What do you get when you take a Facebook group of like-minded writers, a devotion to all genres punk, and an appreciation of the works of the Bard of Avalon?
Sound & Fury: Shakespeare Goes Punk launches this Sunday, the Ides of March, from the somewhat anarchic Facebook collective, Writerpunk. In honor of the release, I stopped by to talk to some of the creators – writers, wranglers, artists, punkers – about how the anthology came to be.
One of the members of the group, Esaias Mayo, suggested the idea for the anthology early in 2014, according to Jeffrey Cook. A published author in his own right, Cook began by suggesting ways to keep the project on track, and eventually found himself in the role of wrangling the project together.
“I believed in the group as a whole, and believed that this had been a brilliant idea from the start,” said Cook, who contributed a steampunk adaptation of “The Winter’s Tale.” “It just needed a kick-start and someone to handle a few of the parts no one had any experience with.”
Some of those parts included putting an infrastructure in place to organize submissions, editing, artwork, and the myriad of other tasks involved in producing a work that ended up as a 320+-page book. But while the challenges were many, the final product was worth the effort.
“We wrote a book. I’ll repeat that, as a group of punk enthusiasts from all over, we took something from a brilliant idea by one of the hearts of the group … and turned it into a 320+ page book,” Cook said. “No matter how many books I put out, it’s always a thrill to see the newest one for the first time. I am so, so incredibly proud of this group of people, and, exhausting as the last week has been getting this AND another book ready for release, I can’t wait to work with them, and some new authors, again.”
Cook, who currently writes mainly in the steampunk genre, contributed a steampunk piece; however, the anthology spans the gamut of punk from steam to diesel to cyber. The task of designing a book that would encompass the punk spectrum and still be authentic to the Bard fell to the graphics design team.
“Each style has its own design conventions, such as sepia and vintage graphics for steampunk, so I quickly realised that they could not all go in one book,” said Lia Rees, who worked with fellow artist Elizabeth Hamm to design the book. “It would look like a dog’s breakfast, as we say in Britain – a complete chaotic mess. On the other hand, I also rejected a deliberately vintage “Shakespearean” style because it wouldn’t have been punk enough for the project.”
With any sort of collaboration, there will be challenges in communication and working together, but technology eased the path to that design, according to Rees, who designs books as well as creates trailers for the same.
“The final book design does not scream any particular style, but it conveys a lively energy while remaining very readable, and I’m pleased with it,” said Rees. “The promotional banners, website and trailer were all derived from the book cover and its elements, to give the project a consistent visual mood.”
For some of the authors, working in a short story format was a change from their normal writing, as was the subject matter.
“Genre wise this was a stretch,” said H. James Lopez, who contributed “Prospero’s Island.” (Tagline: After years of exile, Prospero and his family have a chance to escape but at the cost of the island’s permanent residents.) “I had been working on a steampunk western set in Texas just after the Independence war but that was as close as I got to punk. However the idea of writing a punk Shakespeare really intrigued and I got on board with the project.”
The play upon which the short story is based, “The Tempest,” has a great many themes, as well as physical elements of magic and the benefit of stage actors to bring it to life. Lopez found it a challenge to bring the description to the page, while still retaining the short word count of a story.
“Even just looking at Prospero’s journey, you have a character who is betrayed, then befriends and leads a people only to be give his betrayers a chance at redemption,” said Lopez. “He would be a journey all on his own without the aid of Ariel, Miranda, or the supporting cast.”
Warren C. Bennett’s piece, “A Town Called Hero,” finds its roots in Shakespeare’s “Much Ado About Nothing,” one of his favorite plays.
“I used the dieselpunk genre for the story,” said Bennett. “I’m much more interested in preww2 and ww2 era tech than I am in the tech offered in a genre like steampunk. To me it feels like a bridge between the old world of the 19th and early 20th centuries and the society we have now.”
As a writer of speculative fiction, Bennett found that writing in a punk genre was not as much of a challenge as choosing a story thread from the play that lent itself to adaptation.
“It took me a bit of playing around with different ideas to stumble upon an idea that clicked,” said Bennett. “The idea that the town itself is one of the characters in Much Ado About Nothing is really the key to the whole lock puzzle of a story. Everything came tumbling out after that one idea.”
“When I heard the idea of using one of the Bard’s plays as inspiration for a story, I jumped up and yelled, ‘dibs on Macbeth!’” said Carol Gyzander, author of the cyberpunk short story “Mac.” “I’ve been a fan of the play since studying it in college, and have seen it performed on Broadway three times. One show featured Patrick Stewart as Macbeth, and the other was an almost one-man performance with Alan Cummings acting out almost all of the parts in an insane asylum (yeah, OK, I saw that performance TWICE). I can’t tell you how much fun it was to re-examine the play as I recast it in the post-apocalyptic world I’ve created.”
In addition to her familiarity with “That Play,” Gyzander drew on her background as a computer analyst, met with her son who is currently studying Artificial Intelligence on the college level, and spoke with a friend who has 15 years of experience as a psychotherapist. Armed with her research, she had more understanding of how a modification chip would act in the brain to control a person’s behavior, and set about creating her post-apocalyptic world.
“My other works-in-progress are both novels (an amateur detective story and a women’s fiction story), but I started dabbling with a few science fiction short stories and found that [the genre] really clicked with my early reading adventures,” said Gyzander. “And oh yes, I’ll be writing more!”
Each of the artists and writers I spoke to echoed the sentiment that the collaborative nature of the project was both challenging and exciting – almost its own reward to see the plan come together.
“I love collaborative projects in general,” said Cook. “The people in this group really made it work. Sure, there were some snags and challenges, and writers are an unruly bunch – but overall, I think Writerpunk is a great community, and one with staying power.”