Author Colleen Chesebro posted a great review of my latest novel. Here’s her first paragraph:

“I’ve been a fan of Mark Sasse’s books for around six years, now. What makes his writing most memorable is how his characters often require lessons to learn and various problems to overcome before they reach redemption. Many of his stories take place in or around Penang, Malaysia where Sasse taught school, which gives his stories a unique Asian flair.”

Please head on over to her great site to read the rest HERE!

Check out the book in KINDLE or PAPERBACK here!


Launching Tomorrow: MOSES THE SINGER

I’m excited to get this story out into the world. July 1. Here it comes.  Order MOSES THE SINGER here!

I wrote this novel in the summer of 2019, and one of my projects this past year was to revise, edit, and eventually publish it. It’s finally here.

This story spawns out of two ideas. First, the downtrodden of society. I’ve lived overseas many years and I’ve witnessed scores of hardworking people who had basically nothing. It made me realize how lucky and privileged I am in the simple things of life like having a nice bed, plenty of food, heat and running water–let alone the chance to travel and use technology. I’m blessed, and I know it. One thought I’ve always had was who are the ultra-talented people in society who have never had a chance to shine and grow in their talent. How many incredible voices will never be heard because of where they were born. As the back of my book states: TALENT IS DISTRIBUTED EQUALLY BY GOD!

With that in mind, I wanted to tell a story of a downtrodden and forgotten man of society who had a hidden talent. Thus the beginning of Moses the Singer.

The second idea comes out of my eleven years teaching at an international school in the wonderful tropical island of Penang, Malaysia. I worked with many talented teens over the years, so I decided to use that backdrop of island life and teen musicians from a local school to combine with my first idea.

These two ideas are the backbone of the story: Justice for the downtrodden, music for the masses.

This is my first Young Adult book, and I had a blast writing it — especially trying to figure out the banter between the teens. I hope I nailed it.

It’s a fun, tragic, yet uplifting story. I hope you’ll give it a try. Available from July 1st in Kindle and paperback.

EARLY PRAISE FOR Moses the Singer:

“If you’re looking for a feel-good read that will help you believe in humanity once again, make “Moses, the Singer,” that book.” – Author Colleen Chesebro

“Sasse manages to pen a masterful tale filled with many unexpected twists and turns which is sure to please a wide reading audience. He skillfully demonstrates the art of kindness and compassion combined with determination to positively affect the lives of the less fortunate people in our world. Very touching novel!” – inspirational author Dolores Ayotte

“The story takes the reader on a journey through numerous emotions. Grab a tissue to blot your tears of joy and tears of sorrow. Highly recommend.” – Reviewer L. Denn


Moses the Singer EXCERPT 2: Second Beginning

As I stated in my previous post: Moses The Singer EXCERPT 1: First Beginning, my new novel releasing July 1 is at first told from two perspectives. First by a group of talented teen musicians (Excerpt 1) and second by Musa “Moses” Marbun. When the two stories converge, everything changes.

In this excerpt, we get to see the tragedy that occurred which brings Musa to the island of Penang.


Twenty-Eight Years Before Any of Them Were Born

He stood five-foot-two from the top of his forehead with his chin held high—short enough to lean against the side of the boat without any of his wiry hairs sticking over the edge. Twenty people crowded in a space that would have made ten sardines uncomfortable. A man’s elbow wedged into the side of his neck. A woman holding a crying infant straddled across half his lap on the opposite side. He shifted his legs in constant motion to ward off fatigue from the two others who had come to rest on his bony legs by no will of their own. The boat rocked on the waves, causing many episodes of voluminous vomiting from the souls trapped under the harsh moon of midnight. He wished for pitch blackness, so he couldn’t see their expressions. But the moonlight played its cruel tricks and exposed the true emotions of the weary travelers.
He moved his neck away from the elbow of a man as the woman on his other side couldn’t hold it any longer and threw up across his face. He lifted his arm out of the human traps surrounding him and shimmied it high enough to wipe the vomit from around his mouth. But it didn’t prevent the taste from seeping into his lips. He did all he could to stop himself from joining the grotesque scene. He closed his eyes and waited. What he waited for wasn’t important. What could be worse?

