Dinner at Eight: Only the Hearty Go On

March 10th, 2017 by Goose | Permalink

Thursday evening the Minnesota Opera hosted the social media presentation of their upcoming opera, Dinner at Eight. As the final dress rehearsal for its world premiere (March 11), the performance had its share of missteps and repeats, but overall it captivated the audience with its mordant, bitter sweet score and its spare, art deco staging of a legendary era in Broadway high society that may never have existed.

Based upon the very successful stage play by George S. Kaufman and Edna Ferber, this new opera plays against the pathos of the character types embodied in the Hollywood version in 1933. Whereas ruined lives caused by the Great Depression were very much a part of 1930s zeitgeist, here the haute couteur dinner attendees emerge as ruthless, sometimes resigned survivors of the unending Darwinian struggle to maintain social status.

As a result, composer William Bolcom’s musical score hovers primarily in the minor keys to undercut the folly of the hostess’ social aspirations and underscore the anguish of a fading silent movie idol too vain and too self-medicated to accept the loss of his former stature. Mark Campbell’s lyrics, though straining for cleverness during the opening chorus, do capture the hope, humor, and/or despair that motivates each of the characters throughout this operatic Vanity Fair.

If the performers held back to save their voices, it wasn’t evident in this dress rehearsal. Mary Dunleavy as the socialite wife Millicent Jordan, Stephen Powell as her ineffectual businessman/husband, Brenda Harris as the exuberant aging actress, Carlotta Vance, and the rest of the cast sang their parts with gusto. Their characters may appear foolish in the triviality of their aspirations, but the actors embodied them with emotional conviction.

All in all, the opera Dinner at Eight is a wise, funny, and ironic commentary on the aspirations and motivations that mark the human condition. Enjoy one of the performances on either March 11 (world premiere), March 16, or March 18 and 19. Social media followers can receive a $25/ticket discount for the Sunday March 19th performance by using Coupon Code: lobster25 for purchase at mnopera.org/dinner-at-eight or 612-333-6669.

Police and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

March 9th, 2017 by Goose | Permalink

Tuesday night (3/7/17) the guest speaker at the Twin Cities Sisters in Crime monthly meeting was Christian Dobratz, an assistant professor at Mankato State University in the department of public administration. His topic: Law enforcement survival, particularly in regards to the ravages of post traumatic stress disorder upon police department officers.

His credentials for presenting such a topic and discussion are impressive. Not only does he teach courses on the topic at Mankato State along with tactical communications and criminal investigations, he also has served as a patrol officer, deputy sheriff, and detective/drug task force assistant coordinator for Carver County. In those roles he witnessed a number of fellow officers and colleagues who suffered the ravages of PTSD on their personal lives ultimately leading to their suicides.

But it was his personal narrative as “a survivor” of accumulative, job-related PTSD events that made his presentation to the 50 or so members in attendance compelling. His account of dealing with one inhumane, neglectful, even cruel mistreatment of children by parents or guardians after another without time for decompression or analysis built an air-tight case for providing the seeds of his ultimate emotional and mental breakdown after investigating the fiery deaths of three pre-teenage boys due to child neglect.

Though the circumstances of this case were no more extraordinary than others he had investigated, the cumulative effect of those incidents eroded his professional reserve to the point that his successful investigation and ultimate prosecution of the adults responsible opened the floodgates of all his repressed emotions and rendered him unable to fulfill his professional police obligations and responsibilities. The tragedy of his story is how police administrations and its culture until recently chose to sweep PTSD-provoking occurrences under the rug and discredit or ridicule those officers who experienced them.

For a group of authors and writers from which many choose to make police procedurals and criminal investigations the central focus in their writings, Mr. Dobratz’s anecdotally-supported presentation proved revelatory and riveting. His call for more citizen understanding and support for social and psychological therapy as well as administrative change and assistance received an enthusiastic burst of applause at presentation’s end.

