Sarah Schmelling has written about entertainment, travel, and pop culture for The Washington Post, Spin, Paste, Salon, Newsweek, Real Simple, the Los Angeles Times, Variety, McSweeney’s, and The Huffington Post. She lives with her husband and son outside of Washington, DC. Ophelia Joined The Group Maidens Who Don’t Float: Classic Lit Signs On To Facebook is her first book.
25 Random Things…. (from Sarah Schmelling’s Facebook Page)I have an irrational fear of escalators and I live a few miles away from the longest escalator in the Western Hemisphere.
I also live within a mile of the churchyard where F. Scott Fitzgerald is buried with his wife. I liked to think his spirit helped motivate me as I wrote this book, but I kind of think it was more Zelda.
The idea for this book was a result of sheer sleep deprivation: I wrote “Hamlet (Facebook News Feed Edition)” two months after having my first child. My advice to aspiring writers, then, is first step, get pregnant…
Perhaps fortunately, this sleep deprivation continued throughout the entire writing process. It is still happening now. Try to guess how many words I’ve already had to retype.
To write this book, I amassed a giant pile of classics thanks to a warehouse of a used bookstore and several loans from friends, and camped out in my basement with all of them.
I then had a little more than three months to reread the books required in school, read those I’d never had time for before, learn enough to joke about those I couldn’t read in this amount of time, and also write the whole thing. So I went a little batty in the basement.
I had never read Jane Eyre before and I still can’t believe I went so long without her and that rascal Rochester in my life.
I know all of these books are classics. Of course they are classics. That doesn’t mean I didn’t frequently follow my husband around flapping a book and shouting, “This is so GOOD!”
He also had to hear many tidbits of information like: Did you know Oscar Wilde once courted Bram Stoker’s wife? Or that the ‘u’ was just randomly added to Faulkner’s name? Or that Jane Eyre is so GOOD? With the Red Room and the gothness and the batty attic wife? (Said his batty basement wife.)
Seventeen. That’s how many words I’ve had to retype so far. And now eighteen.
For reasons unknown to me, I invented new personalities for many famous authors in my book. I made them do things like say “okey doke” over and over, or encourage each other to binge drink, or get irate about grammar, or just appear exorbitantly curmudgeonly.
Speaking of Ernest Hemingway, I went to high school in Oak Park, Illinois, the town where Hemingway grew up and also went to high school, and I even wrote for the same high school newspaper that he did.
I think it is because of this lifelong Papa saturation that whenever I needed a self-serious, macho voice to show up and yell at everyone in my book, Hemingway came to mind. This, oddly, happened a lot.
But this has to be one of my favorite things about this book: that Hemingway can comment back to Dostoyevsky, or Melville, or even Don Quixote if he wants to because they’re all in the same social network.
In fact, Mark Twain and Shakespeare challenge Oscar Wilde to a “quip off.” Lady Chatterley, Madame Bovary and Anna Karenina take a “What Kind of Adulteress Are You?” quiz. Dante and Milton play a heated game of “Scrabulific.”
And Charles Dickens tries to make sense of James Joyce’s profile page. Which, as you can imagine, could be hard. Especially when Joyce insists on writing a status update in the form of a catechism.
Among the things I learned while writing this book: Berthas get a bad rap in literature. Mr. Rochester’s crazy attic wife? Bertha. Lady Chatterley’s lover’s crazy estranged wife? Bertha. The woman in The House of Mirth who pretty much started Lily Bart on her tragic poverty spiral? You get the idea.
But women in general don’t fare well in the classics. Throughout these books, women are hit by cars, hang themselves, accidentally light themselves on fire, die from illness or childbirth or ennui, become vampires, jump in front of trains, or are smothered by large men who wanted to pet their hair.
None of these women died in very-long-escalator-related accidents, but you know, classics are still being written all the time.
My Facebook friends inspired me throughout the writing of the book, without knowing it of course, and they may recognize themselves in, say, the answers the unknown writer of Beowulf gives in one of those chain notes (as translated by Seamus Heaney).
I also have a high school reunion coming up that many Facebook friends are attending, so it may not be a coincidence that the Lord of the Flies boys have a group page for their reunion. Some of them were NOT happy to hear from each other again.
Oak Park is also known for being the longtime hometown of Frank Lloyd Wright. So when I do the social networking architecture parody book, look for him.
I was kidding about the Seamus Heaney thing. Also, I don’t mean to compare Lord of the Flies to high school. Junior high, sure.
But here I’ve reached number 24 and I’m thinking most of these random things are about the book, not me. So: I’ve written for many publications that hopefully will still exist when this book is published; I once tripped over absolutely nothing and fell flat on my face in Santa Monica, California and ended up with a fat lip; I lose all sense of propriety if I see a commercial with talking animals; I was once hung up on while trying to interview Shirley MacLaine; I’ve been stung almost everywhere you can be stung by things that sting including eight yellow jackets at once with one of them in my eye; while working for a telecommunications magazine I made my coworkers a mix tape full of songs about phones; I could write a book solely about my son’s facial expressions; I hope the Hemingway fanatics don’t get upset but he was just so much fun to play with…and see I’m back to the book again. I just get carried away with it all.
See? I’m telling you: Zelda.
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