Rocks.  Totally rocks.  Oh… my… gosh.  So, I went to the Ben Vereen and Honolulu Symphony concert at the end of last month, and woah.  Seriously.  I almost can’t describe.  The symphony opened (they played the first half hour sans Ben Vereen), and they were pretty good.  It was excellent as symphony pops concerts go, actually.  They called that half hour the “first half,” though, and this strikes me as silly because Ben Vereen performed for two hours straight.  And get this: he only got better as the night flew by.  He performed excerpts from a musical about his career (he’d been working on it with the Honolulu Symphony’s conductor, you see), he performed tributes to Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis Jr., he sang songs about Hawaii, shared anecdotes about times he spent hanging out with Don Ho (same for Bob Fosse), and did a ton of the the signature Ben Vereen stuff like “Life is Just a Bowl of Cherries,” and “Jesus Christ Super Star,” and “Defying Gravity.”  He danced, he sang songs that featured various instrumentalists, and he generally charmed the daylights out of the audience.  Let’s just say, if you get a chance to see this man in performance, by all means, find a way to go.  I doubt anybody in his or her right mind (erm… who likes song and dance) would regret it.

And seriously, TWO HOURS!  ONE MAN GOING FOR TWO HOURS STRAIGHT!  That’s a real showman for you.  40 years from now, I hope I’m still going that strong.  Wow.  -EGD

(P.S. if you don’t know who Ben Vereen is, SHAME ON YOU!  Go get your hands on the first season of the Muppet Show or on the movie version of Pippin and get back to me later)

Ok, so you’ll all get a review of the awesomeness of the awesome Ben Vereen concert later, but in the meantime, I have devised a contest to keep you occupied:

These days, the Drollerie Press forums practically echo with emptiness.  The only people who wander through are two DP authors, and we really only haunt one thread (Word Associations).  This is very sad, because the forums have enormous potential for community fun!  Thus, I have hatched a devious plan to kick-start new forum activity, and it involves (GASP~!) a free book.  So, here’s the contest scoop, and hopefully both the contest and the prize will be fun for all:

Anyone who, between now and November 30, A) Posts in the DP forum (you may need to register to do so, if you are not already a member.  When you register, please also send an e-mail to drollerie_interact@yahoo.com with the words “forum name” in the header and the name you registered in the body of the text) and B) Guesses one of my top two favorite forum posts as DokodemoElisa will be entered in a drawing to win one of two copies of Kinlea Keeper OR (if you can’t wait until the end of November to read Kinlea Keeper) a copy of the Curse, the second book in the series, which will be coming out by February.

HINT: NEITHER of my favorite posts are posted in the Word Association thread.

You can post your guesses along with your forum name as a reply to this post or e-mail it to me at dokodemoelisa@yahoo.com.  Happy forum-going!  -E.G.D.

Ok, so I’m barely coherent at the moment, but get this: we got out of Jingju class early today so we could go see Ben Vereen talk in the temporary dance building on the other side of campus.  A) As we all know, the man is one of the greatest greats Broadway ever saw (have I mentioned I have a BA in musical theatre?), B) MAN OH MAN can the man tell a story, C) I got a free ticket to his show this Saturday, D) HE SIGNED IT!!!!  E) He said I have beautiful eyes (SQUEEE!).  I also got a picture with him and a few of my friends from the theatre department.  I may post that later when I have my camera cable and stuff handy.  I’m totally going to frame this ticket with that picture if it turned out at all well.   Yeah, I’m really hyper-high at the moment, and now I need to go play an elegant female Jingju part in rehearsal in something like ten minutes.  We’ll see how that goes.  In the meantime, OMG BEN VEREEN!!!!!!!!!!!!!  Dang.  Wow.  -EGD

