Friday, July 4, 2014

Happy Independence Day!

Headed to fireworks tonight. Everybody, keep your pets inside. The noises can terrify them. 

Thursday, June 26, 2014

An Acquired Taste and a Song about a Sandwich

In honor of this summer's successful opera season, a column on the subject seems timely.

I’m told that opera is an acquired taste. I’ve sampled a number of operas by now and for the most part, my taste buds haven’t matured. In fact, I’ve concluded that I am a Broadway Musical person. I truly love musicals. But I do like classical music, too, very much, and there are many splendid themes I recognize from great operatic works. I guess the “wasted” piano and violin lessons and music appreciation classes in childhood did pay off in adulthood, in the form of simple enjoyment of the music, and in some absolutely memorable moments I will always cherish.

I suspect that with me, appreciating opera has something to do with attention span and bladder capacity. I can even quote an authority on this subject. Alfred Hitchcock said, "The length of the film should be directly related to the endurance of the human bladder." I just wasn’t meant to sit through long, long afternoons of opera.

The sad moment of truth,the knowledge that I probably wouldn't develop a passionate love for opera, manifested itself during a performance of Handel’s Julius Caesar several years ago. Before that I had tried, truly tried to understand opera. Besides, how could we go wrong with Handel, we thought when we purchased our tickets? How, indeed? We learned that with Handel's Julius Caesar we could go wrong. Very, very wrong.

The orchestration was gorgeous, as we expected from Handel, featuring the musical instruments of the period, but when it came to the plot and vocals and artists, oh, my! We spent a very long afternoon listening to a series of very accomplished singers perform a very long series of vocal gymnastics, one after another, while others stood perfectly still on the stage, holding torches and palm fronds. We knew they had wonderful voices too, these scenery-holders, as we'd heard them sing in another production, but for most of Julius Caesar they were relegated to assistant sword-carriers, which was a waste of talent, we thought. The production lasted for about seven hours. Husband will insist it was eight hours, but he is prone to exaggeration.

To add to our great confusion, the part of the great general, Julius Caesar, was sung by a true male soprano. The male soprano was authentic, too, in Handel’s day, we have since read, but this particular voice and the concept of a man singing in the the female soprano's territory were simply jarring to our uneducated eyes and ears.

The first portrayal of Julius Caesar I recall seeing on film was by Richard Burton, and Mr. Burton was no soprano. He didn’t even really sing (as we learned when he appeared on Broadway in Camelot), but who really cared? He was, after all Richard Burton, with that beautiful, rich Welsh-bred voice and articulate delivery, and he was undoubtedly and thoroughly masculine in presence. I have since read a biography or two mentioning him, and there was evidently no question about his masculinity, according to the many women who kissed and told. And kissed again.

On the other hand, the gender of Mr. Handel’s operatic Julius Caesar onstage that afternoon wasn’t all that obvious until we finally confirmed the presence of facial hair. When he opened his mouth and those first elevated notes poured out, well, as Husband protested, no self-respecting soldier would have followed that high C into battle, and I was inclined to agree. I’m sorry, I just didn’t buy it, and neither did Cleopatra, evidently; they didn’t come to a good end, and it took them two hours too long to reach that very unhappy conclusion.

I suppose that sometimes I can’t quite lose myself in the moment, as you must in opera, because I’m an author and editor, always striving for concise, clean language. It's important to be able to suspend belief in order to appreciate the opera, I think, for it is meant to be bigger than life. There are no small emotions, no small moments or gestures or steps, and surely no small notes, even, in opera. It’s all enormous in scope, to be acted and danced and sung and played out before our bedazzled senses.

Our local opera company is marvelous and deserving of all the many accolades it receives. The historic theater in which they perform is a jewel, and visiting performers often get misty-eyed when they experience its acoustics for the first time. We usually attend several of the opera productions each summer, though we choose the light/comic/operettas/Broadway musicals over the more ponderous Tales of Hoffman types.

One summer’s lighter offerings included the musical The Most Happy Fella. I’d heard of it many times but had never seen it, and I was looking forward to the evening. After seeing it, I'd have to say that The Most Happy Fella has a charming plot with a raggedly-stitched patchwork quilt of mismatched songs, including the haunting “Joey, Joey,” the fingersnapping showtune “Standin’ on the Corner, Watchin’ All the Girls Go By,” and a few others that feel more pure in the operatic sense, as if they’d wandered in from the wrong production and decided to stay anyway.

