an innovative school and a remarkable teacher who possessed a keen instinct on how to reach even the most troubled student. He taught other educators around the world to do so. I miss him every day, particularly at the unsettling time between Thanksgiving, Hanukkah and Christmas that marked his final days last year. But during the ordeal of his passing, my granddaughter was born, and her presence has been a comfort against the coldness. As I manage my grief, I know that as the autumn leaves yellow and fall, new ones will green and flower in the spring.
First there are the people who read your book - and then there are the people who REALLY READ your book! Historical fiction isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but when you come across those who devour it and are willing to discuss it with you as the author, it’s like fireworks on the 4th of July! Brain cells light up what I call “the dark sky of the mind.” Dialogues begin among the educated, as do diatribes among the troglodytes. We live in an age of constant social media distraction, which can either open up or shut down human achievement.
I am writing this Book Bubble on November 5, the anniversary of the 1605 Gunpowder Plot. The event is commemorated in England as the day when Guy Fawkes and his fellow conspirators were arrested while setting hidden explosives beneath the House of Lords. It was said that Fawkes was arrested holding a lighted match! Guy Fawkes Day celebrates that King James I survived the assassination attempt. In the past, the commemoration often led to violence against Catholics since the co-conspirators had sought to kill Protestant King James I and replace him with a Catholic monarch. Even today in England, people light bonfires and burn Fawkes in effigy. In 1605, conspirators in the Gunpowder Plot were drawn-and-quartered and suffered agonizing tortures. Although history separates us from this event, it shows a government’s violent reaction to those guilty of terrorism.
The Shakespeare plays are haunted by supernatural spirits that drive dramatic and frightful plot twists. I decided to write a ghost into my novel at the scene of the hellish fire that engulfed the Globe Theater on June 29, 1613. During the actual performance of a play entitled “All Is True”, the blaze was ignited when a cannon was fired to announce the stage entrance of King Henry VIII. As an author, I needed a ghost to prevent the assassination of the only man who knew about the play’s true authorship. It was incredibly fun to write, and I’m proud to say that it worked. See for yourself in this weekend’s Book Bubble.
I’m making my first trip back to Maryland since my move to South Carolina last year. I plan to revisit some of the places my late husband and I enjoyed together, such as Sugarloaf Mountain, Lake Needwood, and Brookside Gardens. It suddenly occurred to me one day recently that I can go back home again, being fully aware that nothing is or will be the same as it once was. But that’s not what’s important. I have a new home in another state now. Still, the idea of walking where we once walked together, and spiritually feeling him walking beside me, will only add to my healing.
As a writer, I've realized that all human beings carry their secrets to the grave. Fear prevents us from telling the awful truth about our actions, which are often hurtful and unkind. It also seems that none of us ever really knows the exact true details of someone's life, and what made them act or react in certain ways. Reputations depend on eulogies, suppositions, and recollections. But is the truth of someone's life ever really known to all, except perhaps in God’s Book of Life or the Akashic Records? If we are the authors of our lives, shouldn't we be careful of what we write on its pages?
Writers use breath and breathing to convey a variety of moods. When Juliet asks Nurse for news about Romeo, and Nurse struggles to catch her breath, Juliet impatiently demands, “How art thou out of breath when thou hast breath to say to me thou art out of breath?” The various rhythms of breath and breathing reveal a wide range of emotions and help writers to structure suspense. As humans, we take our next breath for granted. A pause forces the question as to whether there will be a next one. I have witnessed the sacred moment of a loved one’s last peaceful breath as well as the suffering imbedded in the words “I can’t breathe” in the wake of horrifying brutality. Writers skillfully craft their storytelling with the reality of the ancient, hard-wired physical act of breathing. And, on a lighter note, my Apple Watch just reminded me that it’s time to breathe, and as John Lennon once wrote, “As breathing is my life, to stop I dare not dare.”
Writing is basically a solitary occupation. A writer closets herself to create and complete her projects. The social (or anti-social) part begins when asking for feedback, and it’s said that asking friends is a terrible idea, since they aren’t professionals and could risk getting on your bad side with picky and trivial criticisms. Quickly, the solitary occupation of writing can become a confrontation with a murder of crows, each one squawking and feasting on the body of the manuscript. The writer’s job is to understand what is important to edit out and what is important to keep in. When the bones of plot and characterization work, it’s comforting to have the eyes of professional editors critically examine a text to offer constructive criticism to reshape that which needs to be reshaped for successful publication.
I set my novel in Elizabethan England, knowing I had to write it in easy-to-read English. Here’s why, using a Shakespearean insult from “King Lear” when Kent calls Oswald, “A knave, a rascal, an eater of broken meats, a base, proud, shallow, beggarly, three-suited, hundred pound, filthy worsted stocking knave; a lily-livered, action-taking knave; a whoreson, glass-gazing, superserviceable, finical rogue; one-trunk-inheriting slave, one that wouldst be a bawd in way of good service, and art nothing but the composition of a knave, beggar, coward, pander, and the son and heir of a mongrel bitch, one whom I will beat into clamorous whining if thou deniest the least syllable of thy addition.” Huh? Say what? From Sparknotes.com, here’s the same insult in modern English: “You’re a lowlife, a rascal who eats leftover scraps. You’re an ignoble, arrogant, shallow, vulgar, pretentious, conceited, filthy third-rate servant who thinks he’s something special. You’re a cowardly, lawyer-loving bastard, a vain brown-nosing, prissy scoundrel who’d pimp himself out to advance his career, a bag lady. You’re nothing but a lowlife, a beggar, a coward, and a pimp, the son and heir of a mutt bitch. I’ll beat you until you whine and cry if you deny the least bit of this.” See what a difference modern English makes?
Recently, I was asked to do a book signing in my new hometown. Unfortunately, I didn’t have any of my books because of my recent move, so I ordered them with expedited shipping. Easy, right? Heck no; of course, there was a snag! With very little time to spare before the book signing, I waited beyond the expected delivery date and was finally told that delivery was expected by 10 p.m. I breathed a sigh of relief. Still, all day long, I checked to see if there was a package out front, but no such luck. And, as if that wasn’t upsetting enough, at 5 a.m. on the morning of the event, I was awakened by a text message that said my books were in Jacksonville, Florida! Yikes! For me, nothing is more chaotic than the possibility of no books at a well-publicized book signing, except for one thing: while the books did finally arrive, the torrential rain on the night of the event exploded from the heavens and drenched the streets, overflowing onto the sidewalks. Outdoor merchants in the park packed up and left, deprived of customers. Amidst the chaotic deluge, we were cozy inside the bookstore, but it occurred to me that expedited delivery is just as dependable as the weather.
Today’s insults are nothing when compared to those of the most ingenious playwright of all: Shake-Speare, believed by millions as the originally hyphenated pseudonym for Edward DeVere, 17th Earl of Oxford, known as a champion jouster, poet and producer of court masques during the Elizabethan era. It was well documented in his time that Oxford had an irascible wit and inflammatory temper. No one ever said that about the grain merchant from Stratford. Some of the best Shake-Speare insults are: “The tartness of his face sours ripe grapes” and “I was seeking for a fool when I found you.” And then there’s my personal easy-to-understand favorite: “He’s a most notable coward, an infinite and endless liar, an hourly promise breaker, the owner of no one good quality.” It’s not the longest Shake-Speare insult; you can Google that, if you’re curious. A man with a volatile temper, who used upwards of 31,000 words in his plays and sonnets and even invented new ones, who was fluent in five languages, was educated by the best tutors in England and had access to vast libraries with books in a variety of languages, would more than likely have been the mysterious Shake-Speare.
In the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, strict censorship was imposed on noblemen and ladies who were prohibited from signing their names to their published works. Unless serving as theatrical patrons, working directly in the playhouses was considered a “base pursuit,” a practice beneath their dignity. Censorship was also imposed for political and religious reasons. At the royal court, however, masques were regularly performed as special gifts for the Queen, who enjoyed a rousing entertainment. The 17th Earl of Oxford was known to have composed his own music for his court masques and was recognized as such by musician William Byrd long before William Shaxper of Stratford ever set foot in a playhouse. Byrd was exclusively licensed by the Queen to print and publish his music. He did not suffer the burden of censorship forced on the nobility that caused Oxford, whose countenance in jousting was said to “shake spears”, to hide his authorship behind a pen name.
I recently joined Main Street Writes, a writer’s group based in my new hometown of Summerville, South Carolina. These days, we meet on Monday evenings via Zoom, and the connections I’ve made with this group have become very important to me. I had always been reluctant to join writer’s groups in the past, but Main Street Writes, led by Shari Stauch, offers critiques of one’s work that are generous and constructive, supported by the group’s collective positive intentions for each other’s work. Literature requires editing and different perspectives, perhaps because language is interpreted by our logical left brains. While the visual arts and music are interpreted by right brain functions, the meaning and connotations of the written word are both social and personal, evoking images, sensations and meaning that are more concrete than abstract. It helps to hold the mirror up to the nature of one’s work. Becoming the member of a writer’s group is very helpful for receiving and offering the encouragement of good, mutually supportive relationships.
One of my favorite literary image-makers is the poet Robert Frost. Between 1913-1915, he was in England, and one day took a walk with his friend, writer Edward Thomas. They stopped where “two roads diverged in a yellow wood” and spent some time deciding which way to go. They thought about it, made their choice and afterwards regretted that the other road might have been more interesting. Seen on its own, the poem’s imagery is haunting and thought-provoking. It engages the senses and seems to stress the importance of making a personal choice while also expressing a twinge of regret. Frost said he wrote the poem as a joke for his friend. Sadly, Thomas died in World War I. Frost described him as “a person who, whichever road he took, would be sorry he didn’t go the other. He was hard on himself that way.” Sometimes, aren’t we all?
When I first read “To Kill A Mockingbird” in middle school, I thought about the word choice Harper Lee made for Atticus Finch as he was preparing to defend Tom Robinson, a Black man accused of raping a White woman. “The one place where a man ought to get a square deal is in a courtroom, be he any color of the rainbow, but people have a way of carrying their resentments into the jury box.” Lee’s word choice puzzled me even then. “Resentment” is defined as “bitter indignation at having been treated unfairly” while “prejudice” is defined as “a preconceived opinion that is not based on reason or actual experience.” The word connotations are completely different. Prejudice would best describe the racism embedded in the southern, all-White, all-male jury and the townspeople from which it was selected. Even in middle school, I felt that if anyone had the right to feel resentment, it was Tom Robinson, who was innocent but nonetheless convicted, jailed, and shot supposedly while trying to escape. If Harper Lee was trying to make her readers think, it worked for me.
Chances are that Elizabethans didn’t bask in the sun at the beach as we do today, and certainly not as much as the Victorians did with the “large bathing machine” W.S. Gilbert set into his lyrics for “Iolanthe.” But YOU can catch some rays of sun and enlightenment while enjoying my award-winning novel “Shakespeare’s Changeling” as you rest on your beach blanket before getting back into the water. The only critically acclaimed, award winning literary historical novel on the Shakespeare authorship, it’s a page turner that leaves no stone of the mystery unturned, available in print and on Kindle.
The sands of time and the sands on the beach mix well to make “Shakespeare’s Changeling” an enjoyable summer read. An award-winning historical fiction novel set in Elizabethan England and written in modern English, my book has all the scandals found in the famous plays – love, treachery, war, incest, royalty, imposters, greed - scandals of every stripe that reveal the greatest scandal of all: how and why an upstart imposter became known as the greatest English playwright not for an age but for all time. Warning: he’s not who you think he is.
I’m not the first person to write about the Shakespeare authorship, and I won’t be the last, but to the best of my knowledge, I’m the only author to have written an award winning historical novel on the subject. Even in Elizabethan times, there were doubts that Shaxper from Stratford wrote anything more complicated than a bill for grain. His neighbors never recognized him as a poet or playwright, and accused him of gouging the price of grain during a famine. Real writers of the time doubted his having any literary skill at all, which modern critics toss aside as jealousy. But there’s more to it than that. Suppose Shaxper was the front man for a nobleman/poet who was also a champion jouster, of whom it was said that “his countenance shakes spears" and who was known to have presented masques in the Elizabethan court but was forbidden to engage in that “base pursuit” for the public playhouses. I’ll tell you one thing - my award winning historical novel makes for a fascinating read.
My husband Peter introduced me to Quaker beliefs through the Sandy Spring Meeting. He had taught at and founded a successful school within that community, and many of his friends, colleagues and former students continue to be in touch with me since he passed away seven months ago. The Quaker belief that one must “proceed as the way opens” allows you look within yourself, see your Inner Light and recognize how The Way Opens to summon you to follow its unfolding path. After the past year of so many harsh life-changing transitions, I am inspired at how The Way continues to open for me as I return to writing and authorship.
A few days ago, I endured my first South Carolina tropical storm in the form of Elsa. I followed my son’s directions on how to batten down the hatches, and fortunately, where a potential tornado could have formed, there was none where I live. Being the kind of person who likes to look things up, I searched the Shakespeare Concordance to see how the playwright referred to such dangerous weather. It turns out that in 57 speeches in 27 of his works, he used the word “tempest” 49 times, and the word “storm” 58 times in 84 speeches in 30 works. The words “tornado”, “hurricane” and “climate change” were not part of Shakespeare’s extensive vocabulary. Reading the skies predated today’s sophisticated weather forecasting, and that technique wasn’t helpful in preventing the devastating shipwrecks that the seafaring 17th Earl of Oxford experienced when he wrote under the pen name Shake-Speare - the tale told in my award-winning novel.