Ok, so it isn’t just jingju.  The vog, an evil, evil volcanic pollution-fog that comes here to Honolulu all the way from Kona, has been making it extremely difficult for me to focus.  My eyes are streaming, my sinuses are full of burning goo, my ears are all plugged up, I’ve been pushing migraine in the headache department for days, and on top of all that I’m in an insanely intense training program that requires me to memorize large swaths of a script in extremely stylized Chinese, which is NOT one of the three languages I speak and understand.  It’s like memorizing very specific and important (not to mention long) monologues in gibberish… with tones.  Also, the movement style is so counter-intuitive for one of my roles that it’s painful and mind-bending.  I don’t think I’ve ever felt more completely out of my depth and incompetent in my life.  And one of my long-suffering professional actor teachers from China appears to be growing disappointed in me, which makes it all worse.  Blargh.  The vog and the jingju, they are eating my brains slowly (and apparently with a dull plastic spork), and if nothing more important, my ego may not survive the ordeal.

In my defense, the play isn’t until February, and if I have even an eighth of my brain left by then, I WILL KNOCK EVERYONE’S SOCKS OFF SO HELP ME THE GOD OF LONG LOST BUT FONDLY REMEMBERED FREE TIME SO HA!

If anybody needs me, I’ll be hiding in the closet rocking back and forth and reexamining my outwitted zombie plan.  -EGD

This may seem a bit odd, but reading Angela Korra’ti’s Faerie Blood sharply reminded me that I have been remiss in my campaign to review all the Drollerie Press books I like, though I’ve been pretty successful in not-reviewing the ones I didn’t, which is probably to my credit.  Anyhow, the book-I-liked that I skipped was David Sklar’s Shadow of the Antlered Bird, and I bring it up now in part because I liked it for many of the same reasons I liked Faerie Blood.  Both FB and SAB (Yes, I shortened the titles for convenience’s sake) were utterly charming, and both dealt with Faerie in a way of which I strongly approve.  They also both displayed a refreshing and blended balance between the ancient magical beings and magical world and the modern environment with which they surely must come to cope.

Back to FB, though, I saw a lot of myself and the way I see the world in its pages.  It plays to my age-group and my social tastes as a twenty-something gamer geek and musician with a penchant for Faerie-lore, and I found myself relating to the characters as though they were fiction-world proxies for my buddies from college.

Also, I found the romantic element of the story delightful and heart-warningly innocent (another thing, incidentally, FB shares with SAB), and I found myself impressed by the intimacy Korra’ti achieves with her story’s sense of time and location.  It’s a very well crafted piece, and it made for a very fun afternoon in a beanbag chair with a cup of tea, which I needed to distract me for a bit from midterms and intensive Jingju (Beijing Opera) training, if only for a short while.  If you get a chance (and now would be a good time, because Drollerie’s running one heck of a sale in their bookshop), and if you like Faerie stories, by all means, get your hands on a copy of this book.  And yyyyyeah… when you’re finished with Faerie Blood, try Shadow of the Antlered Bird.  It’s shorter, but goes just as well with a cup of tea and a beanbag chair ^_^.  -EGD

Let’s give a warm welcome to Angela Korra’ti ^_^! If you like what you see, please check out her blog (which is hosting my post, as well). You can find a link at drolleriepress.com. Without further ado:

I’m doing double duty on the Drollerie Blog Tour this month, due to a mixup in who all was scheduled! I’ll be posting over at Heather Ingemar’s place about music in general and how it’s influenced my writing, but here? I’m going to bring y’all my proposed iPod/iPhone playlist for Faerie Blood!

  • “Whirl-Y-Reel 2” by Afro Celt Sound System
  • “As I Roved Out” by the Fables
  • “Contrari Dance” by Heather Alexander
  • “Hound Dog” by Elvis Presley
  • “Love Me Tender” by Elvis Presley
  • “Don’t” by Elvis Presley
  • “Can’t Help Falling in Love” by Elvis Presley
  • “It’s Now or Never” by Elvis Presley
  • “Wild in the Country” by Elvis Presley
  • “No. 6 The Coombe” by the Chieftains
  • “The Samurai Set” by Gaelic Storm
  • “Trouble” by Elvis Presley
  • “Walk on the Moon” by Great Big Sea
  • “Only the Music” by Heather Alexander
  • “Sonata for Violin and Piano” by Irene Britton Smith
  • “The Storm” by Gaelic Storm
  • “John Barbour” by Great Big Sea
  • “Tam Lin”, by Tricky Pixie
  • “Symphony No. 40 in G Minor, KV 550: I. Molto Allegro” by Mozart
  • “Swallow’s Tail Jig/Cabin Ceilidh/Swallow’s Tail Reel” by the Paperboys
  • “Life Less Ordinary” by Carbon Leaf

Most if not all of these selections, of course, will make better sense if you’ve actually read the book. But for those of you who haven’t, here’s a brief rundown on why I chose these various pieces.

