Summer Writing & Smiles

Summer Writing & Smiles

I smiled today. It was nearly involuntary. It emanated like a ray of light piercing through a small hole. That smile was summer.

I’m finishing up my second year of living in Saudi Arabia and a whole two-month writing bonanza stares me in the face. Oh sure, there’ll be family and barbecues and fresh berries and cherries. There will be baseball games and fireworks and long bike rides through the forest. And there will be writing.

Summer is when I become a ‘full-time’ writer. It’s when my brain can focus for long periods of time on items I’ve been itching to get at for an indefinite amount of time.  It begins in five days.

I’ve accomplished a lot this past school year. I’ve produced two original shows which I wrote, and I’m very happy with how they turned out. I finished the editing and publishing process for book three of my trilogy. I’ve written four or five short plays. A couple of which have already been produced. A couple more will be part of next year shows. I’ve even made some series in-roads into my 9th novel — some 10,000+ words already on its way.

So as I sit on my back deck, sipping a cold beverage, with my laptop in front of me, I’m smiling at what I hope to be able to accomplish this summer.

Finish novel #9 – It’s my first novel set in Malaysia. It is also looking like my first YA novel with four of the five main characters being teenagers.  This novel premise wasn’t even on my radar until about 6 weeks ago when a curious phrase popped through my mind. That’s how novels germinate for me. Usually a phrase, followed by an image, which grows into an idea worthy of long-format writing.  Then I develop the characters and let the story loose to see where it will go. This one is flowing, so I hope a good month of steady writing will produce a solid first draft.  Maybe by mid-July? Let’s see.

Start novel #10 – Actually, I already have. This idea I’ve been playing with for over a year and a half. I even wrote the first chapter already and I know where it’s going. But it requires a little research, so it will take some more time. I hope to have a solid start to this novel by the end of August. How about half-written? Nice goal.

Play-writing – I never discount play-writing because that’s the form that comes the most naturally to me. I have a show I wrote last year called Crazy Love, but I want to add one or two more pieces to it, so when the muse strikes, I set aside my novels for the afternoon.

Excited for summer? I hope you are at least half-excited as I am, and if you are, you’re plenty excited.

When was the last time you … ?

Think. What do you love to do but haven’t done it for a long time?

I know. There are reasons why you haven’t done it. Everyone has excuses.

I’ve done something this past week that I haven’t done in about a year and it’s been real enjoyable: guitar playing and song composing.

I won’t go into all the ridiculous reasons that my guitar was packed away awaiting a move that never happened for a year, but I can attest that it really has been a year without playing it.  And I missed it.

And it struck me how that cliched comment about “it’s like riding a bike”  came to the forefront of my mind when I put the fretboard in my hand for the first time in 12 months. My brain and fingers remembered everything. It’s pretty remarkable. I forget stuff all the time, but all the chords and finger positionings came naturally like I never stopped playing.

I plucked out some chords to the melody I created that matched some lyrics I made which are related to a new novel I’m writing. Yeah, a bunch of strange connections there.

But the point it this: I enjoy playing guitar. I enjoy writing lyrics. I enjoy composing songs on the guitar, and it felt great to do it again.

What about you? What do you love to do that you haven’t done in a long time? Try it out again. It’s been far too long.

I’ll leave you with some of the lyrics to my untitled new song.

RANDOM UNTITLED SONG LYRICS

Part of me is reaching, to set upon the stars

To grasp a piece of heaven, to lunge to places far,

       Part of me is crying out, to reach inside your heart,

  But I hold no ill will.

           No, I hold no ill will.

Part of me is trying. To understand this world.

Untangle all the colors that blindness tends to swirl

And form the ground beneath our feet that heaven’s gate unfurls

But I hold no ill will.

Yes, I hold no ill will.

The past it paints its canvas black with speckled sparks of light,

Glimpses to remind me of where I’ve been,

 The future holds the promises of many well-fought fights,

But I’ll never turn away from where I’ve been.

                 Cause I’ve seen the poorest soul be trampled to the ground,

 And I cannot turn away from where I’ve been,

        And I’ve seen the lights of fame adorning all around

Yet even more, it grips my breast, and hold it tight onto my chest

               All the places, good or bad, I’ve ever been

(copyright 2019 Mark W Sasse)

A Blissful Week of Cooking

I got to take a break from my drama teaching, directing, and producing hats this weekend and cook!