After a horrendous 2020, I have found a lifeline by joining a local writers’ group. I’m currently studying and practicing the Southern literary genre, which is a treat because of its rich heritage of expressions drawn from a variety of ethnic cultures. For example, when it’s raining while the sun is out, it’s said to be because the devil is beating his wife. In 1738, Anglo-Irish satirist Jonathan Swift wrote that “the devil was beating his wife behind the door with a shoulder of mutton,” something that sounds ridiculous even in our day when spousal abuse is considered a serious matter. As a transplant to South Carolina, it has occurred to me that during hurricane season, the devil’s wife has snuck up behind him to give the devil his due, but unfortunately her revenge falls on us, the living, who make up these fascinating tall tales in the first place.
Mark Twain once said that “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.” Twain was a world traveler, a highly visible and notable doubter of the Stratfordian Shakespeare authorship. His thoughts also apply to journeys of the mind, to questioning and inquiry. Nothing shuts down thinking as effectively as living in the prison of unchallenged notions. One of Twain’s most important works, “Is Shakespeare Dead?” argues that the traditional Stratfordian author’s connection to the Shakespeare canon is like a brontosaurus pieced together out of “nine bones and six hundred barrels of plaster of Paris.” In other words, there is nothing to connect the brilliant works of Shakespeare to a man whose attendance at ANY school is completely undocumented. Travel back in time to Elizabethan England with “Shakespeare’s Changeling” and enjoy an entertaining journey of inquiry, visiting the literary Earl of Oxford and his distant kinsman and front man, Will Shaxper of Stratford.
Five years ago, after winning a book award for “Shakespeare’s Changeling”, my life took a sharp turn. My husband became ill and I became his caretaker, and as a result, I put my writing career on hold. Peter passed away in our new home last December, a bitter climax to our year-long move. Months after his passing, a neighbor asked if anyone had a walker that she could borrow since she had a visitor arriving who would need it. I was happy to lend her the one Peter had used, which for some unknown reason, I had mysteriously delayed donating to a local charity, so it was available to loan. On returning the walker, my new friend surprised me by inviting me into a writers’ group that is helping me regain my footing as an author. I can’t help but feel that Peter, who published 20 books and left behind a wealth of unpublished manuscripts, was working unseen with my new friend to renew my literary life.
In writing my award-winning novel set in Elizabethan England, it was easy to see that while times have changed, human nature has not. Back then, when a person died in a plague epidemic, his name was listed in the parish register, and as deaths increased, super-spreader events such as banquets, archery tournaments, theatrical productions and other large social gatherings were prohibited. It was business-as-usual in the churches because it was believed that prayer prevented infection. Today, our chances of survival are much better than they were in Shakespearean times thanks to medical research. Ironically, some people in modern countries today refuse vaccination as a matter of personal choice while others in poorer countries would be grateful for life-saving vaccines. As COVID infection rates decrease in the US, I wonder how people in Shakespeare’s time would have felt if medicine had been available to prevent deaths from epidemics.
Lounge around in the summer sun, splash away in the ocean and grow your brain at the same time. My award-winning novel and its political intrigue will amaze you while you take a break from chasing your runaway young’uns down the beach. While they nap in the shade, read about the poet and his devoted imposter. Remember how your teachers tried to convince you that a man with little or no education could write the world’s greatest plays? Remember how you didn’t understand Shakespeare’s words? My historical novel will change all that by introducing you to the playwright and his front man in the context of their times. Trust me; it’s not your teacher’s Shakespeare. This one is fun!
We’ve endured record hot temperatures this week here in the Charleston, South Carolina area, bringing home the fact that summer has arrived. Personally, I’m still working through my readjustment to our recent interstate move, my husband’s death and my therapeutic return to my life as an author. It’s exciting to find that one of my best resources is right here in my neighborhood and that I can work with her as my coach on my literary return in a more contemporary genre. I understand much more about the authorship game than I did several years ago, and am ready to take on my future so as to avoid a freezing winter of discontent.
In this week's excerpt, Shaxper has arrived in London to meet his distant cousin, the theatrical Earl of Oxford, hoping to win a job as an actor in the new medium of theater. While desperate for success, Shaxper is also worried about appearing too pushy, having inflamed his cousin's wrath back in Stratford with the traveling troupe of actors. It's no joke, feeling a knife's blade at your throat! On writing dialogue for historical characters, George Bernard Shaw once said that he preferred NOT to write what he thought the characters had said, but rather, what he THOUGHT they would have said if they had known what they were really doing. I enjoyed writing this scene, which sets a very different tone than their first meeting.
This question was asked at the end of every Lone Ranger TV show. He was the masked man who, along with his faithful Native American sidekick Tonto, had rescued some poor, pitiful soul from a gang of merciless desperados, and the grateful parties had no idea who had rescued them because the Lone Ranger always wore a mask. (Tonto didn’t mask up, but no one ever thanked him for anything.) The Lone Ranger rode off with a “Hi, Ho, Silver! Away!” and that was it. In 2020, everyone who wore a mask to protect themselves and their loved ones from COVID 19 was a hero. The Centers for Disease Control recently announced that all those who have been vaccinated against the virus do not need to wear masks outdoors or with groups of other vaccinated people. Although I have been fully vaccinated, I’m still going to wear my mask in crowded places among people I do not know. And just like Tonto, no one needs to thank me.
I was still pregnant with my soon-to-be firstborn when Mother’s Day 1980 rolled around. Being large with child, I was more than ready for his arrival, and as it turned out, he would be born exactly one week later. Still, in anticipation of that day yet to come, to break the tension I decided to take a walk through our local mall. Lots of salespeople stood outside their shops handing out carnations to all the obvious moms and grandmoms with children in tow. Imagine my joy when one young salesperson stepped forward and handed me a pink carnation. “You’re going to be a mom any time now, so let’s celebrate you today,” she said. What a beautiful gesture! It’s a Mother’s Day memory I’ve savored all of my life.
As I wrote my novel, I mourned the death of its characters who were once real people strutting across the world’s stage, serving as actors creating historical events. It seemed to me at the time that Destiny itself wrote their entrances and exits and ended their lives when their roles were completed. England’s renowned Queen Elizabeth I and the lesser-known Edward DeVere, 17th Earl of Oxford (widely believed to have written as Shakespeare) died when they found themselves living in a world strangely unfamiliar to them, "victims of the alterations of time and chance” as Oxford wrote in an extant letter mourning the Queen's death. She had protected Oxford’s literary pseudonym, and in doing so, allowed the training of playwrights and theaters in the English renaissance to flourish. While my characters progressed through time, I observed that they had played their parts and were destined to go no further. As an author, I grieved for them, having lived so closely with them for many years.
My husband Peter was an internationally renowned author and educator who taught a breakthrough method for ending writer’s block. Expand-A-Story uses a bare bones structure consisting of an introduction, rising conflict and final resolution, simplified in eight sentences. This is a basic structure common to all stories, no matter how long or complex. The writer’s job is to add supporting details between the lines. How would you expand this story? 1. It was a beautiful day in the country. 2. Nevertheless, Harold is sad. 3. Someone has stolen his cookie. 4. He asks the snake, “Did you steal my cookie?’ 5. The snake says “Sssssss.” 6. Harold thinks that means yes. 7. He scolds the snake. 8. Then Harold is happy. Even in classes where students of all ages practice this exercise using the same sample sentences, each story is as unique and different as the mind of the author who created it.
When you're writing historical fiction and you know your characters SO WELL that you feel you could run into them at the grocery store, your novel writes itself. The characters speak and act for you, regardless of your distance from them in time and space. This means that as an author, your task is to record and reflect on the direction they've given you and follow up by skillfully writing and editing your work. Asking for feedback from dependable and CONSTRUCTIVELY critical readers (an important distinction) is helpful. While times, politics and cultures may have changed, it's important to remember that human nature has not. Jealousy, Compassion, Greed, Love, Conflict and Joy are only a few of the human qualities that move your characters to interact and drive your plot forward. Allowing your characters to speak within the framework of human nature keeps the work of your mind's eye fresh and realistic.
In this week's Book Bubble, we were asked to think about sentences that stop readers in their tracks. I chose one from my novel that describes Ben Jonson's impression of New Place, the home of his old nemesis, Will Shaxper of Stratford: "New Place looked down on its neighbors with the same palpable contempt of its owner." Documents of the time show that Shaxper was fined repeatedly for hoarding grain during times of famine, and if that doesn't show palpable contempt for one's neighbors, what does? Artistically, I wanted the house to mirror the man who had built it. New Place no longer exists, but the site is owned by the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, which fires its own "palpable contempt" at anyone questioning the mysterious identity of Shakespeare, the most elusive figure in the history of English literature. My novel is a work of historical fiction, as are most of the traditional suppositions about the man from Stratford that are presented by historians as "known facts."
Not much information is known about the real life of William Shaxper (or Shagsper or Shaksper, depending on how he signed his name on any given day) that hasn't been fabricated by corporate interests. As a novelist, I can tell you that it was great fun imagining how he, as an upwardly mobile merchant, left his wife and three young children in Stratford to attach himself to a noble kinsman in London and improve his lot. Theaters were springing up like asparagus in May along the Thames, so why shouldn't he take advantage of his distant family connection to a well known poet, theatrical patron and musician like 17th Earl of Oxford, who was also a maker of court masques? On a smaller scale, breathing life into Anne Whatley of Temple Grafton, the name many traditionalists deem to be an error in church marriage records that was supposed to say "Anne Hathaway" was great fun, as can be seen in today's Book Bubble.
In taking a walk through an historical novel, an author chooses specific words and carefully monitors their pace, as if feeling the rhythmic pulse of the story. Pace is meant to easily guide readers into visualizing images and experiencing the emotions of the characters by crafting a fluid style. I noticed early on in writing my award winning novel that the characters quickly took it over and told the story for me. Careful pacing moves it forward like a well oiled machine, each link in the chain driving the plot. Dialogue must be clear, crisp and concise, and for today's readers, sound as if the same words spoken in the past easily could be spoken today. Word economy is important without sacrificing sensory elements that draw readers in. Reading your story out loud as you write it helps an author feel whether the pacing is fluid or stagnant.
In today's Book Bubble, I present "William Shaxper's Prologue", the opening chapter of my novel written to draw readers in as witnesses to murder. I chose to begin my story with the more familiar character of Shaxper (who had posed as Shakespeare to protect his literary patron) rather than introduce my story with the lesser known 17th Earl of Oxford. I toyed with the idea of opening the book with Oxford's murder and then decided to follow the terrified Shaxper in the murder's wake, having witnessed it and fearing for his life. The reader would not expect Shaxper ("Shakespeare" as traditionally portrayed is something of a milk toast) to be fleeing the hot pursuit of the King's soldiers. Oxford is introduced next in his own prologue. I did this to differentiate the two men and outline their personalities as they endured their symbiotic working relationship, which runs through the novel and defines the award winning story,
In authoring an award winning historical novel using an arsenal of information on the lives of real people, I felt it necessary to respect their personalities and avoid putting words in their mouths that didn't align with their actions as evidenced by known events. For example, what could have motivated a nobleman to write great works while hiding behind a pen name? What could have driven a working class grain merchant from the country to seek a career in the exciting new medium of Elizabethan theater? A great deal of writing was involved, accompanied by a great deal of editing. Threading the needle of plot with a solid through line of action often involves editing out material that you like - but cut you must, always taking into account keeping the reader's interest from start to finish.
The weather has been warm and sunny here in South Carolina as I continue unpacking from my long distance move and set up my office. I'm told it gets very hot here over the summer, so it's a fine time for me to remember that I'm not at all fond of extreme heat! But what are summers for, if not playing in the sand and water and chasing grandchildren across the beach! I'm really looking forward to that, and the idea of returning to work after our disorganizing long distance move and my husband's passing. I'm realizing that if one plans to heal from grief, it's important to see life as a constant reframing exercise, in thinking, counseling and readjusting. In my case, it means celebrating the hot days of summer differently, for the first time in my life, enjoying the beach with my grandchildren.
Today's Book Bubble discusses the difference between tone and mood. Tone creates the mood an author seeks to convey, whereas mood is the feeling her words evoke. In writing "Shakespeare's Changeling", a work of historical fiction set in Elizabethan England, my challenge was to build a time machine to propel the reader back to that era while using modern English. I had to describe the setting linguistically as well as engage all of the reader's senses to differentiate that world from the world we live in today, at the same time showing that in hundreds of years, human nature itself has not changed.I chose words to invite the reader to walk in on the sights, sounds and even the smells of that era. I led the reader to follow the footsteps of an upwardly mobile man who wanted a career in the theater as he struck a bargain with his noble anonymous literary cousin to act as his front man. My efforts paid off when "Shakespeare's Changeling" won a Chanticleer International Book Award.