Seven hours. His body cramped in several locations. He had fallen asleep for a time, which coincided with the infant’s lungs finally exhausting themselves to such a degree that the child itself fell asleep. So did the mother. So did he.
A loud voice stirred him from his restless slumber. He glimpsed over the edge of the boat at a few flickering lights in the distance. They had neared the shore. But the two men at the helm argued. Violent words. Panic amongst the cowered passengers ensued. He pulsed upward for a second look, and that’s when he heard the engine approaching.
“You’re in violation of our sovereign waters.”
Lights flashed. An alarm sounded. Additional claims of rights and ownership echoed from the approaching boat, which prompted a first person to jump into the water. Someone screamed. A large shot trailed across the sky. The entire boat shifted back with the men at the helm yelling for everyone to stay down. But no one listened. A rising sensation. A quick shift. Bodies tumbled on top of each other. The side of the boat lifted into the air, expelling body upon body into the dark waters until it was complete. The boat capsized and trapped many under its turned-over belly. Darkness encompassed him as he sank. He looked once at the faint glimpses of skin and bones falling below him. He gasped and hit his head on the edge of the boat, ripping open the side of his cheek. It would have been easier not to fight it anymore—to glide slowly into the deep.
But the light had not yet faded, not at the young age of twenty-two, so he dove under the edge and around three bodies next to him, reaching upward towards the light and the chaos above. He broke through the surface into the air and flailed his arms and pumped his chest for breath once more.
“Help,” he cried in his native Batak language. No one heard him over the roar of the engine and the panicked voices of the few remaining on the surface. The loudspeaker continued to announce its presence.
“Help,” he called again.
He had never swum in his life, so he clung his fingers to the edge of the turned-over boat and waited.
They grabbed him and plopped him over the side of the railing and onto the deck as he panted for air and laid flat on his back. Blood dripped down his left cheek, and a drenched shredded rag clung to his body like the initial layer of mummified cloth. No one spoke to him or even looked at him. He rested in the open space on the deck of the ship and noticed three others on his right as weary as himself. The rest had vanished into the place that no one imagines. Gone. He looked straight into the sky. A flag with a crescent moon, a sun, and red and white stripes fluttered above him. He mumbled a few words and closed his eyes.

They brought them ashore and placed them in a vacant room with cement walls and a fluorescent light illuminating a wooden door. They didn’t bother searching him for identification. He had no possessions on him other than the ragged clothing—thin cut-offs for pants with nothing underneath—a ripped shirt that showed a large burn scar across his chest. He wasn’t only short, but also thin, gaunt. His ribs revealed themselves on each side. The blood had ceased to drip from his dark-skinned cheek. He asked for water, but no one paid attention to him or the three others. The room had no windows. The stale air hung thick and humid like a second layer of wet clothes. Nothing dried, so he sat in the dampness and waited.
Hours passed. They put all four of them in the back of a truck—open air yet caged in with wire-netting on all sides of the frame. His clothes had dried, but he hadn’t been given anything to eat or drink for hours. His pasty mouth clicked when he moved it. Nobody talked. The seventeen missing souls did the talking for them.
Dawn broke through the dark-grey shroud of night as they cruised along a modern divided highway. After an hour, they exited and weaved through the early morning traffic until they stopped in front of a detention center. They separated him from the others and placed him in a blank room, stripped him of his rags, and gave him a light blue cotton pullover shirt with matching pants. They spoke, but not to him. The words swirled around him like a strong wind that turned his head in every direction and left him nothing but confused. One man grabbed his arm and placed his right fingers one at a time on an ink pad and blotted his prints on a square cardboard stock. They spoke again, but he gazed in silence into the wall. One took him by the shoulders and pushed him into a molded plastic chair and left him alone. Again. And he waited.
Thirty minutes passed when a man in a blue decorated uniform, with a badge hanging off his left side, entered with a woman, also wearing a suit. She wore a hijab over her head. She spoke words he could understand, and he glanced at her and provided the answer to her question.
“Musa. I am Musa Marbun.”

