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Thursday, April 30, 2015

Narrowing the gap between people

“It seems to me that it's every man's obligation to make what contribution he can. You live each day as best you can. That, to me, is what makes life interesting.” – Rod McKuen

Singer-songwriter, musician and poet, Rod McKuen was one of the best-selling poets in the United States during the late 1960s, and continued to produce a wide range of recordings, which included popular music, spoken word poetry, film soundtracks and classical music.  He died earlier this year just short of his 82nd birthday, which would have been yesterday.

Never taken seriously by critics or many of his fellow writers, he nonetheless wrote poems and songs about love and nature that connected with everyday people, selling over 100 million songs and 60 million books of poetry worldwide.  Writing words that make such a connection is something every writer should hope for.  And he did win critical acclaim for his 1968 Lonesome Cities, which won a Grammy for Best Spoken Word album. 

Rod McKuen 
Despite claims by many fans that “His poems speak to me,” McKuen said that never was his intent.  “I tried not to put messages in my songs. My only message was man's communication with his fellow man. I just wanted to narrow the gap of strangeness and alienation.” 

While one of his most popular and enduring songs was “If You Go Away,” I’ve always most liked the lilting song, “Jean,” the cover for the movie The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie.  And if you ever get the chance to see a clip of his performance of “What a Wonderful World,” done at age 78, you’re in for a great treat.  Meanwhile, here’s “Jean.”  Enjoy.

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Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Creating life's big stew

“A novelist writes a novel, and people read it. But reading is a solitary act. While it may elicit a varied and personal response, the communal nature of the audience is like having five hundred people read your novel and respond to it at the same time. I find that thrilling.”August Wilson

Born this week in 1945, Wilson was an African-American playwright whose work was highlighted by the series of ten plays, The Pittsburgh or Century Cycle, for which he received two Pulitzer Prizes for Drama.  Each of the10 plays is set in a different decade of the 20th Century, depicting the comic and tragic aspects of the century’s Black experience.

I had the good fortune to first meet this wonderful playwright in 1987 while he was writing, directing and producing theater in St. Paul, Minn., and shortly after he wrote the amazing Fences, for which he won both the Pulitzer and a Tony.   In the early ‘90s, I heard him talk about the next in the series, The Piano Lesson, for which he won a second Pulitzer and the New York Drama Critics Award.

Wilson had the remarkable ability to make everything he said and wrote crackle with enthusiasm and life and any aspiring writer or actor who listened to his talks would always walk out fired up about writing or acting and ready to get busy trying to emulate what he had just shared.    It was after hearing him that I wrote my one and only play, The First Day, following his advice, perhaps the best advice any writer could receive: First write what you know.

Wilson said his aim was to sketch the Black experience in the 20th century and "raise consciousness through theater.”  He was fascinated by the power of theater as a medium where a community at large could come together to bear witness to events and currents unfolding.  “I think my plays offer white Americans a different way to look at black Americans.”

August Wilson

“In creating plays," he said,  "I often use the image of a stewing pot in which I toss various things that I’m going to make use of—a black cat, a garden, a bicycle, a man with a scar on his face, a pregnant woman, a man with a gun."

The results of course were as tasty as tasty can be.

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Tuesday, April 28, 2015

So glad she shared her time

“When you have a dream, you've got to grab it and never let go.” – Carol Burnett 

Born this week in 1933 Carol Burnett grew up a child of the Hollywood Hills and attended Hollywood High before gravitating to acting herself.   But acting and comedy were not her original plan.  Instead she planned to become a journalist and enrolled at UCLA to do so.  After a couple semesters, though, she switched her major to theater arts and English with a goal of becoming a playwright.

“I never intended to do the acting thing, but I had no choice,” she recalled.  She had to take acting in order to do the playwright program.  In her first production the audience roared with laughter at her deliveries and she was hooked.

“They laughed and it felt great,” she said.  “All of a sudden, after so much coldness and emptiness in my life (she was from a broken home and was mostly raised by her grandmother), I knew the sensation of all that warmth wrapping around me.  I had always been a quiet, shy, sad sort of girl and then everything changed for me. You spend the rest of your life hoping you'll hear a laugh that great again.”