In the spirit of Valentine's Day, Bublish suggested that we write a love letter to our readers or to an author that we admire. My words of love in today's Book Bubble are addressed to Literacy itself. Without the ability to read and write in ANY language, people are forced to remain in ignorance and are subjected to deplorable and egregious abuses by those who exploit them. I have seen adults, after a lifetime of suffering from the inability to read, learning to do so. Their facial expressions and postures change as their brains actually grow dendritic connections and the readers become smarter. Their self confidence increases. Authors cannot expect to have readers if there are those who cannot read, whether because of failures in the educational system or school closings during the time of COVID. Reading is the most critical path for growing the brain and increasing human intelligence.
Writing about Shakespeare is a lot like writing about politics and religion - it's a highly incendiary and controversial topic, even for an award-winning novel like mine. Shakespeare is sacred among those who have dedicated their lives and PhDs to the study of his work.They have written volumes of fiction under the guise of history to explain the many unknowns and gaps in the record, trying to connect Shakespeare's ingenious literary ability with a grain merchant's bucolic life in Stratford. Meanwhile, other scholars investigate the authorship, which was questioned even in Elizabethan times. What sacred cow are the traditionalists trying to protect by questioning literary research into what seems to have been a pen name? My novel, a work of historical fiction, weaves together a plausible story based on actual events in the lives of an upwardly mobile grain dealer with his eye on a career in the London theaters and his distant kinsman, a theatrical patron forced by his noble status to write under a pen name.
Grief forces me to write again - not as an act of discipline or as a sweet visitation from creativity, but as a persistent and demanding Muse that towers over me like the ancient Colussus of Rhodes. This stone cold bully-of-a-Muse has shown me that writing can clarify and reframe tragedy by adding the nuance of alternative meanings to a tragic event. In my case, the tragic event was the death of my husband. What began as my one narrative essay on grief has built into several chapters on the value of the written word and all of its images in healing the sadness of the human heart. It's a long process of wading through thoughts and feelings, but a necessary one.
Grieving over the death of a loved one forces the living into weighty transitions.Hamlet wrestled with the death of his father whose ghost revealed that he had been murdered by his brother, who hastily remarried the widow. King and Queen advise Hamlet that he has spent far too much time grieving and should stop, since "all that lives must die, passing through nature to eternity." This is probably the WORST bit of grief counseling ever offered anyone! Of course those words build the dramatic tension of the play, but in real life, they are useless.Perhaps only Time can lessen the severity of grief, but it never really washes away the pain of loss.
I'm coping with widowhood, and it feels like slogging through mud. But it's not quicksand, and I'm just beginning to climb out of what seems like a bottomless pit. There's a book in this, in the struggle between devotion to self and devotion to spouse. After years of being a caretaker, guilt struck at me like the mythical Hydra. At my husband's Final Parting, I was seared by flames of self-doubt and second-guessing. I now find that my path towards healing winds its way through the covers of a book. I'm on my own now and ready to author again. That realization is magic and seems to bring my author/husband back to life to cheer me on. Make no mistake.
For two months, I held onto the hope that my husband would recover from his recent illness, but sadly, he passed away. Since then, I've had the chance to explore what I feel is the relationship between hope and the grief that accompanies a loved one's passing. I wondered whether my ardent hope for his recovery had blinded me to the harsh reality of his eventual death. Counseling has helped me discover that hope was the fuel that kept me going to the hospital every day, to have the faith to sit with him and talk to him, even though I wasn't always sure he was aware of my presence. Hope gave me the confidence to support him, and that was the most important gift for both of us. It seems now that hope is supporting me to recover from my grief.
Farewell, 2020! Don't let the screen door hit you on the way out! After an arduous year of downsizing, selling our old home, packing, buying our new home, moving, unpacking and reorganizing, our new granddaughter was born (a joyous occasion!) and my husband of 31 years passed away (a grievous loss.) It's true that 2020 has been a difficult year for too many of us. I'm entering 2021 on my own, for the first time in my life. I'm looking forward to being an active grandma and am sure there's a book in this somewhere, with slings and arrows and emotional twists and turns. Stay safe, Dear Readers! Wishing you a new year of health, prosperity and better times.
I'm very thankful to have closed on our new home and that the first of three PODS has been delivered and unpacked. My husband, two cats and I have lived in a temporary rental since mid September, and while it was comfortable enough and beautifully situated across the street from a duck pond, it still wasn't "home." As the next two PODS arrive and the rest of our things are moved in, we rejoice that our days of being uprooted are over and that we can feel settled again. Happy Thanksgiving to all of you, Dear Readers, and may you be safe and comfortable where ever your home may be.
The move to our new home in Charleston, SC, has derailed my writing for the past several months, and selecting copy for Book Bubbles on an iPad is a challenge, to say the least. We close on our new home before Thanksgiving. It will be good to be surrounded by our things again, including my home office. I’m thankful to see the proverbial “light at the end of the tunnel” as we settle in. Most of all, I’m thankful for the nurses and doctors who work hard to heal us during the hellish spread of COVID-19, and for the scientists and engineers who designed the medical equipment that protects and monitors us. I wish all of you a safe Thanksgiving, celebrating in gratitude for the everyday things we often take for granted.
Shakespeare’s “Hamlet” unfolds during the Christmas season, merging holiday celebrations with treason and murder. At Elsinore, we witness wassail and treachery. Hamlet’s deep wounds are brutally personal. Many believe, as I do, that the true author of “Hamlet”, the 17th Earl of Oxford, wore the thorny crown of noble birth, and that as a young adolescent and for the rest of his life, believed his own father had been murdered. I wove my novel’s plot to portray a literary partnership between Lord Oxford, whose high birth prevented publishing under his own name, and William Shaxper of Stratford, a distant kinsman.
Working out the “kinks” in the plot of a novel is like solving a complex board puzzle. There is no such thing as leftover pieces: everything must fit in its proper place for the story to move forward and reach its conclusion. When writing my historical fiction, I wrestled with my novel’s plot and moved quite a few sticky notes around to arrange events as close as possible to known facts, while stepping into a character’s shoes, allowing them to speak through me. Editing a novel is like solving a complex puzzle, leaving no loose ends to confuse and lose the reader. Having received an international award for my book shows that successful storytelling is a matter of successful problem solving.
Ghosts appear (literally) in five Shakespeare plays, and each one inspired me to write many of the dramatic scenes for my novel. Spectral appearances draw readers into other worldly interventions that move a plot forward. In my novel, Lord Oxford’s ghost appears to rescue his scribe William Shaxper from the burning Globe Theater. As a plot device, ghosts can reveal a guilty conscience, incite an act of revenge or foretell an ominous future. Shakespeare knew it, as did ancient playwrights and the writers of today who find them very useful actors.
...compared to letting go of a loved one at death. Grief is common to all humanity and is found in many species in the animal kingdom. How we cope with it makes a difference in our survival as we are forced to let go and trudge on ahead, gradually accepting our loss and increasing our pace as Time demands. In that respect, little has changed since Shakespeare first penned his themes of grief and loss. One difference between then and now is a deeper understanding of the brain itself, and how grief can resolve through therapy, kindness and faith in the healing process.
I’m still dancing without my partner - my computer - and recently learned that I won’t be reunited with it until after Thanksgiving, after the closing on my new home when the first of my PODS is delivered and unpacked. So here is a brief Book Bubble courtesy of my hardworking iPad.
Shake-speare wrote lots of sinister characters into his plays. Do you have a favorite bad guy? Choose from Iago, Claudius, Caliban, Richard III, Tybalt, Lady Macbeth and others. Each one has strong motivations for their crimes, and no plot could turn without them. In my novel, those with the most governmental power perpetrate the most evil. Something to think about, even in today’s world.
Still functioning with my iPad after my very complicated move to South Carolina with all of my computers packed by over-zealous movers onto one of two PODS, I submit this brief excerpt since it is all my iPad can handle. It seems our new home won’t be ready on the exact day it was promised, but progress is being made. I hope to be reunited with my home office again soon.
...Dear Readers, the movers packed my Chromebook and my laptop in an unmarked box on our second POD. I won’t see them for another month when we finally move into our new home. Hopefully, my iPad will help me get this Book Bubble out in time. Thanks for your patience, all.
Dad caught it on film on my first day of school, and the home movie still exists as a lesson in facing fear. I stand in line with the other children on the playground to have my chance on the monkey bars, but when my turn comes, I walk away. To this day, I recall being afraid to fall and get hurt, lacking self confidence even with the best teacher in the world standing right there to encourage and support me. That brief moment caught on tape, replayed in my mind many times over the years, has stiffened my resolve to be confident and courageous when faced with fear and doubt, a lesson that has lasted me a lifetime.
A great man (my husband Peter) once said that when moving from one place to another, a person is taken hostage to the all-consuming jobs of packing, donating and trashing. I find that creativity enters the scene when the contents of every box must be well reasoned and labeled so that what is packed can easily be retrieved when unpacked. In our case, furniture and other goodies will be in storage for a month while our new home is being completed. Our furnished rental is not far away so we can watch as our new home takes shape. I’m not writing anything these days beyond this Book Bubble and lists-of-things-to-do-before-we-leave, but I have great authorship plans once we are settled into the new house… provided that a month later, I can find my notes! I’m so glad to keep my computer by my side to help me stay on track.
Ah, the chaos of moving! It’s a time for sorting clutter, trashing the unnecessary, and retaining only the significant. It’s a lot like editing a book! In the case of our upcoming move to another state, a huge orange dumpster occupies my driveway, its heavy metal mouth gaping open to receive vast quantities of unwanted junk that have accumulated over 51 years from four generations of my family. Like the metaphorical dumpster of editing, where words and sentences that don’t move the plot are tossed aside, it makes way for a revised and more streamlined version. I trim those things that no longer move the story while preserving key pieces of family history. Like editing, moving is a daunting challenge but not an impossible one.
I’ve always imagined life as a waiting room where we spend our days occupied with personal pursuits. We work towards our goals as we wait for the inevitable moment when our names are called for entry into the next room. Each of us has a story, multiple chapters in fact, reflected by our choices while others are thwarted by the brutal machinations of others. We wait and search for meaning, constantly interrupted by the rumblings of life. Writers are motivated by the need to tell our stories, to examine our beliefs and values. We want to be remembered as we move from our terrestrial waiting room towards the revelations that await us. Opening our minds and hearts to the stories of others gives us pause to find meaning in our lives.
Oppression is blowing across the world like an evil wind, and the words “new normal” imply that we’re simply supposed to accept it. The villains and assassins characterized by Shakespeare show his clear understanding of the brutality of political oppression. It gives us something to think about when many believe that Thought itself has gone out of fashion! We dare not "lose the name of action” as we struggle to achieve a new balance. The storms in our nation and across the globe have exposed our frailties, demonstrating that human rights everywhere require the force of our protection.
The house has embraced four generations of my family. In 1969 when it was new, it welcomed us. Later, my grandmother moved in, and much later, my sons were toddlers running through it and occasionally staying overnight. At first, I was a teenager here and eventually left to live my own life, returning 30 years later to care for my mother. With her passing, the house became mine. Now it’s time to say goodbye to the place that has been the center of my family for 51 years. It’s not easy rummaging through belongings that never quite left. It makes me aware of the thoughts and feelings we carry with us even when the physical belongings are gone. Now, with mixed emotions, it’s time to say goodbye. Life here has been sweet and complicated over the years, but always lovingly memorable. I carry those memories with me, along with the love that filled each room.
Under normal circumstances, moving from one state to another is extremely complicated. It uproots and occupies every moment of one's life: from selling the old home, finding and financing the new one, packing and dealing with the sorting, donating, storing and moving important items. During the time of COVID, it's particularly challenging trying to stay well and safely relocate. Masking and social distancing are essential. Planning mail-in voting is a must! There is no question of the difficulty, but taking the current when it serves is also an important part of the story. Opportunities simply show up, and it’s important to seize them and act upon them. In the case of our move, my coping strategy is to hold on to the idea of the endgame, of how it will feel once we are safely settled in our new home. Not even N95 masks will hide our smiles.
I took arms against a sea of troubles when writing my controversial historical novel about Shakespeare. It took courage to tell his story from a different perspective than the traditional legend, but in truth there are many gaps in his biography. Much of what we were taught in school about the man from Stratford is conjecture, including the "fact" that he attended his local school. There is no record of it. The challenge in undermining tradition bothers those who believe that the biography of the world’s most famous playwright is sacrosanct and cannot be explored in a work of fiction, when the Stratford man's life story as we know it today is a work of historical fiction itself.
Writers of historical fiction listen to history. We examine events from all angles. We take them apart, shake them up, turn them upside down and reveal unknown and untold stories. In today's Book Bubble, Shaxper leaves his wife and family in Stratford to find work in the London theaters under the patronage of his distant kinsman, the theatrical Lord Oxford. I stepped into the scene to find the motivation of a man seizing an opportunity to better himself while his wife tearfully pleads for him to stay. A writer must be a fly on the wall and listen to what might have been said while the scene unfolds as it might have on that fateful day.
Chalk it up to animal magnetism, but the big yellow dog in today’s Book Bubble found his way into my novel completely by accident. That happens to me when I’m writing – characters and scenes pop into my head in vivid detail. One moment, Ben Jonson (and I) were in Stratford trying to gain entry into Will Shaxper’s house; and the next, a group of children ran by chasing the big yellow dog. There he was, this big yellow dog, running down the lane in my mind’s eye! The least I could do was write him into my story. His canine "cameo" helped Jonson get inside New Place. But not to be upstaged, the imaginary dog rewarded himself by snatching some imaginary food from the imaginary kitchen table. I saw him do it! He escaped without getting caught, and seemed content at having been a plot device. Good dog!