I organized a Week Without Walls cooking experience called Hot, Spicy, & Sasse. Yeah, I like the name too. I had twelve students, most of which had never cooked before, and I helped them build their cooking skills and techniques over the course of the week. It was a blast, and we ate a ton of good food.

P_20190319_113211_BF

Here’s a look at our set-up. We had four booths installed in our loading dock. They were wired for lots of small hot plates, an oven, refrigerator, and, of course, rice cooker. Then I started with a demonstration and let them go at it, walking around to give them guidance as needed.

It was fun to see students who had never cooked before gain some experience, and more importantly, confidence that they don’t have to rely on anyone else for delicious food. They have the power! And now the skills.

P_20190321_102509

Here are two students making our final dish of the week: garlic butter stuffed crust pizza. Yeah, it was phenomenal.

Here’s the menu boards of ingredients we used for the week. I hope to do it again next year.

 

 

j

Boh on Bose, Tea & Music

I have concluded this: Boh Tea is my favorite in the world.

Boh is grown in the lush Malaysian Cameron Highlands, and I started drinking it when I lived in Penang.  I eventually was hooked on unsweetened Boh black tea.  Smooth and flavorful.

I really started missing Boh tea when I moved to Saudi Arabia. I tried a wide variety of teas and eventually settled on a brand name Ahmad tea based out of London. I liked it, and I was happy.

One day, I discovered on Amazon that they sell Boh tea. I was ecstatic and told my kids that’s what I wanted for Christmas. So, sure enough, I unwrapped a bunch of Boh tea boxes which were under the Christmas tree.  I ended up bringing back 16 boxes of Boh tea.

The first thing I did was a taste test – Ahmad Tea beside Boh Tea.

I tried Ahmad. “Okay, that’s good.”

And then I tried the Boh again for the first time. “Wow! Oh my goodness. Throw out the Ahmad!”

Boh blew it away. Flavor – rich & smooth with hints of green tea – so much flavor and I finally remembered why I liked it so much.

The smooth rich flavors of the tea mix so perfectly well with the smooth rich sounds of the Bose, so whether I’m punching out words on my computer or cooking in the kitchen, the Boh and Bose tandem are there to keep me company.

If you are a tea lover, give Boh a try. I am not a paid endorser. I buy the stuff by the Boht load.

So here they are, the perfect pair:

P_20190309_120353_1
Boh Sitting on Top its Buddy Bose

 

 

And here’s a photo I took of the Boh plantation in Malaysia when I visited a few years back.

12928235_10153847578931141_7463748704870101372_n[1]

Enjoy!

Another Recipe: My Take on Thai Curry

I LOVE a flavorful curry.  Thai curries are some of my favorite. When I’m out of Southeast Asia, I miss it tremendously and typically have to make my own if I am to be satisfied.

Here’s a recipe I whipped up today and it turned out fabulous, so I thought I’d share.  It tastes remarkably similar to a curry my Thai lunch lady in Penang would serve me often. It’s incredibly easy, very fast to prepare, and super delicious.  Try it out and let me know what you think!

First, create the spice paste:
1 inch ginger
1 inch galangal
large handful of thai basil leaves OR mint leaves
4 cloves garlic
1 red onion
1-2 stalks of lemon grass (white part)  (NOTE: I didn’t have this today, but still awesome!)
1-3 red chili peppers (per preference)
Put ingredients, along with a little oil, into food processor and mix thoroughly until nearly a paste consistency.
NEXT:
Put paste in frying pan and let simmer until fragrant.
ADD:
1 tablespoon Tom Kha paste (THIS IS OPTIONAL. I HAPPENED TO HAVE IT SO I ADDED IT. CAN BE MADE WITHOUT IT)
3-4 kaffir lime leaves
1 can coconut cream or coconut milk
1 chicken bullion mixed in a cup of hot water
1 pound thinly sliced chicken breast
Simmer until chicken completely cooked.
Serve over white rice.
Enjoy!

P_20190223_121014P_20190223_120933

 

Imagine What’s Ahead for You. It Might Be Beyond Belief.