Moses The Singer EXCERPT 1: First Beginning

Moses the Singer, my brand new YA novel set to release on July 1, has two beginnings. The first part of the novel is told from two different point of views. First, there’s the story of four talented teen musicians as they plan to win their school’s talent show. The second part is about Musa “Moses” Marbun, a destitute and country-less old man living a meager and marginalized existence on the island of Penang. Then the stories merge.

I’d like to share both beginnings with you. The novel will be available in Kindle and paperback starting July 1. Kindle pre-orders are being taken now!

EXCERPT 1 – CHAPTER 1 YOU SUCK – In this chapter, you get to meet the bantering Will & Sanchez who have been playing music together for years.

The patio door whipped open and startled the two teens sitting on upside-down white paint buckets—papers with lyrics and chords strewn on top of a plastic table in front of them.
“Enough. Please. Will, you’re killing me.”
The teen lowered the six-string into his lap. Behind him, two yellow palms towered in ceramic pots.
“I’m just trying to get this song down.”
Will’s father tapped his clenched fist on the glass door. “Isn’t it obvious? That song is not going down, and if it does, it’s going to be regurgitated back up.”
“All right, Dad. Jeez.”
“I’m sorry. I’m just trying to get some sleep.”
Sanchez, at Will’s left holding his fretless bass, glanced over at Will’s father. “Will the killer. That’s what I call him.”
“Shut up,” snapped Will.
“You’re killing this song. And I don’t mean that as a compliment.”
“Boy, you two are really supportive.” Will stood up and hit his knee on the side of the table, knocking several pages onto the patio stone.
“Why don’t you guys wrap it up, okay?” shouted the perturbed father.
“All right. But did you hear my singing?”
“Who couldn’t hear your singing?”
“Sanchez thinks we need another singer.”
Sanchez waved his hands in the air and blurted the honest truth as clearly as humanly possible. “Dude, you suck.”
“Why is everyone attacking me?” Will threw his left arm into the air, his right still grasping the neck of the guitar.
“Because it’s 2 A.M. and your screeching is keeping all the night critters from their work. And my nighttime work is sawing logs so I can do actual work in the morning. That’s what I do. I work to support your garage band habits.”
“But Dad … just listen to one thing.”
Sanchez along with Will’s dad lowered their heads in synchronous agony.
“Come on, just give me a second.”
Will returned to the upside-down paint bucket, lowered his hands on the fretboard, and plucked out a series of notes clear and melodic—a beautiful sonic moment, until his mouth opened and inserted a strand of battle-weary notes which had been ripped to shreds by the Muse—the sage protector of all melodic harmony.
Sanchez put his hands over his ears and mumbled, “It’s been like this all evening.” He put down his bass and snapped open his case.
Will’s dad stepped a foot out onto the patio. “Will, listen to me.” Will stopped playing, which allowed the creatures in the neighborhood to catch their breath. “You’re a terrific guitar player. Really, I’m amazed at what you can do. But you’ve got a disease, and you need to admit it.”
“A disease?”
“Yes, it’s called the Kerry Livgren syndrome.”
“There’s a name for this?” inquired Sanchez, clasping the buckles on his case close.
“Kerry Livgren. Master composer, guitar player, musician extraordinaire of the classic rock band Kansas?”
Both boys stared into the blank night with confused looks.
“You know, ‘Dust in the Wind,’ ‘Carry on Wayward Son’?”
“Dad, do you have a point?”
“Yes, Kerry Livgren was a musical wizard, but he couldn’t sing a lick. Or as Sanchez stated so eloquently, his voice sucked!”
“What are you trying to say?”
Will’s dad used his left index finger to point at the place between his eyebrows several times. He seemed to be rubbing out the rough edges of his stress-induced midnight headache.
“You need to find a new singer.”
“That’s what I’ve been telling him for a year,” chimed Sanchez.
“And go to bed. Do the latter, first.”
“I’ll catch you later, Will. Good night, Mr. Jennings.”
“Good night, Sanchez,” offered Will’s dad. Will, guitar in hand, walked past his dad standing in the sliding glass doorway. “Good night, Will.”
“I’m still a little angry at you,” moaned the guitar player.
“The sheep over my bed feel the same way. I guess we’re even.”