Some songs were in performed English, some were in Italian; the older sister from the Old Country did not have an accent, but her younger brother, the Most Happy Fella, well-a, he sure did have-a an accent. Nobody explained that one to my satisfaction. In fact, nobody even attempted to, that I recall.

The point in the musical that I’m finally reaching here, the moment when time stopped in the theater and I lost myself in the opera, comes now. It was a song performed by a delicious trio of waiters. I don’t think they even had names, because, after all, though they were happy fellas, they weren’t the Happy Fella, even though their voices were richer and more powerful than The Happy Fella. Their names, as listed in the program, were simply Waiters One, Two, and Three. They wore white aprons tied just below their armpits, and held various articles of food in their hands, and from their energetic pantomimes even I could tell that the whole village was preparing for the joyful wedding feast to be held that night, and these three waiters were right at the heart of it.

Allow me quite a bit of literary license as I describe the scene:

The tables are heavy with food — every kind of food imaginable, including meat, breads, cheeses, fruits, vegetables,multi-storied pastries taller than I am, and, since the musical takes place in wine country, of course there is plenty of alcohol, which in the end causes its usual mischief, but I won’t give away that plot twist. Anyway, now comes the glorious song from the waiters, at least my version of it, and since it’s in Italian, I'm pretty safe offering my translation to most readers who don't speak Italian.

Verse One:

Waiter One: (holds up a loaf of bread) The hoagie!
Waiter Two: The hoagie!
Waiter Three: The hoagie!
Waiter One: The hoagie!
Waiter Two: The hoagie!
Waiter Three: The hoagie!
Waiters One, Two and Three: The hoagie, oh, the hoagie, yes the hoagie, oh, the hoagie . . . . . . . . (instrumental interlude) . . . ta-da!

Verse Two:

Waiter One: (holds up the mustard, but we can’t see a brand name) The mustard!
Waiter Two: The mustard!
Waiter Three: The mustard!
Waiter One: The mustard!
Waiter Two: The mustard!
Waiter Three: The mustard!
Waiters One, Two, and Three: The mustard, oh, the mustard, yes, the mustard, oh the mustard . . . . . . . (instrumental interlude) . . . ta-da!

This goes on for about ten splendid minutes as the three prepare what any clueless opera-goer can see is a sandwich, and we’re all getting very, very hungry, but we don’t notice the hunger pangs, because . . .

Waiters One, Two, and Three could be singing about raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens or the Dow Jones or Obamacare. It simply doesn’t matter. The actual assembling of the sandwich is a nice visual, of course, but those three marvelous voices, and the way they blend - - - even better than the mayo they praise so richly in Verse Three - - - well, if we could have specified an encore number (and we did applaud Waiters One, Two and Three very enthusiastically after that number, and again at the end, when they took their bows), it would have been that one. I would even have happily bought another high-priced ticket just to hear them sing what I called “The Sandwich Song” one more time.

I may not be a connoisseur of opera, and I don’t even like mustard, but for the chance to hear those three happy white - aproned waiters sing the praises of a garden-variety sandwich, well, I’d toss a bouquet of fresh parsley on the stage just to show my appreciation. The Sandwich Song was simply one of those exquisite show-stopping numbers you don’t ever want to end.

Several years later, those three rich, soaring voices still ring in my mind whenever I pass a Subway sandwich shop.

When art moves us, as this song did, it stays in our minds and gently colors everything else that’s there, for our lasting benefit. I felt that overwhelming joy when I stood before a Van Gogh painting for the first time in my life, and I felt it that afternoon when those waiters sang the praise of onions, among other ingredients; and perhaps that's why I had tears in my eyes, even all the way back in row M.

Ann Patchett, a lyrical writer, offers this beautiful paragraph in Bel Canto, a book I am now devouring for the second time just for the pleasure of it. Listen to her description of a group of people who have just heard the most famous soprano of their day perform for them, in a small intimate party setting:

Some of them had loved her for years. They had every recording she had ever made. They kept a notebook and wrote down every place they had seen her, listing the music, the names of the cast, the conductor. There were others there that night who had not heard her name, who would have said, if asked, that opera was a collection of nonsensical cat screechings, that they would much rather pass three hours in a dentist’s chair. These were the ones who wept openly now, the ones who had been so mistaken.

For me, that’s another one of those wonderful moments I'll remember, and it will gently color everything else that’s there—simply reading that graceful passage from a truly gifted writer. And that's how I felt when Waiters One, Two and Three graced us with their splendid voices. 