I’m listening to the audio book “A Personal Odyssey” about the life of economist Thomas Sowell. It’s fabulous, by the way, and I highly recommend it. (On Amazon)

I’ve long been an admirer of Mr. Sowell, and it is absolutely fascinating to hear his story of growing up in the south, moving to New York, struggling with issues of family, schooling, societal racism and the constant struggles of a teenager and young black man trying to make a living by juggling various stints of employment trying to make ends meet. It’s a gripping and vivid story already, and I’ve only made it up to 1952 when he was a photographer in the Marine corps.

What struck me this morning, as I was listening during my walk, is the young marine, in his early twenties, has no idea whom he will one day become – one of the most respected researchers, writers, and economists in American history. All of the accolades that he has achieved in his breath-taking career were not even remotely on the radar in the young life of Thomas Sowell.

By 1952, he had not even finished high school. How would he have ever guessed the academic career which was to come?  graduate of Harvard,  Doctorate at the University of Chicago, professor at Cornell and many other institutions, a Fellow of the Hoover Institution at Stanford, syndicated columnist and author, etc…

How could have a high school dropout ever had hoped as much? It’s remarkable, really, and the truth that comes out it is this: We cannot, ever, foresee the future. This fact is both a great encouragement, but it is also a warning.

This is encouragement for those stuck in the life they don’t want to be in. You never know what’s right around the bend. You never know what how much that extra little effort will pay off. Grit may have its reward far beyond what you could have imagined.

On the flip side, this is also a warning shot for those who are riding high in life: don’t take the good times for granted. Enjoy them for what they are. And be thankful. You never know when the good times will end.

(Thanks for the reminder, Mr. Sowell. Now back to listening. I can’t wait to find out how you repudiated your communist leanings.)

 

 

My Hobby – Cooking (Today’s recipe: chicken broccoli stir fry)

When I’m not writing or doing drama-related stuff, I cook. Here’s one I did yesterday.: chicken broccoli stir fry. Super easy. Super delicious and very nutritious! Skip the Chinese take-out and try this. It doesn’t take long to prepare. Here are the ingredients:p_20190104_163940

Listed from left to right: green onions, chopped garlic (4 cloves), chopped ginger (1 inch), 1 medium chopped onion, 1 chopped chili pepper, 1 med head broccoli. In the bottles: sesame oil, oyster sauce, chili sauce, and go ahead and add some soy sauce.

You’ll also need a pound of thinly sliced chicken breast.

Cooking:

p_20190104_164901

Large wok: add sesame oil and all chopped vegetables. Let stir-fry on high heat for a minute or so. Add broccoli. It will start to steam and turn dark green.

Once mainly cooked, push to side, add more oil to empty side of pan and add half chicken. Stir fry to mainly cooked, push to side with vegetables and cook other half of chicken.  (That’s what is happening in the photo above.)

Now for the sauces: splash in some soy sauce, a couple table spoons of chili sauce (I use an Indonesian variety, but something like Siracha would work as well) and about 1/4 cup of oyster sauce. (if you want to thin out sauce, add a little chicken broth)

Stir fry on high heat until well mixed. Remove from heat. Add green onions and lightly stir. Serve over white rice. (I like Thai rice, personally.)

Enjoy! It’s super delicious and very easy. Here’s my meal from yesterday.

p_20190104_165601

All right, now back to book editing.

 

A Year of Writing in Review

What writer doesn’t look back at the end of a year and to give oneself a writing grade?

Well, actually, I don’t hold a lot of stock in goals hit or missed because time lines are flexible and life happens. But it’s still fun to take stock in what transpired in the year of writing. Here are some of my highlights.

Play writing:

Watched my play “The Birth of Technicolor” in Brooklyn! It was awesome.

My play “The Last Bastion” won me the 2018 Greywood Arts Writing Residency in Ireland and I spent a blissful week in a charming old English house finishing off two full-length plays and other miscellaneous writings.

Short plays – I hit my stride again in short play writing, finishing off a complete new show entitled “Crazy Love” in the spring and then in the fall I cranked out four new additional short plays which will be part of a show of mine called “Stories, Vol. 1.”

On top of this, I produced three shows – “For All Generations” in Jan 2018, the musical “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown” in April 2018 and the experimental piece “How to Build a Dictator” in December 2018.

Novel writing:

Summer saw the release of book 2 of the Forgotten Child Trilogy called “The African Connection.”

Summer also saw me writing frantically to finish book 3 – which I did – entitled “A Parting in the Sky.”  This explosive piece will end the trilogy and will be released within the first few months of 2019. Very excited about it!