How were birthdays celebrated in the Elizabethan age? I did some quick research and learned that while birthday celebrations were common among nobles and royals in Shakespeare's time, commoners would not have been as likely to celebrate them. While the upper classes would have had their horoscopes cast, this too was less likely among the middle and lower classes. Shakespeare uses the word "birthday" in four plays: "Julius Caesar", "Antony and "Cleopatra", "Pericles" and "Two Noble Kinsmen." If birthday celebrations were not common among commoners, it's unusual that an author from that social class would have mentioned them in his plays. To learn more about the authorship, enjoy reading its dramatization in my novel.
It's common knowledge that Shake-speare indulged in wordplay and that he invented words like "madcap" and "cold-blooded." He also changed nouns into verbs, transforming "elbow" into "elbows”, as in being repeatedly and painfully nudged by a guilty conscience. This appears in King Lear - "A sovereign shame so elbows him..." Wordplay is the mind's gift to the educated. Shake-speare is credited with inventing 1,700 words. Some are compounds like "arch-villain", "chimney-top", "fortune-teller", “nimble-footed" and "rose-cheeked." Obviously Shake-speare was very well educated, and there are lots of us who believe he wasn’t the merchant of Stratford. Walk through an alternative story of the authorship in my award-winning novel, “Shakespeare’s Changeling."
The turtle on the fencepost didn't get there by itself. Someone left it there as a cruel joke and perhaps even stayed for a while to watch it struggle. Cruelty is a choice. So is Compassion, and our choices define who we are. Whether we accept Cruelty as an everyday occurrence - or exercise Compassion to ease the suffering that swirls in its wake - is a personal and collective choice. Some of us linger at the crossroads wondering which way to go, but looking ahead, we clearly see that Compassion yields survival, while Cruelty is a dead end.
In my mind's eye, I see a world where no mother or father suffers the agony of all-consuming worry when their children leave the house to visit friends, walk to the store, play sports in a public park, ride bikes - to do all of those things that build young minds and bodies into vibrant adults of character. Our world, our country, cannot afford to negate the value of any human. It's long past time to build a culture that respects all of our differences and uses them to design the new and improved world. I see it in my mind's eye as hearts and hands take action to do it.
When I was five, I was told that God was watching over me. I pictured an old man with a long beard peering down at me from a big celestial window, and when the window got dirty, God would wipe it clean with his beard. While this image made me smile and feel safe, it also made me aware of my behavior - that if I hurt any creature in anger or with violence, or stood by in the face of such evil, God would see and remember. I’m not five anymore, and know that not everyone believes in God the same way, or even at all. But racism and hatred have dirtied the celestial window. It’s time for us to help clean it. Cameras and cellphones now watch and record acts of violence and brutality. Technology is intervening. It sees and remembers. It broadcasts and streams. It needs hearts and minds to guide it. I pray that it helps humanity build a new collective consciousness. God knows we need it.
The words "new normal" make me nervous, and yet I've lived long enough to know that change is inevitable. I know that my husband and I will eventually move to Charleston, SC, but not until we can do so safely. We'll have tropical storms and hurricanes to deal with there, and I'll accept that as a part of the Lowcountry life - the flipside of my love for chubby palmetto trees. So, I wondered, did Shakespeare, who invented so many words and phrases we use today, ever use the word "normal" in his plays and sonnets? He didn't, which isn't surprising considering the vicious villains and angry assassins he wrote into his plays, showing that he understood the meaning of "new normal” all too well, especially in the brutality of politics.
It was a wonderful surprise this past Mothers' Day when my sons sent me a surprise gift box containing four unique and distinctive bottles of wine! I'm happy they understand my concerns about being a stay-at-home caregiver during the time of the Coronavirus, and know that the wine will certainly help take the edge off. So proud that I must have done something right to deserve this loving attention!
One of my favorite books is James Thurber's "My Life and Hard Times," a collection of short stories published in 1933 about his life in Columbus, Ohio, with his fairly odd parents and bizarre extended family. He had an aunt who yelled “Hark!” and threw shoes at imaginary burglars down a darkened hallway. "Some nights she threw them all" was the caption under one of his drawings. "Nobody knew what was the matter with him" is the caption under the drawing of a grouchy terrier named Muggs, angrily resting on his human-like elbow. It was impossible to read Thurber out loud without laughing hysterically in middle school when my English teacher called on me. Thurber's words elicited the images of his aged grandfather still believing the Civil War was on; the time the old bed in the attic fell on his father; his cousin Briggs Beall who poured camphor all over himself so he wouldn’t stop breathing in the night. The eccentrics were all in there, swimming around in hilarious words and drawings. And they're all still there, too - the book is brilliantly funny, 87 years after its release.
If Justice is blind, does my Muse wear a facemask? In these days of the coronavirus, I look for it high and low, hoping to find the Masked Apparition of Creativity lurking near my desk. It sometimes feels like my Muse is playing hide and seek with me. These difficult months have zapped a great deal of my creative energy, but luckily, my Muse caught fire yesterday as I retrieved my outline for the sequel to "Shakespeare's Changeling”, which is an historical novel about the Dark Lady. What's fascinating is that it's not who you think it is, and not who orthodoxy thinks it is, and that's the best part of the story! A Muse, like all dynamic creatures, transforms itself as a story grows and leads a writer ever onward. I'm excited about this Muse of Dark Fire.
Those who remember comedian Jack Benny recall the comedy sketch where a burglar forces him at gunpoint to choose between his money or his life. After a well-timed pause, Benny, in his TV persona as a penny-pinching miser, responds by blurting out, "I'm thinking. I'm thinking!" It's not a choice anyone wants to make in real life, and yet COVID-19 has forced it upon us. Choosing between maintaining your livelihood and financial welfare against the health and safety of your family is a grim one. We truly are flailing away in the proverbial "uncharted waters." We are at the crossroads without a map. My hope is that medical science will intervene soon with a successful treatment to prevent more of our loved ones from dying. That may be the only real choice we have.
Nothing quite like the protestors undermining social distance as they seek to immediately reopen businesses shuttered by the Coronavirus. It’s important to realize that health is a serious matter, and that the choice between "your money or your life" can be difficult. And yet, while there is such a thing as a touchless car wash, no one has yet invented the touchless massage or the touchless tattoo, businesses protestors seek to reopen. Boredpanda.com offered this gem about the protestors in a double-meaning worthy of Shakespeare: The spread of Coronavirus is dependent on: 1. how dense the population is. 2. how dense the population is. You wrote the same thing twice. What's the other one? You're #2. Stay well, everyone, and that's no joke!
Since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, we have seen and heard many stories about medical professionals forced to work without personal protective equipment (PPEs). Their end-of-the-day-reality is that their dedication to serving and healing others puts their lives and the lives of their loved ones at risk. While their bold heroism is courageously unmasked, so is the unmitigated villainy that forces these professionals to treat patients without the necessary PPEs because officials ignored the ferocity of the pandemic months ago. Some medical heroes are forced to wear body bags rather than PPEs to work. For these heroes, the words “thank you” aren't quite large enough. My words for the villains aren’t suitable for a Book Bubble. Sad to report that two days ago, a friend from Florida died from the Covid-19 virus.
The little boy is walking now. We're all excited about it, and yet no one is as excited about it as he is! I've seen him as he crawl-races across the floor to a living room chair, grabs the seat with clenched fists and pulls himself up to a standing position. He laughs and exclaims his bipedal success in wordless pride, and his face lights up from within to reflect his triumph. And then suddenly he gently rocks, goes into a full wobble and kerplunks onto his diapered tushie. At first he's disappointed, but then he summons his determination, crawl-races towards the curled up dog and grabs its collar. The resting dog slowly rises as if understanding the boy's intent, helping him to stand again. And for a brief moment, both boy and dog are laughing.
Since the Coronavirus reared its ugly head and our political leaders knew about it almost at the time they clicked their champagne glasses to ring in 2020, it astonishes me that they are still not doing enough to provide our health care workers with the essential protective gear, ventilators and hospital beds. I've been wondering what I'll tell my grandchildren someday when this disaster is over. I'll tell them that I learned about community health as a child - the idea that by taking care of one of us (with the polio vaccine, for example), we were taking care of all of us, protecting ourselves, our local communities and our country from highly contagious diseases. I would want them to know that there are better options than just telling us that hundreds of thousands of Americans will die because warnings were ignored. Maybe when I tell them that community health once lived and breathed in America, they will do something in their adult lives to make a difference and bring it back.
A sea-change is a "powerful, profound and notable transformation" that evolves into a "new normal." First coined by Shake-speare, the sea-change also describes how dramatically our lives have been upended by the COVID-19 virus. Working at home has been easy, but I miss the senior center I served and the preschool where I worked. Both have been closed to prevent the spread of the virus. Now I've struck a new balance at home, proofing a manuscript, preparing a new book for publication and drafting a sequel to "Shakespeare's Changeling" along with routine household tasks and concern for my loved ones. Like everyone else, I'm treading water in this challenging new tide.
Nothing beats social distancing during a pandemic like sitting in the waiting room of a surgical center. Not feeling particularly safe or heroic while I waited, I must admit that Mo Willems came to my rescue. His videos on how to draw are excellent, and I learned a lot by watching them. It was a healing experience, since my third grade teacher once told me I couldn't draw and I gave up trying. (I guess the real problem was that she couldn't teach.) But Mo Willems gets it! He turned my uneasy waiting room experience into a relaxing, creative joyride. Now that my husband is home and recovering from surgery, we're going to watch Mo Willems videos together and learn how to draw. It'll be fun! We’ll even wash our hands before we get started.
Smack in the middle of our plans to move to Charleston, S.C., the world is faced with the coronavirus and its impact on travel. I have a ticket to fly there next month to go house hunting, but like many other people, I have serious concerns about getting on a plane. I watch all of the news bulletins and will probably decide to cancel my flight soon and drive down instead. I have a short window of time to do this, which means I'll have less time to go house hunting, and that touring homes with my Realtor may seem more like speed dating. Still, to wax philosophical, if this is the worst I and my loved ones have to face at this time of global upheaval, I will be grateful, and if our plans to move are delayed, so be it. In the meantime, we are safe, hunkered down where we are. That itself is a blessing.
My father used to say that we are living in ancient times; and so it seems as we face a global pandemic where soap and water are the best preventatives. Historically, Lord Oxford's death in 1604 was attributed to the plague when there was none in England at the time, and certainly no panic. Historians believe "the plague" listed as his cause of death was a politically convenient cover-up for his murder, since he had too many secrets that would have undermined the succession of King James I. Back then, news traveled as fast as the swiftest horse. Today it flashes instantly on the Internet. And while technology has changed with the centuries, human nature has not. It still takes Courage, Awareness and Wisdom to survive and thrive in this world.
It's strange to look back on something you've written, which you thought was perfect at the time, only to see flaws and discover new and better ways to improve it. As a writer, I strive towards continuous improvement where my craft is concerned. My editing antenna go up when I read almost anything, and revision becomes an exciting game I play even while reading other people's work. These days, it isn't so much the craft of writing I'm working on as it is marketing and sales, and learning the brave new world of self promotion. It's challenging and exciting, and sometimes it feels like my brain is full. But the learning continues, and I can see that practice not only makes perfect, but it also leads to the desire for even more practice.
When I lived in the Midwest and wrote my regular Q&A column for a daily newspaper, the bone-chilling cold weather stopped my breath as I chugged through the parking lot towards the building, feeling like a dinosaur on a path to extinction. Answering complaints, following up with businesses or bureaucracies and reporting the results in a lighthearted style isn't as easy as it sounds [heh heh] especially when you have a bad cold. But deadlines don't wait - they call them deadlines because you feel like dropping dead trying to meet them! Still, helping a veteran resolve a problem with the Veterans Administration, encouraging a roofer to donate roofing materials and volunteer labor to help a local no-kill animal shelter, or getting a long delayed refund for a customer is as warming and medicinal as hot tea with lemon and honey.
Meg Bucklesbury and Pinch the Jester are the only two fictional characters in my novel. Both emerged well drawn because they are based on people I know who are characters themselves. Meg is based on an actress friend who welcomes audiences to a bar to drink and listen to live performances of operatic arias. Pinch bears the scars of a disappointed jester and feels that Time has passed him by. He has deep insights into human nature but strongly feels the pain of what he sees as a world gone mad. He is someone we all know well, who wears his angst like a coat of motley. His character plays against type – a jester no longer able to laugh.
My first independent publishing experience felt like hacking my way through a tropical rainforest with a butter knife. I wasn’t well armed. My novel was complete, the plot engaging and the characters conspired according to their desires to move it along. In 2013, a friend advised me that independent publishing was the coming trend, and it quickly became clear to me that I would have to do a great deal of promotional marketing to help sell it. I had no illusions that writing a book about the Shakespeare authorship would spawn angry attacks, but winning a Chanticleer International Book Award gave me large doses of courage and confidence that helped me find the right experts to serve as my advisors. I’ve enjoyed all of my book talks and am now looking forward to revamping my novel’s interior for a more professional look. Listening to the best practices in self-publishing has allowed me to begin my next book, and to drop the butter knife and move on.