Professor Bobratz’ web page can be reached at: http://sbs.mnsu.edu/government/faculty/dobratz.html

All That Glitters

November 11th, 2016 by Goose | Permalink

Count in most facets of the Minnesota Opera’s production of “Das Rheingold.” As a first-time ever attempt to mount any of the four pdownload-2arts that make up Richard Wagner’s Ring Cycle, MO’s version is faithful to the composer’s original concept yet innovative in its presentation.

The archetypal story, based on Norse and Germanic pagan mythology, involves a magical gold ring guarded by Rhine maiden sprites whose possession enables its wearer to rule the world, but only if he or she renounces love. Its theft sets off a story of love, deception, greed and betrayal that eventually alters the order of the universe.

Telling such a monumental tale could be cumbersome and off-putting for a modern audience given its many stately characters and convoluted story-line, yet the acting, staging, and direction easily overcome these potential drawbacks. From the leads playing gods to the children portraying beset-upon dwarfs, all embodied their roles with gusto and bits of business that set them indelibly in the audience’s mind. The sets and animation underscored and abetted the actors’ performances whether invoking the mystical majesty of Valhalla, Alberich’s lecherous spying on the Rhine maidens, or the dwarves toiling in the mines far underground.

And the n there’s the music–always the music. Forever gorgeous, ever evocative, this time Wagner’s leitmotifs literally play a role onstage as the number of musicians required to perform his music-drama was much too large to fit within the Ordway Theater orchestra pit. Seated in the middle of the stage, Wagner’s music becomes the centerpiece around which swirls all the greed, deception, and power-grabbing that make up the plot.

Like Lord of the Rings, Game of Thrones, Guardians of the Universe and other depictions of far-off, fantastical lands and times, this first installment in Wagner’s Ring Cycle matches those in terms of innovation, quality, adownloadnd power in its story-telling. When even millennials in audience are so captivated as to turn off their social media, you can only hope this production of the first installment in Wagner’s Ring Cycle encourages the Minnesota Opera to prospect for more gold in the second, third, and fourth.

Performances of “Das Rheingold” take place on November 12, 15, 17, 19-20. Check one out.

 

 

Grrr! Another year without a Nobel Prize

October 15th, 2016 by Goose | Permalink

gettyimages-156038135-6ea6b50095eaa7c2418424f95b8308f49dceeb55-s900-c85Ah, shucks! No early morning phone call rousing me from Morpheus’ embrace to proclaim I was this year’s recipient of the Nobel Prize in Literature.

Not that I was expecting one, mind you. Like the vast majority of people who scribble down their thoughts for a living (or for the hell of it) in hopes someone other than their wives, mothers or significant others might take time out from their personal dramas to read them, there seems many authors who, due to reputation, readership, or gross sales, stand in line ahead of me for the award. After all, if Maya Angelou, Don DeLillo, and Salman Rushdie hadn’t received the award, who was I to butt in ahead of them?

Not Bob Dylan, that’s who! It isn’t jealousy (of course not) or that he’s undeserving (you tell me), but what he writes doesn’t fall within the strict canon of literature. Oh, I know post-modern academics have assaulted the walls of the canon ever since my days as a graduate student in English. In the process they’ve broadened the scope of Literature recipients beyond the Anglo-European nexus to include Naguib Mahfouz (Nigeria), Octavio Paz (Mexico), Nadine Gordimer (South Africa), and Kenzabauro Oe (Japan). But for every Wole Soyinka (Nigeria) or Gabriel Marcia Marquez (Columbia), there are plenty of other writers of all nationalities and ethnicities working in traditional genres (fiction, poetry, memoir, etc.) who deserve the recognition a Nobel Prize confers.