I’m sure Ms. Patchett would have loved my singing waiters, too, and their lusty Sandwich Song.

originally posted June 2008

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Cover Reveal: Defiance by Adrienne Monson

Vampires! Here’s the cover of the second book in the Blood Inheritance trilogy, Defiance by Adrienne Monson. From the back of the book:
Leisha and Samantha barely survived the vampires and immortals six months ago. Now, an explosive battle between the vampires and immortals seems imminent. 
It’s more important than ever before that the prophecy child is found, but there’s a problem—Leisha has lost her powers. She seems like nothing more than a human. Her newfound humanity is further complicated when Tafari, her old lover, appears with a desire for reconciliation.
Can Leisha lock up the past to save those she loves? Or will fate tear everything from her once again?
And yes, I’ve even heard fans squeal when Adrienne signs a book. Readers of book 1,Dissension, can’t wait to see what happens next. Isn’t the cover stunning?
Authorpic smallConnect with Adrienne Monson

Monday, March 24, 2014

A Must-Read: Daddy Doin' Work

Cover Reveal: Daddy Doin' Work


Today's cover reveal is for a special parenting book due out September 2, 2014. Doyin (pronounced 'Doe-ween') Richards is both an agent-mate and a publisher-mate. A photo Doyin published on his blog (click here to see his blog) a month or so went viral on the interwebs--it showed Doyin brushing his oldest daughter's hair while holding his younger daughter in a baby sling. He has appeared on the TODAY Show, Good Morning America, Katie Couric, CNN, Sunrise in Australia, and many others. Doyin also has a large and active following on both Twitter and Facebook.

Check out this video of one of his national TV interviews! 

Doyin Richards: 
Daddy Doin Work - Los Angeles Local News | FOX 11 LA KTTV

Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man

Here's a little bit about his book:

Doyin Richards Daddy Doin' Work: Empowering Mothers to Evolve Fatherhood answers questions Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man empowers women to make smart relationship decisions by entering the minds of men, Daddy Doin' Work empowers new mothers to enter the minds of new dads to change the perception of what should be expected from a modern father. He discusses truths about about fatherhood that many women want to know, and does so in a no-nonsense and entertaining style that women will enjoy. 

Readers will be exposed to the manipulative secrets of deadbeat dads, moms will learn practical tips to help hard working dads understand that being a father encompasses more than paying the bills, and women in relationships with amazing dads will learn methods to ensure their men stay on-track while inspiring more fathers to be just like them. Most importantly women will be forced to take a long look in the mirror to determine if they are part of the solution or part of the problem in shaping the behavior of modern fathers.

Doyin Richards

When Doyin posted this picture that showed him as a multitasking dad, it went viral. Had a woman published this, he says, it wouldn't have garnered much attention. And that's one of the many points he discusses in his parenting book. 

Doyin and family

Monday, March 10, 2014

Cover Reveal: Defiance by Adrienne Monson

Cover Reveal: Defiance by Adrienne Monson

The story: 

Leisha and Samantha barely survived the vampires and immortals six months ago. Now, an explosive battle between the vampires and immortals seems imminent. 

It's more important than ever before that the prophecy child is found, but there's a problem—Leisha has lost her powers. She seems like nothing more than a human. Her newfound humanity is further complicated when Tafari, her old lover, appears with a desire for reconciliation.

Can Leisha lock up the past to save those she loves? Or will fate tear everything from her once again?


Monson’s debut novel, Dissension, book one of the Blood Inheritance trilogy, came out in 2013. Defiance (book 2) is slated for release February 24, 2015.

She lives in Utah with her husband and two kids. When she’s not writing, she enjoys Zumba, kickboxing, reading, and trying new recipes. Find her at the following places:


Monday, March 3, 2014

Book Review: The Complete Mystery of Matthew Alcott: Heritage of Secrets

Book Review

Before delving into J.M. Oborn’s The Complete Mystery of Matthew Alcott, readers will want to take a deep breath, because from the first scene, when Matthew Alcott wakes up naked in the Nevada desert, up to the last word he pens in the controversial book he has written about Mormon Church founder Joseph Smith, the tension never lessens, the suspense builds steadily, and the plot and characters prove to be convincingly unpredictable . I should insert a caveat here about adult situations and language.