As writers, we are warned to be true to our characters. We are taught not to write them any thoughts or actions that go against their grain. But what really matters in real life when a loved one’s character is revised due to dementia? We watch helplessly as they spin out of character, lurching into changes over which they have no control. Dementia spills lopsided bowls of alphabet soup in their minds and renders even the best writers at a loss for words. To me, staying true to family and friends, the real life characters I love regardless of the dystopian alterations of their characters, is what really matters. Love seems to be the grounding theme as the plot thickens.
I’ve always been fascinated by explorers who brave unfamiliar territory in pursuit of discovery, freedom and adventure. Travel is exhilarating, but it isn’t easy. Often, it’s a learning experience and a mind-changer. Mark Twain said: “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.” Twain had doubts about the Shakespeare authorship since there is no evidence a grain merchant/writer from Stratford ever crossed England’s borders to see other men’s lands. But you can read about the playwright who did travel to Italy, France and Germany only to learn that his unfaithful wife had given birth to another man’s child during his absence; and then, to make matters worse, while on his way home, pirates seized his ship and took him prisoner. “Travelers never did lie,” he wrote, “though fools at home condemn them.”
Only one other person on earth knows this, and with the publishing of this Book Bubble, the secret ritual of The Bastard List will be revealed to all. During our freshman year of college, as a form of revenge against guys we were dating who ended up breaking our hearts, my friend Jasmine and I invented our own pagan ritual – The Bastard List. Jasmine kept the Bastard List with the offending guys’ names on it taped under the vanity sink in our dorm room. We wrote the guy’s name on a separate piece of paper and burned it to ashes. We collected the ashes into a small paper cup and casually walked to the pond in front of the campus library at night. We crammed the paper cup full of stones and mud. And finally, shouting “F.U., you Bastard!” at the top of our lungs, we hurled the cup into the pond and cheered at the splash. It was silly, but it felt good. And you know what? It’s amazing that 45 years later, I can still hear the splash. And it still feels good!
A winter of discontent descends on the Washington, D.C. area every time it snows. Except for children, occasional deer and sporty outdoor dogs, everyone else is afraid of it. A light dusting is the stuff school closings are made on, and parents have to hustle home for early closings or prepare for delayed openings in the morning. Rush hour traffic slows to a crawl on the Beltway and I-270. Because I lived up north for several years where snow is SNOW, I can easily scoff at my fellow D.C. natives. But to be honest, ice isn’t nice, and that’s what worries most commuters. How wonderful it is to write from home where it’s safe and warm as snowflakes fall gently on the evergreens in the yard.
I’m on the edge of my seat watching Shaxper hide behind the secret wall, an unwilling witness to his master’s murder. A soldier forces poison down Lord Oxford’s throat, and the wounded earl struggles and dies. A voice cries, “Cut!” The actors break character and the tension fades just in time for lunch. What a privilege it is to be invited to watch the filming of “Shakespeare’s Changeling”, a BBC miniseries produced and directed by two very prominent British actors who have embraced the authorship controversy. Every chapter that had once unfolded in my mind’s eye, every physical sensation my characters felt, I also felt as I wrote the book. Now I see it playing out before me, as familiar as déjà vu. And we’re already in talks to film the Dark Lady sequel as it nears completion. The silent lady will finally be heard.
I’m looking forward to the publication of my nonfiction biography on the founders of the Kreeger Museum this coming year. Located in Washington, D.C., the Kreeger Museum was designed by award winning contemporary architect Philip Johnson in 1963 originally as a home for the Kreegers who were patrons of the arts. Open to the public since 1994, the Museum offers concerts in the Great Hall amidst exhibited masterpieces by Monet, Picasso, Braque, Kandinsky and others. “Shakespeare’s Changeling” is dedicated to David Lloyd Kreeger who originally suggested the idea of a novel about the mysteries of the Shakespeare authorship. For more information about the Kreeger Museum, visit www.kreegermuseum.org.
As a theatrical child, I enjoyed Chanukah as an eight-day extravaganza with lots of food, chocolate, drama and storytelling. My Mom, Dad, kid brothers and I sat around the dining room table and lit a new candle on the menorah as each night progressed. When we finished, my brothers and I waited at the bottom of the stairs, jumping with anticipation as Dad dramatically stomped-up-and-back-down-the-stairs-one-at-a-time bringing us our presents. He must have loved doing that! The best part of the evening was when we acted out the Chanukah story with costumes to a children's record by Gladys Gewirtz and Eve Lippman. You can hear that same recording online at https://rsa.fau.edu/album/4068 and it brings back loving memories each time I hear it.
I ruined a little girl's Christmas once. I was a houseguest looking for a midnight snack and had been told to help myself to the Christmas cookies. I had no idea that the biggest cookie in the tin was meant for Valerie. The cookie was there, so I ate it. Poor Valerie! She was in tears the next morning and still had to be polite to the cookie-poaching houseguest! It was a tragic lesson - parents, never randomly invite your houseguests to partake in the Christmas cookies unless you've set the special ones aside. It was a terrible tragedy for Valerie. Still, as tragedies go, you have to admit that Hamlet's family Christmas was far worse. And cookies hadn't even been invented yet.
As I look back on writing my novel, I recall mourning the deaths of my characters. Once they were real human actors devising the events of our history, but it seemed their lives ended when their roles were completed. Queen Elizabeth I and the 17th Earl of Oxford died when they found themselves living in an unfamiliar world, "victims of the alterations of time and chance", as Oxford so aptly wrote in a letter mourning the Queen's death. Writers think of context while our characters progress through time until we observe that they have played out their roles and can go no further. I felt genuine grief when my characters died, having lived so closely with them for so many years.
Psychologists report that thankfulness and gratitude offer scientifically proven health benefits, such as fostering human relationships, improving physical and psychological wellbeing, enhancing empathy, reducing aggression, improving self esteem and increasing mental strength. Expressing gratitude makes us aware of the blessings we receive that cynicism and frustration often seek to eclipse. I am grateful for the eternal spark of imagination that shines creativity on all of us, especially when we are open to receiving it.
Children enjoy playing with words, either by making up silly rhymes or changing words into a series of laughable sounds. To some extent, I recall doing that myself many more years ago than I care to count. But more recently, as a teacher, I must say that it can be riotous fun listening to preschoolers laughing as they engage in wordplay. The fun expands when children’s rhymes evolve into melodic song. The results are phenomenal when language becomes associated with rhythm and melody, and children discover that words can easily fit into familiar tunes like “Pop Goes The Weasel” or “Happy Birthday.” They learn that when you change words, you change meaning. Music intensifies their communication skills by combining their right brain creativity with their left brain linguistic abilities. Wordplay challenges children to imagine and create as they learn to read, and one day, they will become writers themselves.
When friends told me they were going to display my novel and several other books about the Shakespeare authorship at a teacher’s conference, it suddenly occurred to me that I could attract new readers by offering schools group discounts. It seems like a simple idea, but I hadn’t thought of it before. What better way to introduce students to the Shakespeare authorship controversy than through an easy-to-read, entertaining, award-winning novel! And so after working out the details, I’m going to make teachers an offer they can’t refuse - especially if they want their students to see how writers create within the context of their experience. Shakespeare wrote that way, but how could he have done so if he was a simple grain merchant from Stratford? Who really wrote the Shakespeare plays? Well, find out. Do your homework. Read my book.
I’ve always found the words "Let there be light" to be symbolic of how a writer’s mind lights up when plot and characters resolve into a solid story. Writers create infinite universes every day, allowing readers to wander freely through the hologram in their minds. As in the Genesis story, the writer steps back, looks at the work and decides whether it’s good, whole and complete. And if not, the writer cannot rest until she has made it so, this time fanning the flames of creation.
When Shakespeare’s Changeling first came out in 2013, I had to “come out” too. I was apprehensive about controversy because those who believe that a grain merchant from Stratford wrote the works of Shakespeare are bent on vilifying those who don’t. Stratfordians have a death grip on Tradition’s bullhorn and use it to shout down non-Stratfordians. But, hey! Time has passed, and my novel has won a literary award. The exciting new cover has ignited reader interest in the authorship debate. And so I am no longer haunted by fear and trepidation. Hooray! Controversy sells!
Authorship is a full time job. For me, independent authorship is very demanding because of my continuous need to update and master new technology. As writers do, I’m learning all the time, but sometimes I find myself on the wrong end of the learning curve. What would Shakespeare say about this Brave New World of Technology that’s supposed to make literary life easier? It eventually works, but only after I’ve successfully mastered it. Fortunately, when I feel like I’m stranded on a desert island after a tempest with no phones, no lights, no motorcars and no hope of rescue, my sons step forward with direction and technical support. “O, brave new world, that has such people in’t.” I couldn’t do it without them.
Authorship is a full time job; independent authorship is even more demanding! My homecoming refers to the fact that I recently quit my day job to return home and write full time. Never before did I have the confidence to invest in myself, not just to create my work but also to sell it. Winning a literary award built my confidence. Having appreciative readers who left good reviews made a difference. Now I’m writing a sequel and will start blogging. My sons walk me through business decisions and offer technical support. I also have Bublish on my side. It’s great to have cleared my mind from the everyday noise of a preschool. I’ve finally learned something about myself, and have come home to a writer’s life.
I wrote my first story when I was five and was immediately astonished at the power of my words. Back then, these words consisted of a series of abstract loops and lines that told the dramatic story of my mom's anguish, my dad's calm resolve and our long trek through a seemingly unending field of tall grass after our car had broken down. Encouraged by my grandma, I read my story out loud more than once and am sure it grew with each telling. It was a profound experience to be “coached” by my mom's mom, Grandma Jennie, who was an excellent storyteller in her own right.
A major turning point for me has been the exciting "soon-to-be-a-major-motion-picture" new book cover designed by Bublish! It's exactly the provocative cover that entices the reader to explore a novel filled with danger and intrigue coupled with warmth and humor. Sales and exposure are increasing and it feels good! Thank you, Bublish, for the brand new jumpstart to "Shakespeare's Changeling" and to my life as a writer.
From childhood, the most illustrious scholars in Elizabethan England tutored Lord Oxford. He was a royal ward, fluent in five languages and trained in their translation. He traveled to Italy, fought in battle and understood the fear of soldiers the night before a battle. He was known in his time as a writer forced to keep his literary identity secret. In contrast, Will Shaxper was a grain merchant who owned no books, kept his family illiterate, never traveled beyond England or served in a war, and there is no evidence that he ever attended his local grammar school. Ask yourself, as my novel does, from which mind do you think the Shakespeare plays emerged?
Job seeker William Shaxper visits his friend and former Stratford classmate Richard Field, who lives in London and works in the printing shop of Thomas Vautrollier. Books are extremely valuable commodities in Elizabethan England, and Lord Oxford is one of Vautrollier’s best customers. Shaxper believes working there will help him gain access to his distant cousin Oxford, who will help him find work as an actor. When Shaxper died, he left no books in his will while Oxford’s Geneva Bible resides at the Folger Library in Washington, DC and contains fascinating notations that directly relate to the Shakespeare plays. Something to think about.
. . . a man's name could be easily separated from his works so that regardless of his well known literary reputation, none of the plays or poems he secretly wrote for the Elizabethan playhouses were safe from thievery? My award-winning novel unfolds the great "What If?" of the Shakespeare authorship. It's a story the traditionalists don't want you to know, but now you have the chance to explore it!
In this excerpt, witness the risks of censorship in Elizabethan England. "Free speech" did not exist as a means for political protest, and satire was a dangerous profession. Political censorship is only one layer of the reasons the true identity of Shakespeare has been obscured for hundreds of years. The reader also observes in this excerpt Shaxper's censorship of his romantic feelings for Oxford's wife. Whether cast adrift in storms of the mind or storms of the heart, we all seek safety and protection. It's written into our characters, real or imagined, and is the the sum of our instincts.
Aging is hard work, and in this excerpt from "Shakespeare's Changeling", we see how Queen Elizabeth I worked hard to mask the passing years. Describing her feelings coincides with an article published today in "The Telegraph" that discusses how her portraits reflect her aging. Of course, I have reflected her feelings using words, while "The Telegraph" describes actual portraits. For more on the portraits, visit https://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/art/9865184/Age-has-withered-Elizabeth-I-after-all.html and read my novel to see how "uneasy lies the head that wears a crown."
John Steinbeck's empathy for the plight of migrant farm workers frames his novel "The Grapes Of Wrath" just as Harper Lee's childhood witnessing of racist cruelty is portrayed in “To Kill A Mockingbird.” To divorce Shakespeare’s plays and sonnets from his life experience is to claim that the world's greatest English plays were born by spontaneous combustion! The myth of a great playwright who owned no books and whose family was illiterate is as remote from the great literary works of Shakespeare as Earth is from a neighboring galaxy. If you’d like to catch a glimpse of the mysterious author that anxious “scholars” want you to ignore, my novel draws back the curtain and shows you the connection between the highly educated playwright and his classic immortal works.
If a grain merchant from Stratford was really the playwright who prospered under Queen Elizabeth I, why didn't he pen any tributes upon her death? Lord Oxford, the literary earl and theatrical patron who was forced to write under a pen name, left a letter expressing his grief, which is extant and written in plain English. "In this common shipwreck, mine is above all the rest, who least regarded (though often comforted) of all her followers, she has left to try my fortune among the alterations of time and chance-without either sail whereby to take advantage of any prosperous gale, or anchor to ride until the storm be overpast." So, Gentle Reader, enjoy my novel and decide for yourself which person sounds like Shakespeare to you.