Planning stages and early writing for my mysterious novel #9. I will say it is an alternate history related to the 1960s. It’s going to get wild!

Short Story:

I published a new Christmas story “Jolly Old St. Hick.”

I’m also formulating my book on baseball. I promised myself I would. It may be a collection of short stories or a more unified piece. More to come.

Yes, it’s been a busy and fruitful year. Here’s hoping more productivity in 2019! I’ll give you my writing prognosis for the year soon!

I appreciate your support.

Happy New Year!

 

 

Please Make this the Last Christmas for the song “Last Christmas”

I was riding in a taxi in Athens, Greece on Thanksgiving day. The driver was listening to the radio and on came a the song “Last Christmas” by Wham!  Of course, I had heard this song many times in the past, but it really stuck out to me that day, sitting in a taxi, being surrounded by the song’s words, realizing that it was the first Christmas song I heard this year.

I quickly came to one adamant conclusion: this is a terrible song.

There are many great Christmas songs – hundreds of them  both secular and sacred – and this is not one of them. If Santa ever got in a habit of wrapping his gifts of coal in song lyrics, I would highly offer this as a worthy companion to coal.

“Last Christmas, I gave you my heart, and the very next day, you gave it away. This year, to save me some tears, I’ll give it to someone special.”

Really? Please, save me some tears and stop playing this song.

What struck me in the taxi in Athens was the fact that this song was going to be prominently heard on the airwaves of that station and thousands more around the world for the next six weeks. The radio station was willingly lowering the standard of their content in playing this inferior song.

Just because someone writes a Christmas song doesn’t mean that it’s a good one. It was released in 1986. It should have been retired in 1987. But no. It was covered by Taylor Swift 20 years later and Ariana Grand six years after that. It’s like a song which has cast a spell on people in the industry and it has created a holiday monster which chews into playlists and keeping you from hearing superior songs.

This is probably why I don’t like suggested playlists because too many people without taste select the songs.

What would I suggest instead? Well, try the Christmas album by little-known artist David Ian, for starters. It’s terrific, and it will put you in the holiday mood, something “Last Christmas” has never done for me.

So please, let’s make this the last Christmas for “Last Christmas.”

__________________________________

PS: Shoot! I just found out that there is a Christmas movie coming out in 2019 called “Last Christmas” and it’s inspired by the song.

We are doomed!

If It’s a Fad, It’s Not a Lifestyle

A few years back I was getting a check-up at the doctor’s office. Weight-wise, I was not where I wanted to be at that particular moment, and she spoke the truth to me: “You have to do the hard work.” In other words, you aren’t going to lose weight without making the right choices, without being disciplined, without making sacrifices.  No-one can do it for you!

Boy, we hate to think that the things we want require hard work. Let me win the lottery! Surely an agent will discover my talent! World, please. Notice how awesome I am. Make it easy for me!

Ah, no.

You want to get into a top-flight college? Hard work.

You want to write a novel? Hard work.

You want to be a movie star? Hard work.

You want to lose weight? Hard work.

But here’s the difference between something being a fad and being a lifestyle. We all put hard work into particular things at certain times in our lives. I remember a particular diet I was on in 2005. I put in the hard work. I achieved the success I wanted. Then I stopped putting in the hard work. You can imagine the results. My fad faded. And my waistline, well, … yeah.

Same with writing. How many people are enthusiastic to write their first novel? They work and work and possibly even get it done, but when instant world-wide fame isn’t bestowed on them, they move on and never write again.

Hard work is needed. But sustained hard work, over years, without giving up, even in the face of little success or many unpleasant bumps in the road — in other words GRIT – is the only way that your hard work season becomes your hard work lifestyle.

I wasn’t ready to listen to that doctor about a decade ago. But more recently, her words are sinking in.

In 2002, when I started my first great novel, I wasn’t ready to make a lifestyle change and become a writer. I put in a minimal amount of hard work and abandoned it. It took another ten years before I was ready to put in the hard work of being an author for the long haul.

You aren’t going to reach your goals overnight. Or in a month. Or maybe not in a year. But much is achievable with a steady hand on the plow, ignoring the criticism, pushing back the doubts, and keeping your eyes straight ahead on what’s important to you.

Only you can do the hard work.

Are you ready for it?