And, of course, she did so thousands and thousands of times for which she has been recognized with dozens and dozens of awards for her work on stage, on television and in the movies.  Honored with the Presidential Medal of Freedom and at the Kennedy Center Honors, she was also named for the Mark Twain Prize for Humor, and inducted into several Halls of Fame, including the TV Hall of Fame.
 Carol Burnett
Her first love, writing, played out in her work on her comedy series, The Carol Burnett Show, for which she was awarded 5 Emmys, including (twice) Most Outstanding Series.    And she finally wrote a play, Hollywood Arms, based on her best-selling memoir One More Time.  Co-written with her oldest daughter Carrie Hamilton, it garnered several Tony Awards.   Recently she wrote a second memoir, the best-selling This Time Together.

She said she still loves writing because, “Words, once they are printed, have a life of their own.”

For a day brightener (or two) take a look at these two short clips from classic Carol Burnett Shows, both of which won awards for their creativity.


Monday, April 27, 2015

Integrity is at the heart of it all

“To be persuasive we must be believable; to be believable we must be credible; and to be credible we must be truthful.” – Edward R. Murrow

Today marks the 50th anniversary of the death of Edward R. Murrow, a leading light in the news business for 35 years before his life was cut short by lung cancer.  Murrow received numerous honors for his journalistic excellence and integrity, including the Medal of Freedom in 1964, and a knighthood from Queen Elizabeth II just weeks before his death.

A radio war correspondent in World War II, he founded the CBS television news program See It Now, and his work behind the CBS news desk and as an interviewer influenced two generations of news anchors, beginning with Walter Cronkite and followed by Dan Rather and Peter Jennings.  Today, his name graces the Excellence in Reporting awards given annually in both the print and broadcast worlds.

The 2005 film Good Night, and Good Luck, directed by George Clooney, focused on Murrow's efforts to end Senator Joseph McCarthy's reign of intimidation in the early 1950s and inspired yet another generation of those seeking to “do journalism right.”  The world of journalism was made better and brighter by the life of this great reporter.
Edward R. Murrow

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Sunday, April 26, 2015

Traveling back in time

Running late in my daily post today because I am just returning from a weekend trek to the Black Hills doing advance promotion on my new book And The Wind Whispered.  When I got up there (it's about a 6-hour drive north of where we live), I found I had no Wi-Fi connection, so was out in Wind Cave National Park without use of either my phone or computer.  It's amazing how much we rely on technology for everyday communication, especially when compared to the year in which my novel is set, 1894.

My primary characters include the great investigative reporter Nellie Bly who is, in essence, mentoring three young aspiring reporters from Hot Springs and Buffalo Gap on how to both follow through on solving sa mystery they have uncovered and to serve as a role model for their reporting.

For those times, too, it meant communicating either by telegraph or in person.   Telephones existed, but not in that part of the Black Hills except within the city limits of the boomtown of Hot Springs.  In other words, you could call someone in another part of town – but  even that wasn't likely to happen since very few people could afford to own a phone.

This is my first stab at the historical fiction genre' and it's been both fun and challenging – especially in making sure that the descriptions and scenarios I have written are accurate, true to the time, and entertaining.  I'll leave it to the readers to determine if I've succeeded (the book comes out on June 1st in both text and electronic forms).  Spending the past couple days walking through the area that I have depicted and talking with people there who either know the history or are greatly interested in knowing and in sharing in what I've learned and written has re-inspired me to move ahead with another book from this same era and same locale.

Meanwhile, I hope you'll consider checking out And The Wind Whispered.  Here's the link to the publisher, Denver-based Bygone Era Books, www.bygoneerabooks.com. You can see more about my book and all the great things this publisher of "All Things Historical" has Coming Soon.     And, I can't help but share a photo of one of the settings in the book.  Hard to not be inspired by scenery such as this (between Wind Cave and Buffalo Gap).  :-)


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