“Whirl-Y-Reel 2” is because my heroine Kendis is an Afro Celt Sound System fan. This particular piece of theirs is off their first album, Volume 1 Sound Magic, and has a nice tension to it that felt appropriate for the opening of the book.

“As I Roved Out” is the Fables’ take on a good trad ditty and is pretty much required for any portion of a story which involves roving.

Heather Alexander’s “Contrari Dance” is an instrumental. The idea of this song is supposed to be that the good faeries get into a dance-off with bad ones, but the longer it goes, the closer the two sides get to one another in what they’re doing, until it becomes one great big wild faerie romp. It’s played very jauntily but with a touch of mischief, and seems like the right music for when Kendis gets waylaid by Seattle faeries.

Most of the Elvis songs are on this list because of being mentioned by name or by description in chapters Five and Six. Also because, well, Elessir.

“No. 6 The Coombe” is here because you don’t get much more trad than the grandfathers of modern Celtic music, the Chieftains. This ditty in particular has a long whistle solo at the beginning and then kicks up at the end with some other instruments coming in, and basically seems an excellent theme for Millicent.

Gaelic Storm’s The Samurai Set is my current pick for the background music for Kendis’ dream sequence in Chapter Ten.

The last Elvis song on this list, “Trouble”, is hands down my favorite from the movie King Creole. It is arguably Elessir’s theme song.

“Walk On The Moon” by Great Big Sea is here for Christopher, and in particular, what he does in Chapters 16 and 17.

Another Heather Alexander ditty, “Only the Music”, seems appropriate for when Kendis and Christopher take time out to jam together.

Irene Britton Smith’s “Sonata for Violin and Piano” is a song I don’t actually own yet but which I need to acquire. There’s one CD out there that has a recording of it, a compilation of music by African-American women composers. Kendis owns the sheet music to this song.

Back to Gaelic Storm again with the simply titled “The Storm”, off their very first album. It’s good background music for the big confrontation that stretches across Chapters 18, 19, and 20.

“John Barbour” and “Tam Lin” are both here because of being trad ditties Christopher sings. The specific versions that would be on the hypothetical Faerie Blood soundtrack would be by Great Big Sea and Tricky Pixie, respectively.

The first movement of Mozart’s “Symphony No. 40” is here because I played a dumbed-down version of it when I was in middle school, and it is therefore probably one of the first pieces Kendis learned how to play when she was in orchestra in school. It’s comfort music for her.

“Swallow’s Tail Jig/Cabin Ceilidh/Swallow’s Tail Reel” is a big lo’ instrumental by the Paperboys, and it’s here because of the music Kendis and Christopher are playing in the very last chapter.

And last but not least, “Life Less Ordinary” by Carbon Leaf is, in my brain, sung by Christopher to Kendis. Especially the opening bit of the first verse: “Live a life less ordinary / Live a life extraordinary with me”. Very fine song all around.

Hope y’all have enjoyed this musical interlude, and I hope it’ll encourage you to check out one or more of these songs via the music provider of your choice–not to mention my book! Thanks to Elisa for having me, and to her readers for taking a listen.