Anyone else sick of cover versions of classic tunes?

I was in the mall the other day and I saw an add for a new album by a well-known jazz artist. The only songs from the new album which were being advertised on a large cardboard cut-out were two covers of “Hotel California” and “Desperado.”  I’m sure the marketing geniuses who came up with that idea were shooting for song-name recognition as a way to get people interested in the album. I, for one, was immediately turned off, thinking, “Why would I want to hear another rendition of ‘Hotel California’?” Actually, I don’t even want to hear the original version anymore. For me, it has been overplayed and over-karaoke-ized to death that it elicits little joy within me when I hear it. Why would I want to hear another version?

Perhaps this cover is amazing (I haven’t bothered to look it up), but for me it goes back to the idea of creativity and originality. I crave both of those, and I have a hard time understanding why so many artists end up doing songs by other artists, and bragging about it to such a degree that seems to undermine the rest of the album.

I get it. Covers have always been a thing in music, but it’s a rare cover that I personally like better than the original. If I was a musician, if my cover of a song didn’t bring it to new heights, and didn’t in its own right become a respected and sought after version then why do it in the first place.

When do I not mine song covers? Christmas. Pretty much all Christmas songs are covers, and that’s fine. Tribute albums is another acceptable way to do it because it’s a way of honoring the creativity and impact of the original band or artist. But using old songs as a ploy to get listeners or as a way to fill up an album doesn’t impress me.

Dig deep. Get creative. Be original. And if you need a song writer or lyricist to help you out, then let’s talk.


That Moment a Song Becomes Cool

Here’s how it works for me. I buy a new album, plop it into my mp3 player and start listening. The first time through is nothing more than curiosity. I listen without judgment or feeling. I feel like a juror listening to the defense attorney trying to list all the reasons why this song shouldn’t end up in my dead-song list.

By the time the first listen through the entire album is finished, the jury is usually still out. I may like the album or a few of the songs may have caught my attention, but I haven’t yet made up my mind.

I’ve purchased hundreds of albums over the years, and, actually, there are only a handful of albums or artists which continue to draw me back to them after many years have past. Most of the songs I have are stuck in my playlist graveyard. Occasionally I’ll put my whole collection on play random and will be surprised that a few song gems had escaped me once upon a time.

But with new albums, I have found, over and over, that there is a seminal moment when it finally hits me, “Wow, that’s a catchy tune. I want to hear that again.” I’ll press repeat and listen a couple more times. Suddenly, that unknown song has just dramatically become “cool” in my eyes, and I can’t get enough.

If there is a song or two on an album which grab me that way, I’ll let that album play all the time until I really learn the songs well and it becomes a natural part of my media experience.

Why does a song become “cool”? I don’t know.  It might be a phrase, a beat, a guitar riff, a combination of cool rhythm or unexpected message which just makes me attracted to it. My most recent example of the “cool” song moment is from Steve Taylor and the Perfect Foil’s album “Goliath.”  The song which made me turn my neck was appropriately titled “Rubberneck” – a fun, upbeat tune lampooning the social media age we are in. In fact, this entire album is truly amazing, with Taylor’s normal wit and vigor, married perfectly with an extremely talented veteran band, it’s an album which is way too good and way too cool for the top 40 stations.

I love it when I have one of those “aha” moments, because I know that I have found a new album which I will love for years to come.

Missed Albums: Hidden Gems That Popped Up

Did you ever buy an album and quickly pass it to the back of your playlist because it didn’t ‘grab you’? I’m sure we all have.

