Nerd of the Week
Meet Kiri, a Shakespeare Nerd
Interview by Terra Olsen
You’re a fantasy writer, but you are also a complete Shakespeare nerd. How did Shakespeare spark the nerd in you?
Shakespeare’s writing is all about layers; layers of meaning, layers of reference, layers of intent and I’ve always had an extreme natural curiosity (earning me the nickname of Kiriosity for a while in school) so it sort of became this kind of literary dig site for me. I became… obsessed isn’t the right word but it seriously brought out the researcher in me. From double meanings of words from back then, to what Shakespeare was secretly referencing in history or what was going on in his life at the time. His entire body of work was like one big tapestry of the time period and his own personal struggle, it was just kinda baffling. Also, the more you dig into Shakespeare, the more you realize it’s not this big hoity-toity thing everyone tries to make it out to be. It’s clever and beautiful but it’s rude and bawdy—it was the sitcom of the day, frankly.
How did you first discover Shakespeare?
My parents were both really into the classics. We had these huge books—the collection ones that no one really ever reads, you just put on your shelf to look fancy? There was Poe and Melville and Twain and, of course, Shakespeare. I remember hearing the name a lot when I was too young to know who he was other than some mustached dude with a funny neck ruffle but I’d pull it down off the shelf and try to read it. I understood about… Probably 1/4th of each sentence? So my father offered to read it to me. I remember a warm Sunday afternoon, laying on a blanket by the window while my father read Macbeth. I was seven. It was fantastic.
How has Shakespeare and his works impacted you creatively and in your writing?
Ha, that is such a fantastically loaded question… I apologize for the inevitable long and convoluted answer. Um, well my love for his work actually started my love for the theater and acting—it’s what I went to school for, it’s what I have a bachelor’s degree in, it’s why I will be paying student loans until I’m 83. And oddly while studying acting for Shakespeare, I realized I loved writing more. I’ve always admired the fact that everything in Shakespeare happens for a reason—which sounds hard to believe when you think how long the plays are—but even the way things are metered, there’s a reason behind it.
I remember a professor talking about Lady Montague from Romeo and Juliet. For anyone who isn’t familiar, when Shakespeare wrote in verse, he wrote in rhyming couplets of five with a unstressed/stressed rhythm called iamic pentameter. The rhythm is actually very close to a regular human heartbeat so when he played with or changed that rhythm, it was to convey a point. When Lady Montague first appears on stage she doesn’t say much but her rhythm is rushed—she asks a question but it’s in mid-beat so she clearly isn’t expecting an answer which pushes it too quickly into her next line and her dialogue ends on a very weak, note. Her words are also very weak and breathy sort of sounds. The next time you see her, she doesn’t speak at all and at the end when she (SPOILERS) dies, her husband says that news of her (SPOILERS) son’s death stole the breath from her. Since her first appearance, Shakespeare has been setting up, through just dialogue alone, that she has some kind of breathing condition. I’m not explaining it as well as he did, but my mind was just blown by that attention to detail.
Anyway, since then I’ve tried to write much the same. If it doesn’t help tell the story, it doesn’t belong in it, you can say a lot about a character just by how they say something and everything should circle back by the end. In the book I’m getting ready to release—it’s a modern/dark adaptation of Alice in Wonderland—my version of the Queen of Hearts speaks entirely in iambic pentameter. Not rhyming, mind you, but that heartbeat rhythm was definitely inspired by Shakespeare. That book is actually full of nods to the bard—well, my entire artistic life is, I suppose. I even identify myself as a bard.
That is… stupidly hard to answer. I love A Midsummer Night’s Dream because it has a darkness no one ever seems to touch on, I love Twelfth Night and the way it deals with gender identity and relationships, I love Hamlet because I find something new every time I read it, I love King Lear because it’s just beautifully tragic and I even love Romeo and Juliet because I’m always wishing it would end differently. And then there’s the histories which never get enough love. I had the pleasure of seeing Henry V at the Ashland theater festival this past year? Absolutely beautiful. I love stories steeped in history. Even if it’s mostly fiction, the idea that it COULD have happened? Ah, that is what gets your heart pumping.
What pieces of literature you would suggest to people interested in exploring Shakespeare for the first time?
As funny as it sounds, I’d actually suggest Macbeth. It’s possibly his shortest play and if you can get past all the witches and dark forces dancing about, the premise is fairly simple. And by that I mean… whenever I see it performed, people get very caught up in the spectacle of it—and I understand that, it’s a Shakespeare play where you have witches and Hecate and all this creepy Halloween stuff… But I think the real horror of Macbeth is watching a man—a good, loyal soldier of the king—completely deteriorate all for the sake of ambition.
Most memorable or favorite moment nerding out on Shakespeare?
Pretty much any time I discuss Shakespeare with my best friend. Melanie is an even bigger Shakesnerd than I am and having debates about intention and meaning… If I had my druthers, I would write for a living and direct in my free time and she and I would always work together. We took the fight between Helena and Hermia from A Midsummer Night’s Dream for our stage fight final? It was awesome. We went from rapier and dagger to broadsword and then hand to hand. As the dialogue became more violent, our weapons/fighting became more primal and it ended with Hermia snapping Helena’s neck and then bleeding out from a rapier wound. Not… accurate to the play, but still amazingtastic and probably one of my favorite moments of all time.
Kiri Callaghan was born a “3rd” on a station set in deep space where she was trained in the ways of the Jedi. Her training concluded when she joined a crew of smugglers piloting a Firefly class ship that tended to travel to new worlds and new civilizations. In her travels, she battled darkspawn, saved countless princesses, ruled kingdoms, acquired some phat lootz, and was pretty much in short, the ‘chosen one.’
She may also really just be a writer obsessed with sci-fi, fantasy, books, and gaming, an actor and director with a BFA in Theater from Cornish College of the Arts and an amateur clothing designer and seamstress. But that’s just a rumor, and you really shouldn’t listen to those. “Bard” by name, she has dedicated her life to storytelling through multiple mediums, whether it be by stage, film, photography, song or written word. To stay updated on her upcoming projects and events or more or less peek into the madness that lies within, you may find her at the following locations: Blog, Twitter, and Facebook.
Do you know a self-proclaimed nerd we should interview? If so, please contact Terra at firstname.lastname@example.org and tell us about them.