As we can see in our own time, family secrets are dangerous when revealed in the light of day. The same was true in Elizabethan England, when the Queen's chief advisor, Lord Burghley, married his only daughter to the Earl of Oxford. As a clandestine playwright, Oxford frequently mocked Burghley, and when his satirical insults were staged in the public playhouses, it had gone too far. Burghley was bound to be recognized and Oxford had to be stopped.
I sadly note the recent passing of Justice John Paul Stevens, who in 1987 expressed his doubts about the authorship of the world’s greatest plays. “I have lingering concerns about some of the gaps in the evidence: the absence of eulogies at the time in 1616 when Shakespeare died. You can’t help but have these gnawing doubts that this author may, perhaps, have been someone else . . . Shakespeare is a pseudonym for an exceptionally well-educated person of noble birth who was close to the throne.” Stevens believed this was Edward DeVere, 17th Earl of Oxford. My novel connects Oxford’s life with that of his distant cousin, Shaxper of Stratford, who with royal assistance helped perpetrate the biggest ruse in literary history.
Inserting bits of comic relief into my novel about the Shakespeare authorship relieves the tension embedded in the plot. Ben Jonson and Michael Drayton must get inside Shaxper's home to find the missing manuscripts after having been thrown out by Shaxper's son-in-law Dr. Hall the night before. For me, the scene unfolded itself. It offers a playful and entertaining window into personalities frozen as icons by Time. It is a useful liberty to awaken dead poets and bring them to life in a context for modern readers.
How do you like your Shakespeare, dear readers - shaken or stirred? Discover an award-winning novel that reveals a new slant on the centuries-old mystery of the Shakespeare authorship. Why did an adventurous young man abandon the grain business to become England's greatest playwright, the front man for his well known but distant cousin, a nobleman who was the Queen's favorite and something of a rascal whose literary identity had to be protected at all costs? Sit back, relax, read and enjoy the story. As Shakespeare said, “You shall not choose but drink before you go.”
Charged in 1616 by the Earls of Pembroke and Montgomery to edit a folio of Shakespeare plays, writer Ben Jonson races against time to find the missing manuscripts by seeking out his former nemesis in Stratford. Can William Shaxper's deathbed confession reveal the mysteries of the Shakespeare authorship that could threaten the throne of King James I?
In researching my novel, I learned that the 17th Earl of Oxford was a three-time jousting champion whose combat on the tiltyard inspired Gabriel Harvey to write in 1578, “Thine eyes flash fire, thy countenance shakes a spear; who would not swear that Achilles had come to life again?” Harvey knew that Oxford's poetry and masques were popular at Queen Elizabeth I's court. Many books had been dedicated to him. He had been a soldier and scholar, had traveled to Italy, France and Germany, and was fluent in 5 languages. None of this can be said about his kinsman Will Shaxper of Stratford, whose great talent seems to have been posing as Oxford's theatrical front man. Enjoy my novel and see the broad scope of the best kept secret in literary history.
In Elizabethan England’s “Cult of Gloriana”, literary noblemen (and ladies) were prohibited from signing their names to their published works and could only be identified as authors after their deaths. Strict censorship was enforced for political and religious reasons. The noble classes were also forbidden from associating with the “base pursuits” of the public playhouses except as patrons. Even today, wealthy and influential followers lurking in the dark authoritarian corridors of power can and are quickly dispatched for breaking the rules. It's as true today as it was for the literary Earl of Oxford in Elizabethan England. Disclosure was not an option. Only his kinsman Will Shaxper understood.
Shakespeare traditionalists would have you believe that the authorship question is of modern origin. However, suspicion about Shake-Speare's true identity began as early as the 1590s! Ben Jonson and other writers had long suspected a literary ruse. In books published at that time, Edward deVere (17th Earl of Oxford) was "called out" as a poet, scholar, best writer of comedies and court masques whose true identity could not be connected to his work for numerous reasons. My novel tells the exciting story of "masking the business from the common eye", from audiences in the Elizabethan playhouses. It's an award winning story! Enjoy the read!
Historical fiction allows a reader to travel through time and walk around in an unfamiliar world. I researched numerous biographies of well known Elizabethans to draw my characters and found that there is more supposition about the life of the traditional "Shakespeare" (a.k.a. Shaxper of Stratford) than orthodoxy admits. If you'd like to know more about the many levels of secrecy that required writing under a pen name in Elizabethan England, read my novel and discover the dark side of the authorship conspiracy.
I and other lovers of Shake-Speare (hyphen intended) were not surprised to learn that Edward DeVere, 17th Earl of Oxford, wrote an historic letter revealing his sadness on the death of Queen Elizabeth I in 1603. Significantly, Shaxper of Stratford, the alleged "author" of the world's greatest plays, penned no such tribute to her. Firmly convinced by acres of evidence that Oxford wrote under the pen name Shake-Speare, my novel emerges as a cohesive story about the true author, his kinsman/front man and the layers of deception that have obscured the mysteries of the authorship. Until now. Enjoy the read!
Independent authors know that the "ball is in your court" to market and sell your book as efficiently as possible. It's difficult when a personal crisis, like the illness of a loved one, steers an author's full attention away from that goal. It is now time for me to redirect my focus, and I look forward to a summer of moving ahead. Today's Book Bubble toys with the idea of Will Shaxper trying to sell "Venus and Adonis" to his friend, publisher Richard Field. Although Shaxper didn't write the epic poem, he works hard at passing it off as his own, even with its very controversial dedication. Enjoy!
In Shakespeare's time, "choler" was considered one of the four bodily "humors" that directly impacted emotions ranging from irritabilty to outrage. These words are used in "Henry V" when the King discovers the sneak attack and brutal murder of the young English boys by French soldiers. The philosophical and spine-tingling scenes of war in "Henry V" must have been directly witnessed by the playwright, and yet there is no evidence Will Shaxper of Stratford ever fought in a battle. Could he have written so eloquently about war without having experienced its fear and brutality? It's something to think about.
I thrive on the buzzing interaction of thoughts that lead to new discoveries and ideas. The electricity of debate, the freedom to speak out on subjects once considered taboo and unspeakable directly impacts human creativity and ingenuity. Like a gentle breeze, it lifts the fog of rigidity and introduces new opportunities for learning. I wrote "Shakespeare's Changeling" to rustle the curtains drawn over the mysterious Shakespeare authorship. Enjoy the story and the enlightening truths in it!
Enjoy this unique glimpse into The Curtain, one of the first playhouses in Elizabethan England. Edward DeVere, 17th Earl of Oxford, was 14 years older than Will Shaxper of Stratford and already well known in his time as a writer and producer of court masques. In this scene, Will sneaks away from his father on a trip to London and sees his first play, "The Famous Victories of Henry V." Amazed by Oxford's bold patronage and innovation of The Curtain, Will sees a new possibility for himself. In setting this scene, I experienced every moment vividly. When you read it, I'm sure you will, too.
Most secrets silently go to their graves while Fear smothers the Truth. I've always been fascinated by the fact that we never really know the ordinary details of a person's life and the events that sparked their specific actions. Reputations depend on eulogies, suppositions and stories. But is the truth of someone's life ever really known?
Writers have always had to beware of political censorship. While history records the beauty and eloquence of Queen Elizabeth I's court, the underbelly of the times reveals brutal censorship - the maiming and torture of writers perceived to be the nation's enemies. Throughout history, writers have used pseudonyms to protect themselves. A high ranking nobleman could risk his life by writing history plays that inspired the masses to raise funds to support wars against England's enemies. And even if the Queen supported his work, danger and corruption lurked everywhere.
I traveled to Hedingham Castle in England to visit the birthplace of Edward DeVere, 17th Earl of Oxford, the most likely candidate for the authorship of the Shake-Speare plays. I had already been to Stratford, William Shaxper's birthplace, with its fantastic theater and busy tourist attractions. There's no evidence that Shaxper ever traveled outside of England, while we do know that Oxford spent a year in Italy visiting sites that later emerged in the Shake-Speare plays. Travel enlightens the heart and enlivens the mind, something to think about when considering the importance of expanding one's horizons well enough to become the world's greatest English author.
Today, tourists can still visit Hedingham Castle, the birthplace and ancestral home of the 17th Earl of Oxford, a literary courtier-poet who wrote masques for Queen Elizabeth I. I have been to Hedingham twice, and have enjoyed its beauty. Many believe that Oxford wrote under the pen name Shake-Speare, which is the central storyline of my novel. Is it a coincidence that Oxford's warlike countenance on the tiltyard was said to "shake spears"? Nowadays, Hedingham Castle is a beautiful location for weddings and jousting tournaments - but not at the same time! Still, my coupling here of these strange bedfellows is an ironic nuance that Shakespeare himself would have enjoyed.
I am always struck by how actors perform their roles onstage and bring them to life in unique and subtle ways. Subtext is everything! Interpretation of the poetic antique words of Shakespeare can be particularly challenging if actors don't understand the nuance of meaning. This is where research comes in. Actors know that while the times have changed, human nature has not.The turbulent emotions in the Shakespeare plays still grab audiences and suspend them between the evil and the honorable, holding them in a chasm of discomfort and forcing them to think.
I wrote my first story when I was five or six years old. The family Studebaker had broken down and we had to walk home across a seemingly endless field of the world's tallest grass. I was enthralled by the sheer drama of pushing my way through while watching mom's annoyance with dad, who managed to lead us home with his usual calm resolve. Having few written words in my possession back then, I wrote my story in a childish scrawl and read it to others. They liked it! This first taste of creative feedback set me on my early path as a writer.
My favorite novelists are Jane Austen and Harper Lee. Both wrote about different aspects of matters of the heart. Both delved into their characters and left lots of complexities for readers to discuss. While Austen wrote of the social, legal and romantic problems of women in 18th century England, Lee wrote of racism and hatred in 20th century America. Characters drawn by both authors deal with issues of social inequity and unfairness that compel characters on their courses of action. Characters spar with the pretense of love and the dreadful absence of it.
If you think we live in a seething bowl of controversy today, Elizabethan England was a stewing cauldron of religious and political controversy. Hands and tongues were lopped off for offending the government. An English nobleman of ancient lineage couldn't be known to write controverial plays for the public, and so a cunning front man emerged from among his distant kinsman to play that part. These were dangerous roles for both men to play in dangerous times. Read my novel to see how they pulled off this centuries-long literary ruse.
When I was a young child, my grandmother showed me the beautiful and intimate value of stories by reading to me and reciting poems she had memorized in elocution classes. My father sang me stories. My mother spoke of family history. A flowering field of images blossomed in my mind. Science has shown that multi-sensory images actually light up the brain when stories are read aloud. Readers become writers. So, what did Shake-Speare read? The answer depends on who you believe he actually was!
In my novel, William Shaxper of Stratford gets his own prologue as does the 17th Earl of Oxford, Edward de Vere. Each prologue illustrates the contrasting natures of both men years before they formed their intricate literary partnership, a well-crafted symbiosis that preserved a literary mystery which endures to this day.
Many layers of secrecy cloak the true identity of Shakespeare, a mystery that has endured for hundreds of years. Background reserach for my novel shows modern corporate interests promoting the Stratfordian author, who during the Elizabethan age began his career as a front man by masking the identity of his noble literary kinsman, the 17th Earl of Oxford. My historical novel reveals their intimate and symbiotic partnership in creating a ruse that worked so well, it continues to this day.
Since childhood, I've always enjoyed reading biographies and historical fiction because the stories were about real people in real situations, often having to overcome obstacles to achieve their goals. It was an honor to write such a novel and receive critical acclaim and an award for my book's literary quality. Wrting about Shakespeare has been controversial for hundreds of years, but controversy is a product of human inquiry, resulting in the electricity of thought.
A love for words, action and emotion meet in the aspects of the Shake-Speare plays and go well beyond the challenges of the authorship debate. Fans of Shakespeare, whether they are Stratfordian traditionalists or Oxfordian researchers, all share a deep passion for theater, poetry and the canon itself - the same passion that drove me to write my novel.
At the end of our days, Regret stabs at our hearts like knives. We move towards uncertain destinies with stories still inside us that remain untold. That is what intrigued me about the 17th Earl of Oxford's identity as Shake-Speare, forced by political and social circumstances to write under what would become the world's most famous pen name. His story intertwines with his cousin William Shaxper of Stratford, who delivered plays to the Stationers' Register as Oxford's front man. The death of Queen Elizabeth I deals a final blow to the world's most secret literary partnership.
In writing the book burning scene, I knew that believers in the Stratfordian myth of the Shakespeare authorship would like to see all research indicating other possible authors tossed into a roaring fire. Too late for that! Research into Shakespeare's literary style and biographical connections to his work have been ongoing for generations, pouring cold water on the closed-minded. Still, nothing beats the well told story of Will Shaxper and his distant cousin, the noble Earl of Oxford, as they forge the world's most mysterious literary partnership at a time when conspirarcy, book burnings and censorship are part of Elizabethan life.