That said, Osborn’s story reaches from the granite vaults in Utah’s Cottonwood Canyon, the storage facility for valuable LDS (Mormon) historical documents, to an unlikely establishment (The One Hump Bar) in Resurrection Corner, New York, which serves up alcohol, coffee, and AA meetings. Several years earlier Matt, an employee of the LDS historical department, discovers a hidden document which presents Joseph Smith in an unflattering light. Life goes downhill from there, and Matt finds himself divorced, drunk, unemployed, and on the run, pursued by minions of church leaders and a powerful, wealthy far-reaching group determined to quiet him at any cost.

Interestingly, Oborn’s LDS characters have few, if any redeeming qualities. His villain, Farley Rockwell, is chillingly convincing. The other characters populating this novel are well-drawn and believably human---people we’d all want on our team.

Throughout the story runs the theme of redemption, at the deeply honest, personal level required for sobriety and, ultimately, forgiveness.

Oborn’s writing style is lean and truncated and he makes effective use of flashbacks. He breaks accepted rules about point of view and complete sentences, but his confident style is very effective and doesn’t fail to stop us in our tracks with the hero’s insightful thoughts, as well as the occasional stunning description. From the exploits of “The Twelve Apostles,” (a Harley-driving gang of recovering alcoholics), to a den of lethal snakes, from closeted polygamists to compassionate nuns, this compelling mystery-thriller never disappoints. Hang on to your Harley---J. M. Oborn’s The Complete Mystery of Matthew Alcott is a compelling, well-written work of fiction

About the Author
Born and raised in northern Utah, Michael Oborn completed a two year mission for the Mormon Church, graduated with a degree in microbiology and theater from Weber University. Attached to the Entertainment Section of the U. S. Army, he directed live theater and managed entertainment shows for the troops in the orient. He is a Chemical Dependency Professional who, before retirement, worked with addicts and their families, and continues affiliation with, SAFE CALL NOW, a nonprofit organization that works with police and fire fighters suffering the disease of addiction. He is a member of the Willamette Writers Association, Portland, Oregon and the Pacific Northwest Writers Association, Issaquah, Washington. He lives with his sweetheart of 22 years in the Puget Sound. Author: The Compete Mystery of Matthew Alcott:HERITAGE OF SECRETS. 

Monday, February 24, 2014

By Small and Simple Things...

By Small and Simple Things
Lori Nawyn
Covenant Communications

By Small and Simple Things is a book meant to be read one small section at a time. It is divided into twelve chapters, one for every month. Each month has a theme and every day of the month has a separate entry. The theme is developed with anecdotes and scriptures asl well as references to art, literature and history. Creative lists of activities designed to strengthen the principle are included in each chapter. While accomplishing everything on the list is not the goal, the reader can choose activities that appeal to them or meet a specific need. And, in a delicious conclusion to each chapter, Nawyn includes tempting recipes. Hint: February’s all use chocolate as a main ingredient.

There are many prompts for self-insight included in this book. Personally, I’m looking forward to tackling one of Nawyn’s challenges in particular: “Write who you are in 25 words or less.” Nawyn’s writing style is clear and concise. This is a positive and uplifting book and would make a perfect gift for the women in your life, regardless of age, and regardless of the season. Just turn to today’s date for an engaging, thought-provoking read. And when you’re done, you may want to start all over again.

Lori Nawyn

About the Author: 

Lori Nawyn’s award-winning fiction and nonfiction reflect her
desire to help others recognize their own unique talents and abilities
and overcome adversity. Her essays, articles, and short stories have
appeared in regional and national print publications, including the
Desert News, Outside Bozeman, Segullah, and the SCBWI Bulletin. She
is the author of the novel My Gift to You. Her book for girls and
women, Fill Your Day with Hope, was released August 2013. An artist
and graphic designer, she is also the illustrator of the book Love, Hugs,
and Hope: When Scary Things Happen. Lori believes in the wisdom
taught by her grandmothers: if your heart is in the right place, your
hands can work miracles. She is the mother of four, grandmother of
four, and is married to a fireman.

Other titles by Lori Nawyn

Fill Your Day with Hope (August 2013)
Love, Hugs, and Hope: When Scary Things Happen (September 2013)
Peachy: A Harvest of Fruity Goodness (September 2013)
By Small and Simple Things (December 2014)
The Great American Family Reunion Cookbook (March 2014)

Twitter: @LoriNawyn

Monday, February 17, 2014

All about sequels: guest post by Lehua Parker

I liked this post so much, I stole it from Eric Bishop's blog! Actually, Lehua Parker graciously allowed me to repost it here. 