Note: Don’t try this at home, kids!  At least not until you’re over 21…

Hawaii Gagaku Society is a weekly social-life-saver.  Yeah, the sitting around practicing ancient music on plastic versions of ancient instruments is pretty dang awesome in itself, but more to the social point, I get to hang out with a bunch of seriously dorky, music-loving adults who bring the most amazing potluck entrees and enjoy talking like pirates, dweebishly punning, and mocking Japanese commercials.  It’s my only big non-theatre-people-and-gamers social outlet.  I bring this up as a sort of prelude to my explanation of how we discovered “rum’s favorite cookie.”  See, I don’t always have time to cook my potluck contribution, and this often means that after I flail at the contents of my refrigerator I resort to hitting the grocery store for a bag of chips or cookies.  A couple weeks back, I saw bizarre specialty Oreo cookies on sale, and I wound up buying a great big bag of the reverse kind that have Vienna finger-style white cookies and chocolate filling.  They’re sort of inside out as compared to conventional Oreos.  Anyhow, at our usual Sunday gagaku rehearsal/potluck yesterday, there was still half a bag left in the storage closet, so they wound up on the table with everything else.  At the same time, someone had brought black-strap “Cruzin” rum (and yes, this meant much pirate-talking).  At some point, nearly everyone at the table started dunking the cookies, and lo and behold, everybody thought the combination was the most awesome thing since normal Oreos met milk!  “It’s rum’s favorite cookie!” someone who remembered the “milk’s favorite cookie” ad campaign declared, and you know, our version is so dang much more awesome than the Nabisco version that I felt like I had to share it with the world ^_^.  And now you know.  Heeeeee.  -EGD

Ah, the back to school sales!  Ah, the bills!  Ah, the coming of a time when holding down a full-time job is not physically viable!  Ladies and gentlemen, school starts on Monday.

As I sit here at work, staring at the usual tools of the IT operator (coffee, 15 computer monitors, eight keyboards, three phones, worn console notebooks, rack upon rack of tapes and the gigantic tape machine), I find myself wondering “um… how am I going to cope with the pay that comes of only doing this for 16 hours a week?”  The answer is, clearly, that I need to sell off all those bodily organs I’m not using.  Anyone need a nice, clean kidney?

Alternately, I’ve got hundreds of thousands of words sitting around on my external hard drive, and by gosh, most of them are neatly arranged into novel-length manuscripts.  This may be a more useful thing to observe, though, if I actually had the time and energy to expend on convincing publishers they’re worth something while holding down the hours of a full-time theatre MFA candidate with a part-time job.  Ok, so we’re back to that kidney.

I think, perhaps, I need to find me an enthusiastic literary agent who doesn’t restrict him/herself to one genre bracket.  I couldn’t tell you why, exactly, but I write pretty much everything but romance/erotica, and I write stuff for all ages.  Shoot, I’ve even written picture books, I’ve written plays, and I tried to write a novel in Japanese once, long ago, when I was feeling insane and ambitious.  I write rock songs on napkins.  I write travelogues that number in the thousands of pages.  I have some quite nice graduate-level research papers, including one on modern Brechtian Broadway musicals that I’m partial to.  I’ve got a historical fiction cold-case murder mystery in the works.

I really wish I could make effective use of all of this to support my theatre habit.  Lately, acting causes more bills than it pays, and writing doesn’t cost me more than paper and hard drive space.  It says a lot about my life that it might have actually been simpler if I’d fallen head-over-heels for the novel writing trade instead of for live theatre.  Novelists often have it just as rough as actors, only novelists make their own working hours.

Still in all, I want to act, and I am giddy with anticipation for this semester.  I’m learning how to be a Beijing Opera (Jingju) actor from the very best Chinese master actors!  SQUEEEEEEE!  Dang, I love my graduate program.  Now, if only it were free like that lovely musical theatre BA for which I had a National Merit Scholarship…

Ah, well.  Kidney anyone?  Kidney?