When I learned from my research that Lord Oxford's Men was an active troupe of players while Will Shaxper was still a teenager, a chapter emerged where Will's father, disgraced Stratford alderman John Shaxper, turned to drinking to hide his humilation. Young Will saw that the London playhouses were a business opportunity in the then-new Elizabethan mass media. He recognized that this was the life for him - as a businessman, not a writer. When Will died, he left no books and his family was illiterate, and yet he owned stock in the Globe Theater and left rings to his business partners. Apparently, it was all strictly businss.
Writing an historical novel is like solving a complex jigsaw puzzle. You must turn over all the pieces to see what you have, and decide how they fit together to form the finished product. When you know your characters extremely well, it will seem as if their thoughts and actions assemble the puzzle for you! Today's brief excerpt gives an insight into Lord Oxford's mind as he carries the burden of a bizarre family secret that emerges between the lines in Shake-Speare's "Hamlet."
Researching and writing my award-winning novel about the Shake-Speare authorship took 20 years. I read hundreds of biographical sources about Edward de Vere (the 17th Earl of Oxford), Will Shaxper of Stratford, Ben Jonson, Queen Elizabeth I, Lord Burghley and the nature of their interactions so that I could breathe new life into them and engage today's modern readers. Lots of interesting scenes were left on the cutting room floor. The result is an Elizabethan page turner with a fast paced, gripping plot. And judging from the reviews, of "Shakespeare's Changeling" my efforts were enormously successful!
Extensive research was required to delve into the lives of literary Lord Oxford (Shake-Speare), Queen Elizabeth I, Will Shaxper, Ben Jonson and others. Because they were real people, I owed them honest portrayals based on the variety of historic sources I read that documented their thoughts and actions. By stepping back and allowing the characters to speak and interact, events took the shape of an exciting page-turner. The characters became so real to me, I felt as if I could meet them on the street! As I contemplate the sequel, the characters have returned, and they've brought along their friends...and a few enemies, too.
The action in "Hamlet" unfolds on Christmas Eve as seen in the play's opening lines. If anyone ever lived in a dramatically dysfunctional family, it was Hamlet! His own mother stood by his father's murder and married the killer. Denmark's chief advisor and the entire court knew about the affair and covered it up all along. Ophelia cowered under the grasp of her abusive father for years, and he suddenly forces her to betray Hamlet's trust. So much of "Hamlet" unfolds in the real life story of Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford, who many of us believe was Shake-Speare. Read my novel and see the strange relationships stand and unfold themselves.
The controversy continues to this day, even in award winning historical fiction - attacks from the orthodox infrastructure aimed at those who would know more about Shake-Speare, as the name was originally published. The late Charlton Ogburn proposed a family connection between the 17th Earl of Oxford and Shaxper's Ardens of Wilmcote through Oxford's grandmother. This would have contributed to the most secret and unbreakable collaboration of two kinsmen in pulling off the greatest literary conspiracy and cover-up of all time. But it's only one of many such secrets.
First, learn all about the time period and the setting of your historical novel and walk around in it. Then ask yourself whether Human Nature has changed with Time, or whether Time has changed Human Nature. Be bold enough to go against type and challenge reader assumptions. Feel the physical action of your story as if you are performing it on stage. Understand the opposing points of view of your characters to build conflct and move the storyline forward. Create empathy with your characters, and turn up the heat on them as the stakes rise. Finally, step back and let your characters interact, and you will find they have written your story for you!
Families go to great lengths to hide scandalous behavior. Lord Burghley, Queen Elizabeth's chief advisor, must have been fooling himself to think that by marrying his daughter to Lord Oxford, his outspoken royal ward, the young man would adopt some sense of decorum. But Oxford wouldn't be silenced. He was known in his time as a playwright, but his noble name could not be directly connected with a base pursuit like the playhouses. Family pride is only one reason Oxford was forced to write under the pen name Shake-Speare. Lord Burghley was a serious politician who had no taste for scandal.
Look at the First Folio of 1623 in its original or facsimile form. Note the cartoonish face of the author, the bizarre dedicatory poem by Ben Jonson, the unabashed sales pitch of Hemminge and Condell, the out-of-order page numbersing and gaps where an author's name is listed. This is NOT representative of the fine work of Elizabethan book publishers, who took great pride in their work. In books of the time, author engravings were always respectfully drawn, and books did not emerge in such a slapdsh fashion with so many peculiarities. But there's good reason for this, and you can read about it in my award winning novel.
Queen Elizabeth I enjoyed a number of love affairs with her courtiers even into her later years, and her lovers usually found career advancement in her bed. Lord Oxford was no exception. He had been her favorite in the 1570s when he was in his 20s, until he, like many others, was set aside. What would you do, if your true loves were writing and acting, and you could receive tacet permission to use a pen name and present plays in public while the Queen deliberately looked the other way?
William Byrd (1540-1623), was organist of the Chapel Royal in 1572 for Queen Elizabeth I. He is known as one of the greatest composers of the English Renaissance. Byrd composed "The Earl of Oxford's March." My favorite version is on a Dorian recording called "Shakespeare's Music", which features a lively, string interpretation. Other versions can be found on youtube. Documents at the time show that Lord Oxford was known as a musiciian, poet, scholar and author in his day.
To write "Shakespeare's Changeling", I researched each of the historical characters and walked around in their shoes, making connections between their personalities and the actual historical events they devised. The absolute power of monarchs and dictators to spin facts in their favor or make them disappear entirely is breathtakingly shocking! This is especially true even in the conspiracy to hide the real identity of Shakespeare for political, social and religious reasons. As cover-ups happen today, so they happened during Queen Elizabeth I's lifetime, death and the reign of King James I. Political skullduggery prevails.
Historians have recorded that Queen Elizabeth I met death standing up. Strapped to her bed, she sucked her fingers and roamed in and out of awareness. Only Sir Robert Cecil waited beside her, lest in her confusion she proclaimed her secret son as her successor. There should be no witnesses to that shocking secret revelation, since a man no less than Shake-Speare was involved! Bolstered by Queen's feverish murmurings that "no rascal would sit upon the throne," Cecil could justify his desire that King James of Scotland would rule, and there would be no witnesses to contradict him.
Shaxper died celebrating his April 23 birthday. Legend says that Ben Jonson and Michael Drayton got him drunk in a constant hail of celebratory birthday toasts. Well, why not? In his drunken stupor, Shaxper overheard his comrades talking about the desecration of Lord Oxford's grave, suspecting it had happened because he had been identified as Shake-Speare. To prevent further desecration, Oxford's remains were quietly moved and interred under the floor of the De Vere tomb in Westminster Abbey marked only by the words "A Body Lies Here." Shaxper awoke in a panic, and penned the infamous curse that protects his grave to this day.
How would the world be different if Queen Elizabeth I of England had given birth to a son? After all, she had many lovers, each one working to seize her throne by marriage. Upon her death, her secret son would have become king. But that son, who had no idea of his royal birth, led a rebellion against his own mother with his friend, the Earl of Essex, her lover. The throne he could have had by right was lost by his ignorance and arrogance. But who was the father of this secret son, and why did his last will and testament vanish from history, when wills of noblemen were matters of legal record? How were Lord Oxford and the Earl of Southampton involved with Shakespeare?
When I wrote this novel, I read and studied - in depth! - the lives of Lord Oxford, Will Shaxper, Queen Elizabeth I, Lord Burghley, Sir Robert Cecil and many others. These were real people who interacted with each other in enduring political and personal scandals, clandestine love affairs, family secrets, religious wars, the martyrdom of writers, and more. The many layers of secrecy cloaking the Shakespeare authorship unfolds as a mystery that many traditional "scholars" have yet to explore.
Characterization plays an important role in writing an award winning historical novel. An author must carefully research the person she writing about, and remain faithful to what was actually known about him or her. She must remember that historical settings may change with time, but human nature in terms of honesty or deceipt, good or evil, love or hate, has basically remained unchanged. Historical characters interact against the backdrop of their times as real human beings would act today.
"The Famous Victories of Henry V" is an Elizabethan play written by an anonymous author. In 1584, Lord Oxford's Men, a troupe of players, traveled to Stratford and presented the play in Will Shaxper's hometown. Shaxper had seen it on a trip to London and had been impressed with how well audiences had been informed and entertained in this new form of mass communication - the Elizabethan playhouse! Bursting at the seams to advance himself, when he learns of the connection between his Arden side of the family and the Earls of Oxford, he begins his climb to the top by posing as the playwright to protect his noble kinsman's authorship.
Here are a few reasons why court poet Lord Oxford, born among the Elizabethan rich and famous, was forced to write under a pseudonym. He was recognized in his time as the best writer of comedies and interludes, but public talk of such work was forbidden. Beyond being the patron of a cry of players, writing for the playhouses was deemed debasing of his rank. He scandalized real, recognizable people he knew as characters in his plays, and many of the plots were based on actual events of his life. And there's more. As for his pseudonym, he was a four time jousting tournament champion of whom it was said at the time that "his countenance shakes spears."
On writing dialogue for historical characters, George Bernard Shaw once said that he preferred not to write what he thought the characters had said, but rather, what he thought they would have said if they had known what they were really doing. Retrospect and the judgment of history conspire to allow us to speculate on a character's thoughts, emotions and deeds. A writer builds well-constructed scenes that show characters involved in the roles they played as history unfolded. As you read this novel, step into the shoes of Lord Oxford, William Shaxper, Queen Elizabeth I, Ben Jonson and others so that you can imagine how you would have performed had you been that person.
Whole careers are based on the fanciful notion that the world's greatest English plays were written by a man from Stratford who simply listened to the stories of others, wrote them down and made them immortal. There's no evidence he ever attended his local school, and no evidence of any childhood literary practice on his part. "Scholars" claim that Will Shaxper was Shake-Speare, and yet he owned no books when he died. Did this literary genius spring full grown from the head of Ovid, or was he a changeling cloaking the identity of the real author?
Lord Oxford was a known writer in his time ("if his doings could be made public") who wrote under the pen name Shake-Speare. Will Shaxper of Stratford was his distant cousin, 14 years younger, who longed to escape the dust of his home town and work in London's newest form of mass media - the playhouses. So Will became a relentless promoter when the playwagons of Lord Oxford's Men rolled into town to perform "The Famous Victories Of Henry V."
With Lord Oxford murdered, Will Shaxper naively prepared to announce the truth about his role as scribe in the Shakespeare authorship. But when cannon fire accidentally burned the Globe Theater to the ground during a performance of "All Is True", he narrowly escaped his own death. Did the truth lie buried in the ashes of the theater, and was a larger government conspiracy afoot?
On Midsummer Night, June 24, 1604, Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford, secretly known as Shake-Speare, was murdered, That's the story I tell in my novel, based on a series of actual events. What do you think of the fact that Oxford's second wife stipulated that upon her death, she wished to be buried beside her husband in the church yard at Hackney? But Percival Golding, Oxford's cousin, stated that Oxford was buried in Westminster Abbey. Which is it? Is it one of the unmarked graves under the floor in the De Vere family tomb in the Abbey? Was Shake-speare's death politically movitaved?
During his days as Lord Oxford's scribe, Will Shaxper had watched Countess Elizabeth from afar and had fallen in love with her. But alas, she was his master's wife, a lady far above his station and it was unspeakable, even with his new found wealth. He had never told her the truth about the fateful night of her husband's murder - would he do so now that she had summoned him to her bedside?
That is the question! There's no evidence that Will Shaxper of Stratford ever attended school - that's pure mythology. But we do know that his wife and children could not read, and that he left no books (valuable items!) in his will. Honestly, now - what kind of a writer does that? Most likely, Shaxper was front man for his cousin, Edward DeVere, 17th Earl of Oxford - a poet, courtier, playhouse owner, theatrical company owner, soldier, scholar, writer of court masques, musician and favorite of Queen Elizabeth I - all of this known in his time. So, what do you think? Should we live with the mythology of Shaxper, or finally recognize the truth about the Shake-speare authorship?
"Shakespeare's Changeling" is a title with many meanings. The ongoing mystery of the authorship is 400 years old. Layers of secrecy, including those imposed by the "Virgin Queen" and her advisor Lord Burghley (Lord Oxford's father-in-law) have twisted like thorny vines around Shake-speare's true identity. One thorny vine is the secret of the royal heir, the changeling boy whose very existence threatens the throne of King James I.
Pinch is one of only two fictional characters in my novel - a convenient device for presenting the true story of the 16th Earl of Oxford's in-house company of players. Fact: Edward, 17th Earl of Oxford, grew up among those players. He is known to have written and performed court masques for Queen Elizabeth I, and also served as the patron of several acting companies. Where was Shaxper at the time? He was a youth, selling grain in Stratford! But when the Elizabethan playhouses became mass media outlets, he went to London to serve as front man for his cousin Oxford, who wrote under the pen name Shake-Speare. But first, he had to learn all he could about him . . .
Does this strange epitaph explain why the mortal remains of "Shakespeare" have never been buried in Westminster Abbey at Poet's Corner, where so many of England's famous authors rest? Or is the noble "Shakespeare" buried in an unmarked grave under the floor in the DeVere tomb to prevent desecration of his remains? Read the award-winning novel that exhumes the truth about the world's most enduring literary masquerade.
