A Summer of Cooking & Writing

Summer has, so far, been a real whirlwind.  It is typically my writing time, and it has been again, to a degree. But it’s also been about family, vacations, travel, and food. Here’s a couple photos to prove the last point. I love cooking, you know, so when family gets together, there’s all kinds of good stuff going on.

Ribs on the 4th of July. How I missed ribs! Oh, and there’s bacon in the baked beans. How I missed bacon!

Cheesecake for my son on birthday. How I missed berries! This is a very simple glaze. Berries, tiny bit of water, sugar. That’s it. I was delighted to find black raspberries and so I thought I’d merry black and red together on one cake. It was a good idea.

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Cherry pie for my dad’s birthday. Full disclosure, my sister made the crust, but I made the filling and I picked the cherries myself. So that counts, I think.

Now that some of the family reunions have subsided, I’m back in full writing mode. Packed away a good 3700 words today on novel 9 and I have a full week of writing ahead of me, so here’s hoping for some great productivity.

Hope you are having a great, productive, and creative summer too!

 

 

Play Feedback: Drive-By

Play Feedback: Drive-By

I regularly submit my plays to theatres and festivals around the world. Some are chosen for production. Most are not. The competition is fierce. I love receiving feedback which is why I always submit to the Pittsburgh New Works Theatre. They have a fantastic process in which two unnamed judges give detailed feedback about all the pieces submitted.

I recently received feedback about my piece entitled “Drive-by” – a poignant short play about about a young teen losing her sister to a drive-by shooting.  Ultimately, the play wasn’t chosen by the festival. Why? I’m not sure since the feedback was great. It was rewarding to hear that my play resonated with the judges. I’ve put their comments below.

Now I just have one question: Who wants to produce my play?

Judge #5 – score  93/100

A very timely topic, gun violence. The plot development is very interesting. The idea that as the action moves forward on finding out who the person was that shot the little girl, everyone around fines what they need except the sister. Although not new thematically, a strong take on the subject. What is most interesting is the staging possibilities. Having the story being told in past tense, flash backs provides a challenging and most interesting staging possibilities. This play needs to be seen. I am sure a staged read was powerful but an all out performance with strong production qualities would/will make this play shine.

Judge #6 –  score  90/100

Wow…this one hits you right in the solar plexus!
Very concise and well written dialogue…I could feel the emotion pouring from all characters. A real challenge for the director and actors, but one that could, ultimately, produce a very nice piece of theatre!  Easily produced because of the simple set (lighting is crucial though).  Good job!

Ugly Lucy, Pretty Lucy, & Me

Ugly Lucy, Pretty Lucy, & Me

I spend my summers on the outskirts of Celeron, NY which has the claim to fame of being the hometown of Lucille Ball. Celeron itself is on the outskirts of Jamestown which is part of Chautauqua County of Western NY. Jamestown and the region has been playing up the connection to Lucy for the last couple of decades. And why not? Who doesn’t love Lucy? I’ve watched the entire DVD collection! She set the standard for comedy and Jamestown and Celeron have been sharing the love every since. If you watch the show, listen for the references to Jamestown. They’re there.

A while back, the waterfront park in Celeron became home to a statue commemorating their favorite daughter. There’s one problem though. Take a look. That’s me and, wait, is that Lucy?

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Ugly Lucy. Not sure what happened, but this sculpture doesn’t quite catch the essence of the First Lady of Comedy. This sculpture received so much negative feedback that eventually a new statue was commissioned and you can see the results here.

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Much better. I’ll be using this park this summer to do some of my writing, and I will look fondly on both Lucy’s. Face it, we all have bad days and don’t quite look like ourselves. I may even have a bad writing day where I’ll be staring at a metaphorical statue of ugly Mark. But never fear, a wrong turn can always be made right.

In some ways, I wish the ugly Lucy was the only one in the park. I think that Lucy herself would have gotten a laugh out of it. Statues are rather pretentious. Ugly statues, on the other hand, might just strike the chord of authenticity better than a ravishing work of glam and glory. But it’s pretty cool that our local park has two statues of our local comedic heroine.

Here’s to you, Lucy.

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.

Thirty Years from Tienanmen Square

Thirty Years from Tienanmen Square

June 4, 2019 marks the thirty year anniversary of a dark day in Chinese history – what is known in the west as The Tienanmen Square Massacre.

I remember this day very well. I had just graduated from college a month before. I had just gotten married a week after college graduation. We were in Chicago for a friend’s wedding, and I remember waking up on Saturday morning and watching the broadcast of the Chinese military, under orders from Premier Deng Xiaoping, starting a methodical and violent clearing of the pro-democracy protests which had been going on in the square for some time.

Tienanmen Square is one of the largest city squares in the world. On one end is the Forbidden City, the former home of the emperor, now adorned with the iconic picture of communist leader Mao Zedong. Mao’s massive portrait looks out over the square and keeps a close watch on his own mausoleum on the opposite side of the square where the preserved body of Mao continues to be proudly displayed in a rather grim and solemn granite structure.

Chinese university students had been occupying the square, demanding a fifth modernization to go with Deng Xiaoping’s emphasis on science & technology, agriculture, industry, and defense.  Deng’s leadership had brought China out of the darkness of the cultural revolution which had decimated the Chinese economy and had proven how backward the Chinese regime had become. The cultural revolution ended with Mao’s death in 1976, but its lingering effects had worn down a weary culture. Deng’s modernizations were a welcome shift, but with modernization came new attitudes and desires for more than just economic relief. The students in the square were seeking that fifth modernization: political freedom. They even erected their own version of Lady Liberty to stand in stark contrast to the staunch communist eyes in Mao’s portrait.

The Chinese government could only take so much political embarrassment and bad international press, and on June 4, they moved in to squash the demonstrations. It was brutal. Hundreds died. Perhaps more. No one really knows. Many were arrested and the air of freedom which hung in the optimistic spring of 1989 was violently halted. I watched it all on TV as I readied myself to go the wedding. Little did I know that I’d be standing in the middle of that square just three years from that day.

I traveled to China for the first time in the summer of 1992. I was to teach at an English camp for Chinese English teachers in Dalian. On our way through Beijing, we got to see all the sites including the Great Wall and, of course, the square that was still very much in my memory. Before we arrived in China, we were instructed very clearly not to mention anything about what happened in 1989. Don’t bring it up. Don’t have an opinion. Pretend it didn’t happen.

On the particular day I visited the square, it was a far cry from the images on the TV. There were some vendors and some tourists. Modest lines waited to visit the body of Mao and others queued up in front of Mao’s portrait to tour the Forbidden City. I spent an entire summer in China and heard nothing whatsoever about this historical event. But it wasn’t hard to imagine what many were feeling underneath their skin.

Authority may destroy the movement of freedom, for a time, but it can’t change the thoughts we have within. And who doesn’t want freedom? Who doesn’t want to be able to focus on “the pursuit of happiness?”  Even the great Vietnamese communist leader Ho Chi Minh understood this. If you visit his mausoleum in Hanoi, you’ll see etched across the granite facade one sentence: “Khong co gi qui hon, dap lap, tu do” – There’s nothing as precious as independence and freedom.

China is a generation removed from the incident of Tienanmen Square, but I can’t help but think the underlying desire of true political freedom hasn’t change one bit.

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