So, why Dylan? Some of it is timing. Though he was a singer/songwriter in the tradition of Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger, Dylan appeared on the pop culture scene during the last gasps of the Big Band Era, the ascension of rock n’ roll, and America’s  rediscovery of its folk music. As the country endured the paroxysms caused by the Vietnam War, the civil rights movement, feminism, and political assassination, Dylan was right there with his harmonica and frog voice to mumble how “the times they are a-changin'”

Nostalgia for what one critic calls “the kinds of lyrics [which] affected nearly every child of the ’60s” are much of what allows the Swedish Academy’s secretary, Sara Danius, to justify Dylan’s inclusion as no different from the ancient Greeks whose works often were performed with music. “Bob Dylan writes music for the ear,” she’s quoted, “but it’s perfectly fine to read his works as poetry.” All of which is fine so far as it goes, but it seems unfortunate that word smiths associated with Tin Pan Alley such as Cole Porter or Irving Berlin or more recent (and throaty) singer/songwriters like Leonard Cohen and Tom Waite haven’t benefited from the Academy’s critical largess.

But why stop at rewarding lyrics of one brand of music or one form of expression? Spoken word and rap/hip-hop artists such as Marc Smith and LL Cool J or Jay Z have much to say about the human condition as experienced in America. If relevance and notoriety are motivations for the Academy broadening the definition of literature for recognition, one relishes the prospect of Kanye West rushing the stage during an induction ceremony to dispute the Academy members’ selection.

And why limit the selection to human forms of communication? Surely, out there somewhere anthropologists, zoologists, and linguists are scribbling down the clicks, squawks, and other noises that make up non-human communication. Somewhere there’s a Clever Hans, Washoe, or loquacious porpoise whose recorded reflections upon the faunal condition have yet to be made public. In the near future, a grammatically apt descendant of IBM’s Watson might be eligible for the award though it would have to share it with the creator of the algorithm that enabled it to write meaningful prose.

It appears that any future expectation of Nobel recognition will have to come from some diluted literary genre or lesser field of study. A screed on the benefits of trickle-down economics or the effectiveness of meridians in Chinese medicine in curing warts may be the ticket to final recognition by the Nobel Academy. It surely won’t come from writing the prose or poetry associated with traditional literary endeavor.

What do you think?

 

 

Book Cover in Progress

September 6th, 2016 by Goose | Permalink

September 6, 2016: Finally finished with the rewrites (I think) of the manuscript for The New Immortals though the final line edit remains to be done. Working now with the publisher (Cactus Moon) on the book cover with publication scheduled for October. Stay tuned.

Contract Signed

September 6th, 2016 by Goose | Permalink

Most recent development: Signed the contract Friday morning (6/26/15) for publication of my newest novel, The New Immortals, with Kal-Ba Publlshing. The book will appear as part of their new imprint line of paranormal thrillers, suspense, etc. called Cactus Moon Publications. Updates will appear as the mss. goes through the publishing process.
June 30, 2015

Emotional intelligence and fiction

May 25th, 2015 by Goose | Permalink

download A download (1) ALots can be said about emotional intelligence (EI), both good and bad. Saturday’s work shop (May 23, 2015) for members of Twin Cities Sisters in Crime covered the high points on the positive side of the topic, particularly as they apply to writing.

Authors Lyn Cowan and Christina Glendenning did a fine job of explaining how emotion relates to fiction since, according to Albert Camus, “fiction is the lie through which we tell the truth.” And if truth-telling is the business of writing stories, authors must “get it right” because “readers expect an emotional experience from fiction.” Story-telling has been a feature of human experience for thousands of years, and the transfer of human emotions through myths not only gives life to these stories but also enables us to share the experiences of thoughts according to Wordsworth, “that lie too deep for tears.”

As depth psychologists, Cowan and Glendenning take a qualitative, Jungian approach to the study of human psyche which in Greek means both soul and butterfly. The imprecise nature of the concept reflects how  the soul is not a thing so much as a perspective on human experience that has both conscious and unconscious aspects. For writers it means that the emotional lives of the characters in their novels must reflect that same diversity and depth of feeling as readers experience in their daily lives.

Such shared emotions enable all of us to understand and empathize with the experiences of others no matter different their gender, race, or culture might be. It also facilitates an appreciation of behaviors that may be initially unpleasant or distasteful through the realization that they are not aberrant or stereotypical but common to all of us. As the manipulators of words, the duty of writers is to express these subjective emotions through metaphor and myth.