And then did you ever revisit that album and say – ‘whoa, this is a good album, why haven’t I been listening to it’?

I’ve run across a couple albums like that recently that really are some beautiful, complex, mature, and exceptionally pleasing to listen to albums that I either missed the first time around or had quickly dismissed as forgettable. But I was wrong.

First up is Sixpence None the Richer’s 2012 release “Lost in Translation.”  I absolutely loved their early 2000s release “Divine Discontent” – beautiful, thought-provoking and engaging. And Leigh Nash’s voice? Do I need to say more? She has such an amazing ethereal feature to her voice that she sounds like an angel. I’m sure she does. I remember one reviewer once saying of her voice, “She could sing the phone book and I’d buy it. Twice.” I couldn’t agree more. Sixpence took a hiatus or broke-up for a while. They put out a lovely Christmas album in the late 2000s but had completely fallen off my radar since then. Thanks to Amazon Prime, they popped up and I about screamed when I found out that they had a new album two years ago I had never heard of. Well, I added it to my playlist and I am not disappointed. Nash’s voice is as lovely as ever and the songs are beautifully constructed. Please check it out. Excellent stuff!

Now in the realm of albums I actually previously owned but had brushed aside, I have really enjoyed Deas Vail’s “Desire” from 2011 and Sarah Groves’ “Fireflies and Songs”. Both albums have some really beautiful and memorable moments.

So if you are looking for something other than the run-of-the mill, over-produced music that claims the airwaves, here are three that you should check out.

It’s always good to go back and see what you missed!


Music, Brazil, & Culture

Let’s mix things up a little bit today. Here’s an excerpt from an essay I wrote about how music in Brazil has mirrored the historical and cultural changes which it has experienced in the modern era. In this excerpt, I highlight the influence of the talented vocalist and musician Milton Nascimento. 

Milton Nascimento is universally hailed as one of the most gifted vocalists not only of Brazil but also of his generation.   He is from a small town in Minas Gerais, a large Brazilian state just off the southwest coast.   Milton’s music is eclectic, ranging from jazz to folk to many genres which are difficult to classify.  Milton’s songs are a collaborative effort as he worked with many talented musicians and lyricists over the years who would help him define his music.  Perhaps his passion, above all else, was to create a lyrical bank of music which epitomizes life in Minas Gerais and by extension Brazil itself.  Charles Perrone says of Milton that he “… crafts melodies that harbor the soul of Minas Gerais, the spirit of Brazil, and fundamental human passions” (“Milton” 162).    One of the most common themes in his work about Minas Gerais is the theme of arriving and departing with the railroad being a common thread that weaves the theme together (Perrone, “Milton” 138).   When thinking of this theme, it is natural, I assume, to think about home – a place you often want to be, but a place you often find yourself away from.  It is this nostalgic, folksy look at his homeland which gives his music its authenticity and potency.   His music was often referred to as “oxcart music” (Perrone, “Milton” 140) which gives one the impression that you are going back in time to a place like childhood, where life moved at a slower pace and where the simple pleasures and hardships of life seemed to come together in a heart-wrenching crescendo which overwhelmed you with regret, loss, peace and love.

In his song “Tres Pontas”, which is the name of a city in Minas Gerais, Milton starts the song with flute and acoustic guitar, and then adds a conga beat with chant like vocals coming in like they were paying homage to something – or meditating on Minas Gerais itself.   Milton’s voice then comes in clear and strong but the chant-like background continues.  Not content to ride one style the whole way, Milton turns the middle of the song into a sentimental crescendo of strings and stirring vocals whose slow pace perhaps echoes the cadences of Tres Pontas city-life.  Likewise, in his song “Itamarandiba”, the name of another Minas Gerais municipality, Milton sings in the style of a solemn love song with piano, guitar, and strings comfortably blended together in a song paying homage to his beloved homeland.