There are some things that most of us fear. It’s a fact of the human condition. We share a sort of odd, primal collective consciousness that makes us jump when something moves in the shadows. This law of humanity also dictates: the stronger the power of our imaginations, the more we have to fear. This means very different things for different people, and there is something of a gap between this law’s influence on children and its influence on adults. Often times, it seems the monsters of the adult mind spring from experience and the knowledge of small, probable realities like “if I do not go to work, I stand a fair chance of losing my job, and in this economy I might not be able to replace it, and I will not be able to pay my rent, bills, tuition, and health insurance, and if I am diagnosed with some sort of dangerous and terribly expensive disease three days after my payments lapse…” and so-forth. Adult imaginations turn people into worrywarts and lead to nervous disorders and ulcers. Adult imaginations also pick up on words like “disembowelment,” “genocide,” “miscarriage” or “epidemic” in novels and set adult guts clenching in horrified sympathy, whereas children generally read the words and absorb only a very general impression of “bad,” even if they know what the words mean by dictionary definition.

Children, in general, are more likely to fear things without understanding them than to fear things because they understand them. This doesn’t necessarily mean they have more to fear than adults, but it means that their fears are enormously (and rather metaphysically) difficult to allay. Without anything concrete to cling to, children must face their childhood monsters with pure, unadulterated bravery or not face them at all. What’s worse, when the monsters are real, children are smaller, weaker, and generally less equipped to cope.

I am pretty convinced that this is why children so often make the very best storybook and folktale heroes. When children are brave, they are brave against some overwhelming odds.

In Heather Ingemar’s short series of short stories, Collecting Dreams, the main character is one such child heroine. Isabelle, a 10 and then 12 year old orphanage ward, is courageous in the face of the unknown, and she is also courageous when facing the steep and awful price of her brave actions. Isabelle’s monsters are all too real, and what’s worse, one of the monsters Isabelle faces is the one she herself might become. Without giving any more away, let’s just say I absolutely loved this tiny little (less than 60 page!) book, and highly recommend that you all go storm the gates of the Drollerie Press bookstore to get yourselves a copy, especially if you like faerie-style children’s horror.

Anyhow, if you’re a grown-up, it’ll not only entertain you for a fast-paced half hour, it’ll frighten you with something far more interesting than income tax and the rising cost of healthcare, and perhaps it’ll make you remember why, at an earlier point in your life, those sorts of things weren’t scary at all.

Are fathers necessary? 

 I’m quite fond of mine, but I’m talking about fiction here. If a character’s father doesn’t appear, isn’t referred to, how much do we need to know about him?

 Back when I started writing, a Writer’s Digest article introduced me to the idea of drafting up a character background sheet detailing everything you need to know about them, and then some. The article writer, a romance novelist, insisted you had to know much, much more about the character than ever appeared on the printed page because that way they’d be more real and more complex (or something to that effect).

 I couldn’t help noticing, though, that in a sample character list from her own work, she’d brushed off her protagonist’s family history with a note that “parents are unimportant to the plot.” In fact, I’m not sure there were any details on the list that wouldn’t figure into the plot.

 So how much do we really need to know about our characters’ families? Or their hobbies, their reading material, their favorite TV show, and whether they like Thai food mild or spicy. If it doesn’t appear on the page or affect the plot, does it really make our characters more complex, or is that a comforting illusion (“My character had a lot more depth than you think, so there!”)?

 And my answer would be a big, strong firm “It depends.”

 In the book I’m working on now, I know about Dani’s father because he’s a huge influence on how she sees life, her choice of a career and her love life. All I know about Steve is that he was blue-collar; since Steve’s an orphan, that’s all I needed. Gwen is shaped by her antagonism to her mother, and she’s a well-developed enough character I don’t think my knowing about her father would add anything.

 Generally, I use character sheets, but I never draft them up until after I’ve written a couple of drafts. I can’t build backstory in a vacuum: I need to know who the characters before I can figure out where they came from. That’s something I’ve never been able to figure out in advance.

 And of course, once the backstory is built, if I’m doing it right, I’ll get fresh ideas for the characters and the plot. And then I’ll tinker with the characters some more.

 Sometimes that means fathers acquire an importance they didn’t have at the start: I didn’t develop Dani’s father until I realized her character didn’t work and I needed a different background (a strong father who set high goals for her and steered her into medicine) to make her click for me.

 Are father’s necessary? Like I said, it depends … just don’t mention to my dad that I said that, OK?

*you can visit Fraser Sherman’s blog at http://frasersherman.wordpress.com/