Some professional psychologists might criticize EI for being more of a skill than a measure of intelligence. Others might balk at emotions being any component of the mind or consciousness at all. But their relationship to myth make them an important ingredient in any story a writer might tell. Through an unfortunate consequence of time we writers were unable to instill the concept through the exercises Cowan and Glendenning had planned. With a little pruning and better time management, future work shops promise complete success in showing how to incorporate emotions into fiction writing.

 

 

Discovering cunning folk

December 6th, 2014 by Goose | Permalink

Year51JvlAscCPL._AA160_As ago a contemporary of the Wisconsin State Journal‘s Roundy Coughlin wrote an occasional column about things he’d discovered on the way to other things. By the same route, my researches uncovered a group of healers that receive little attention in the reference books: cunning folk.

My forthcoming novel, The New Immortals, contains a number of familiar animals or spirit guides which British historian and folk expert Emma Wilby says “were supernatural entities believed to assist witches and cunning folk in their practice of magic” during Medieval and early modern times. Her book on the topic, Cunning Folk and Familiar Spirits: Shamanistic Vicsionary Traditions in Early Modern Bristish Witchcraft and Magic, has been extolled by fellow historian, Marion Gibson, for making “a strong case for a British shamanic tradition.”

Given thee subtitle of Wilby’s book and her background, the book also presents a strong case in behalf of shamanism in the Western European cultural and healing traditions. The cunning folk of Sweden, Germany, Italy, and200px-Cunning_Woman A Wales along with their familiars resemble in many ways the shamans of Siberia, India, and South America with their reliance upon power animals to interact with the spirit world and channel those energies into the material world. My novel takes this one step farther by having a psychologist combine the practices of his profession with the shamanic traditions of  the native South American Quechuas to combat the followers of the ancient Zoroastrian god Ahura Mazda. If Furst fails in his quest, he stands to lose not only his wife and family, but his very soul to the race of psychic parasites called the Anausaveds by the ancient Persians which translates as the New Immortals.

Many indigenous cultures disparage Western practitioners of shamanism as “plastic shamans” for misappropriating their ancient traditions. Due to a felicitous bit of research, it appears that Western culture has a strong, healthy shamanic tradition of its own in the guise of the cunning folk of western and central Europe. The realms of the human spirit and the unconscious would seem broad enough to encompass healers from all cultures regardless of origin.Бэликто A

My C3 Panel Assignments

September 24th, 2014 by Goose | Permalink

Here are the two panels (Date, time, participants & subject matter included) with which I’ve been assigned:

On Friday, October 10:

3:00-3:45 Creating magical realism in fiction
Bill Fietzer, Karen Taylor
• Juli Monroe (Moderator)

On Saturday, October 11:

1:00-1:45 Researching vs. making up your locales
• Rebecca York, Steven Van Patten, Bill Fietzer
• Ann Arbaugh (Moderator

armor_shield2-300x295The link to the entire conference schedule is given below:

http://creaturescrimesandcreativity.com/?page_id=368

These should be fun, informative, maybe even provocative panels. If you’re in the area, stop by and check them out. Better yet, attend the conference.

C3 Anthology

September 5th, 2014 by Goose | Permalink

armor_shield2-300x295Received official confirmation from Denise Camacho, President of Intrigue Publishing, that my short story, “Blessings for the Living,” will be included in the 2014 anthology of stories written by authors appearing at the “Creatures, Crime, and Creativity” conference. Held again at the Hunt Valley Inn in Baltimore, Maryland, this second installment of C3 runs from Friday afternoon, October 10, through Sunday morning, October 12, 2014. Guest speakers include keynote speakers, Rebecca York and John Gilstrap, and guest interviews with authors Brad Park and C. J. Ellisson.

Based upon a real life incident at the prison farm outside my hometown in Waupun, Wisconsin, my short story centers around a boyhood experience of Victor Furst, the shaman/psychologist protagonist of my forthcoming novel, “The New Immortals.” On Halloween night, Victor discovers all of the spooky, malevolent things occurring on the farm, including the killing of his dog, Monte, may not have been committed by one of the prisoners who has befriended him.