Milton’s music is not only nostalgic views of Minas Gerais; it also tells us a great deal about Brazil.  Milton’s band called the Corner Club replicates the communal nature of traditional Brazilian society.   The naming of his band the Corner Club references a street corner where society meets for social and recreational purposes (Perrone, “Milton” 133), almost like a social club where locals get together to ‘chew over’ the latest gossip or political scandal.  And that is how Milton made music – in collaboration with a social group of peers.  Perrone says he adopted a “communal approach to composition and recording and touches upon essential needs and concerns” (“Milton” 157).

This communal approach shows off the diverse and eclectic styles which typify his musical expression while at the same time showing off the diversity of Brazilian life.  The following three songs illustrate why Milton is so difficult to pigeonhole and often times defies description.   “Simples” starts with a jazzy prelude of keys, strings, and a powerful horn section.  Then Milton’s vocals emerge in a very operatic, powerful manner followed by strings which add a theatrical flair to the whole piece. Another song of Milton’s that confounds comparison and description is “Saidas and Banderais”.   It has an unexpected start with the sound of a piercing stringed instrument being plucked in a style surprisingly reminiscent of Asian folk music.   His vocals are powerful with a perfectly pitched controlled falsetto which one would have difficulty finding an equal.  Lastly, “Grand Circus” (“Gran Circo”) starts with a powerful, dramatic horn section peppered with flute. It brings to mind someone making a grand entrance with all the pomp and pageantry of a king or queen.  It reminds me of an early 1970s progressive style with its theatrical flair.  The song builds to a crescendo of flute versus trumpet with prolific drumming underneath.  The flurry of action quickly dissipates as the song ends in a mellow jaunt of solemn piano.

Milton Nascimento displays an impressive array of musical prowess which puts Brazil and especially his home state of Minas Gerais on display.  He has created a strong cultural expression which celebrates the pride of Brazil in much the same way as the samba is danced and celebrated on the streets of Carnival.   It is this complex mixture of rural life versus urban life and  of upper class society versus lower class black majority that typifies the unique cultural identity of Brazil.  Brazilian music of the twentieth century has continually displayed this tension in creative and influential ways which have made the world take notice.  Brazilians will no doubt continue to express their protests, political ideals, and cultural identity through their music.

(Complete list of Works Cited available upon request.)



A Word about Haiti

Recently, I did some research on Haitian ethnomusicology. (Don’t ask!)  If you are interested in Haiti, you might like to read the following short excerpt from an essay I wrote about music’s impact on Haitian culture and history.  This portion is about Haiti’s newest president who came to power in 2011. (Full documentation available on request.)

“In a remarkable turn of recent events, the masses have finally elected one of their own as president.  In the aftermath of last year’s deadly earthquake which flattened the capital and killed in excess of 250,000, Haiti has perhaps experienced the most vivid example yet of how much music means to their cultural identity by electing as President a former carnival singer named Michel Martelly.  As movie or sports stars find traction in political elections in the United States, their cultural counterpart in Haiti would be the musicians who have been piercing the political landscape with social criticism for decades.  Martelly was an extremely popular Carnival singer who was known for outrageous outfits and obscene language during his shows, and he won the presidency in a run-off election in April 2011 by receiving a resounding 68% of the vote (Archibold).   Even more recently, with the approval of the new Prime Minister, Martelly has set the stage for one of the most significant presidencies in Haiti for some time.  He has the unenviable task of trying to jump-start economic growth in the midst of the daunting earthquake recovery effort which continues.

Of course, it is much too early to tell what a Martelly presidency will ultimately look like, but perhaps it will have the look and feel of a rara processional.   Musicians have for decades used their rara Carnival songs to poke fun at the obscene to make people laugh.   They have sung their songs as a way to raise their voice in subtle protest to the injustices around them.  Perhaps no one knows the plight of the poor urban masses better than a Carnival singer.   This may be Martelly’s greatest strength – identifying with the people that he represents. . . .   And so now Martelly stands at the crossroads in Haiti, with a wealth of heart knowledge behind him, and the hope of the nation supporting him.”