Not long ago, books banned in Boston sold extremely well. There was always something "they" didn't want you to know. My novel dares to fly in the face of orthodox Stratfordian "scholars" who want to deal a death blow to the real Shake-Speare because their PhDs depend on it. You don't need a PhD to know that a great writer wrote the famous plays, and that he would have needed the education, time, motive and opportunity to do so. Call me an elitist (they do!) but education matters, especially to the very PhDs who accuse Oxfordians of being elitists! There's more truth in my award-winning novel than in the myth of Shaxper of Stratford. Read my book. Learn something. And be entertained.
Ben Jonson and his Elizabethan literary cronies had nothing nice to say about Shaxper, the front man who delivered Shake-Speare plays to the Stationer's Register. No one in Stratford - not even Shaxper's son-in-law Dr. Hall - ever acknowledged the grain merchant's authorship, and yet he played a crucial role as the True Author's very silent and inscrutable partner. It was risky business back then, being a writer in Elizabethan England, even for the rich and famous.
Traditional Shakespearean "scholars" would like you to believe that the man from Stratford was a playwright, but in my novel, he's a very creative businessman glomming onto the new technology - theater - the Elizabethan form of mass communication. "The Famous Victories iof Henry V" really was performed in Stratford by Lord Oxford's Men in 1584 and predated Shakespeare's "Henry V". How could this be!? Find out what the orthdodox Stratfordians don't want you to know about the real Shakespeare!
April 12 is the birthday of Edward DeVere, 17th Earl of Oxford (1550-1604). He was recognized in books of his day as a writer, scholar, poet and maker of court masques. His pen name, Shake-Speare, first appeared with a hyphen, and there is extensive literary evidence to support his authorship of the Shakespeare canon than there is for Will Shaxper of Stratford. Want to know more? Read my award winning novel!
In his Last Will, Shaxper of Stratford left his second best bed to his wife. But where were his books? If he really was "Shake-Speare", why did he leave no books to anyone - or even mention any - in his Last Will? He disowned his daughter Judith with the stroke of a pen - perhaps that was the unkindest cut of all. The rings left to Hemminge and Condell were gifts from a fellow businessman and shareholder in The Globe, not keepsakes bequeathed by a famous playwright. The Last Will of Will Shaxper raises more questions than it answers. Still. Even to this day.
How can deception lead to an honorable future? It's easy, if you're Will Shaxper of Stratford and your noble kinsman, Lord Oxford, hires you to pose as the playwright Shake-speare to cover his work as a propagandist. After all, it wouldn't do for the history plays to be seen as the work of an illustrious literary nobleman. This is merely one layer of the authorship deception that has lasted for over 400 years. There are others! Read about them in my award winning historical novel.
During his lifetime, Edward DeVere, 17th Earl of Oxford, was recognized in several books of his day as a scholar, poet and maker of court masques. But no one in Stratford, not even his own physician son-in-law, knew William Shaxper as a writer of anything except grain receipts. A distant but loyal kinship helped them perpetrate the stunning authorship mystery that has endured for more than 400 years. Read how they did it!
Why are the pages numbered wrong in Shakespeare's original First Folio? Why is Ben Jonson's dedicatory poem part insult, part honor? Why is a cartoon image used to represent the author? The fact is that Renaissance publishers cared about quality. They numbered pages correctly. They proofread and used good engravings to honor their authors. Then why so many seeming blunders in the First Folio? Answers to these and other questions about the authorship unfold in my Chaucer award-winning novel, "Shakespeare's Changeling." Be informed and entertained! Read it.
Legend has it that Ben Jonson and Michael Drayton got Will Shaxper drunk on his birthday - and inadvertantly killed him! Jonson's ulterior motive was to locate the missing Shake-Speare manuscripts, but he acted against the medical advice of Shaxper's physician and son-in-law, Dr. John Hall. The doctor never once mentioned his "famous" author/father-in-law in his diaries, but he did write about Drayton as the most famous celebrity client he had. I lived with all of these characters for several years while I wrote my novel. Each one emerged independently and revealed the best and worst of human nature.
After Shakespeare's First Folio was published, the original handwritten manuscripts disappeared. Perhaps they were simply discarded. Perhaps they were consumed by the fire that ravaged Ben Jonson's home a month before publication. Jonson had edited the First Folio at the behest of his patrons, and implied in his published tribute that the true author bore no connection whatsoever to the cartoon image that has since become a literary company logo.
When Will Shaxper of Stratford died in 1616, his son-in-law Dr. Hall made no mention of his being a writer. Shaxper owned no books, which for a writer in any age is unheard of. He was remembered among his Stratford neighbors as a grain merchant, never as a writer who made his fortune in London.
King James I discovered that the Virgin Queen had a secret son who would have been heir to her throne - but if her son was unaware of his true identity, he could never claim it. The secret changeling was revealed in "Shake-speare's" last will, and King James was compelled to destroy it. Sad. If only Lord Oxford, that playwright "Shake-speare", hadn't been so hellbent on revenge against his royal paramour.
With Lord Oxford dead, Shaxper's livelihood vanished. There would be no more Shakespeare plays...unless he gathered up the dead man's unfinished manuscripts and passed them off as his own.
"Richard II", with the king's deposition scene added in, was presented at the Globe to incite the Essex Rebellion and eject aging Queen Elizabeth I from the throne. While the rebellion failed, Southampton and Essex were imprisoned in the Tower for leading it. Shaxper went into hiding because of the incendiary play, but he was just an impostor. Where was the real author?
As a novelist, I enjoyed writing a non-existent headsman into a draft of Shakespeare's "Henry VIII" for this chapter because there is no such character in the play! But for social climbing Shaxper of Stratford, such a part would have been a terrific opportunity. Having fooled Shakespearean "scholars" for the past several centuries and to this very day, Shaxper cannot escape his notoriety as an impostor forever.
Prime source Elizabethan literary history reflects that Ben Jonson and other writers and critics knew that Will Shaxper of Stratford wasn't a poet or a playwright. At the time of his death, no one in Stratford, not even his own son-in-law Dr. Hall, eulogized the "hometown boy made good." As the true poet/playwright's front man, Shaxper hated being ridiculed. It was time to fight back.
The works of Shake-Speare did not develop in isolation. The real author was well educated, fluent in 5 langugaes and lived among the politically well connected. Taking advantage of his family's distant connection to the DeVere earls of Oxford and seeking advancement for himself, Shaxper of Stratford decides to learn as much about his noble kinsman's connection to the Elizabethan playhouses as possible. After all, it's the best way for him to rise in the world.
Political dirty tricks happen everyday. They also happened in Elizabethan England. Sir William Cecil nullified his royal ward's arranged match so that he could marry his daughter Anne to a highly lineaged earl. Cecil was elevated to the title of Lord Burghley to equate his rank to his new son-in-law, Edward De Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford, who had a dark secret. He was a writer of note in his time, and therefore a dangerous man, meant to be silenced. But the truth will out, unless you have a damned good stand-in.
Sir Robert Cecil effectively chose the successor to Queen Elizabeth I, being the only one in the room when she mumbled her final request. The 14 other possible successors to the throne never stood a chance - even her secret son never knew the true nature of his parentage.
Sending away all witnesses to the Virgin Queen's death made things simple for Robert Cecil. He officially reported that she had whispered the name of James I as her successor. But was he telling the truth? What royal secret did Shakespeare know, and who was he protecting by maintaining his silence? Ah, yes. Such is the stuff historical fiction is made on.
I based my novel on many historical facts. Among these is that there is no concrete evidence that Will Shaxper of Stratford ever created the plays attributed to him as Shakespeare. But Lord Oxford's Men, the literary earl's renowned company of players, actually visited Stratford. A keen businessman, Shaxper recognized England's biggest opportunity when he saw it! Eager to leave his hardscrabble life behind, he left his family and moved to London, working his way into the theater business - with a little help from his distant kinsman, the theatrical impresario, Lord Oxford.
There is no safety in being a writer in Elizabethan England. Speaking the truth to power often proves deadly. While multiple layers of royal deception protect the Earl of Oxford and his Shake-speare pseudonym, on what protection can his frontman, Will Shaxper, depend?
Pinch was jester to the 16th Lord Oxford, an Elizabethan nobleman whose son Edward was drawn to the resident company of actors his father maintained at Hedingham Castle. Having befallen hard times, Pinch has some choice secrets to reveal about young Oxford's penchant for acting and playwriting.
Ben Jonson never did like William Shaxper of Stratford; the way the opportunist had posed as a playwright for so long, he had actually come to believe it! But maybe, as a 10% shareholder in The Globe, the old scribe might just know where to find the missing Shake-speare plays. Rumors of his approaching death had not been exaggerated, though. Would Jonson solve the mystery in time to compile the commemorative First Folio his noble patrons longed to publish?
Censorship began at home where Lord Burghley was concerned. His son-in-law Lord Oxford was a scholarly firebrand too volatile to remain silent in the wake of insult and perjury. When Burghley's daughter Anne, suffering from an incurable madness, accuses her father of incest, her husband Oxford threatens to reveal the truth in a play called "Hamlet."
Being an impostor yields Will Shaxper more than he bargained for when he poses as his famous literary cousin. Has he been cozened by Lord Oxford, the playwright using the pen name Shake-speare, whose clandestine identity is now being revealed in published books of the day? Even the Queen's favorite isn't immune from the final censorship of the noose or the ax.
Publisher Richard Field knew his boyhood friend William Shaxper of Stratford hadn't written the lascivious poem "Venus and Adonis", and he questioned him about it, just as some scholars today still question its authorship.
You are a writer with something to hide, and no royal edict will protect you. A new king sits on the throne who will not show you the same love the late lamented Queen bestowed on her favorite courtier playwright. Now your literary master is dead, and so is your career. As his front man, you've purloined his papers and have returned home to hide them, hoping to cash in on them one day and claim them as your own. After all, you posed as the famous playwright for so long, everyone believed that you were. And you were so convincing, you even began to believe it yourself.
My distant kinsman was Rod Serling, creator of "The Twilight Zone", although sadly, we never had the chance to meet. Shaxper, however, uses his distant family connection after his mother reveals that she is related through the Ardens of Wilmcote to Lord Oxford's grandmother, Elizabeth Trussel. This binds the two men in a dangerous conspiracy so effective, it has cloaked the true authorship for more than 400 years. Cousin Serling wrote a satire about television writing called "The Bard" in which Shakespeare is conjured from the dead to help a 1960s hack writer impress and sell his tasteless scripts to the sponsors.
...or so thinks the Earl of Essex in 1601. Along with his friend Southampton and the famous playwright's front man, Shaxper of Stratford, "Richard II" is performed, touching off the Essex Rebellion and infuriating the Queen, who orders the arrest of all conspirators, including the players. Shaxper runs for his life. Ironically, all Southampton had to do was wait to be king, unaware about the secret of his royal parentage and the real Shake-speare's role in it.
Will Shaxper is pursued through the fogbound streets of London by a hired assassin. Why is posing as a writer in Elizabethan England so hazardous to one's health?
Anne Boleyn was executed by King Henry VIII, thus depriving his then 3 year old daughter Elizabeth of her mother. How did this tragic event drive Elizabeth's life before and after she became queen? Is a woman's physical appearance key to her power, or have times changed? Both Queen Elizabeth I and Edward de Vere, the man who wrote under the Shake-speare pseudonym, had been children bereft of their mothers. Hence the dark mother/son relationship portrayed by Shakespeare in "Hamlet." It's astonishingly biographical.
Was Queen Elizabeth I forced to play "the woman card" while surrounded by enemies who posed as her friends?
Shakespeare's skull is missing! So reports the BBC after a recent scan of his grave at Trinity Church in Stratford-upon-Avon. Was Shaxper's corpse desecrated by excessive bard worshippers-turned-grave-robbers? In this excerpt, as he lies on his deathbed, that's exactly what William Shaxper is terrified of.
Imagine that you're 12 and are convinced that your father was murdered. You are horrified when your mother hastily remarries his murderer. You're quickly packed off to London to become a royal ward. Your guardian is the Queen's chief advisor, William Cecil, who through legal means voids your dead father's match for you and instead, marries you to his own daughter so that your title and riches can be his! And after the marriage is finally consummated, you learn that she bore another man's child while you were in Italy! You cast her off as an adulteress, only to forgive her as death renders her spirit clean. These are real events in the life of Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford, whom many believe is Shakespeare.
Will Shaxper of Stratford died on April 23, 1616 - and yet the mythology of his authorship lives on! Most of the "facts" about his life and supposed authorship of the Shakespeare plays are historical fiction themselves. There is no proof that Shaxper ever attended his local school - no evidence of his honing his literary skills - no record of his library or ownership of books of any kind - no record of travel to Italy, or of his having met the Queen, or of his ever having gone to war. But Lord Oxford did all those things and more. Hey! Don't you have to know HOW to do something in order to be able to DO it?
While on a business trip to London, adolescent Will Shaxper evades his puritanical father and runs off to see his first play at The Curtain. "The Famous Victories of Henry V" is unlike anything he has ever seen in his small, bucolic village of Stratford.
The Earls of Pembroke and Montgomery command their servant Ben Jonson to edit Shakespeare's First Folio. But most of the plays are lost. Will Shaxper of Stratford offer his deathbed confession, or will he take his secrets to the grave?
What kind of a man steals his Master's work, only to rescue and preserve it? Read about the authorship conspiracy that has endured for over 400 years!
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