My guest today is Lehua Parker, author of the Niuhi Shark Saga. Books one and two are in print and Book three is in the works.

What are the challenges in writing characters in sequels?

It all depends on whether the series is more like a burger from Five Guys or dinner at Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse.

When you walk into a burger joint, you pretty much know what you’re going to get. Some fiction, particularly serial detective fiction like Robert Parker’s Spencer series, is structured like your basic grilled patty in a bun. First book to last, Spencer changes his underwear and not much else. A crime is committed. It gets solved. Some shooting, drinking, and bed-hopping happens in between. The order the books are read in doesn’t matter much more than having a bacon cheeseburger one day and a jalapeƱo ranch burger the next. With infinite combinations of new toppings and special sauces to season the plot, there’s no reason to mess with the character of the ground chuck. And with no over-arching storyline, the series never ends.

For burger-lovers, this consistency is a good thing. For authors making bank with a series, it’s awesome.

But the whole dining experience changes when a series involves multiple courses and linen table napkins. Now readers want to savor each dish on the way to dessert.

Think of the Harry Potter series by JK Rowling. In each book the wizardlings had adventures, but there was a more important over-arching tale involving Voldermort and Harry that advanced until it was resolved at the end of the last book.

Like Mama says, if you eat dessert first, you’ll spoil your appetite. When a series is structured as a book per course there’s usually little point to going back and eating the carrots once you’ve filled up on the cherry cheesecake. Knowing Dumbledor’s end game and Snape’s true character spoils all the delicious tension built and sustained throughout the previous six books. You may want to linger at the table, but you pretty much know the meal’s over. It’s time to tip the waiter and hand your parking stub to the valet.

Which leads me to my point that when you’re telling a larger cohesive story it’s important for characters to change and show growth in each book.

In a burger book, not so much. A juicy char-broiled book series is all about enjoying similar experiences with beloved characters over and over again.

Here’s another example.

The Niuhi Shark Saga is a multi-course luau complete with roasted pig, hula dancers, and coconut cake for dessert. It’s one loooooong story broken into bite-sized MG/YA books.

Through the series Zader, the protagonist, changes from the odd kid who always has to be rescued to the kid who questions everything to the young man who determines for himself how he will live his life. In each book I have to consider where Zader is in terms of his eventual transformation and where the other characters are in relation to both Zader and their own conflicts and ambitions.

I gotta tell you, it helps that many of my characters are going through adolescence, arguably the biggest transformative time in anyone’s life.  

In book one, One Boy, No Water, Zader is hiding in the shadows. There’s a lot of symbolism about young, tender things growing in the protective safety of the reef. He has Uncle Kahana, Jay, and Char Siu to guide and support him, and he’s pretty comfortable being led. At the end, Zader recuses his brother from a paralyzing fear and himself from bullies. This triggers his predator nature, and it’s obvious he’s outgrown the idea of camouflage as safety.

In book two, One Shark, No Swim, Zader’s grown enough that he no longer accepts what he’s been told as fact. Uncle Kahana is unwilling to deal directly with the changes he sees in Zader, and that causes problems. Char Siu, Zader’s gal-pal, is starting to understand that there’s a big difference between boy-world and girl-world and she’s trying to navigate deep water while the boys are still splashing in the shallows. Jay begins to get caught up in competitive surfing, leaving Zader alone on the sand. These conflicts and others finally drive Zader to listen only to himself and make a choice no one expects.

In book three, tentatively titled One Fight, No Fist, there are consequences for Zader’s choices. He’s older, more secretive, and both less trusting and more protective of his family and friends. He’s bolder, more aggressive, and is ready to take the fight to his stalker. He’s so far from where he started, he’s almost a different person. Consequently, all of the other characters have to change and adjust to this new person—or not and let the sparks fly.

The changes the Niuhi Shark Saga characters go through is really the storyline that ties all the books together. Without character growth the series would be like The Simpsons tv show—Homer chasing one doughnut after another, hanging out at Moe’s, and never learning or suffering from the consequences of his adventures for more than one episode.

There are a lot of doughnut lovers who crave that consistency. Go, Homer.

But if you’re in the mood for something different, try my pineapple upside-down cake. You won’t believe what happens next!

All about Lehua: 

Lehua Parker is originally from Hawaii and a graduate of The Kamehameha Schools and Brigham Young University. In addition to writing award-winning short fiction, poetry, and plays, she is the author of the Pacific literature MG/YA series the Niuhi Shark Saga published by Jolly Fish Press. One Boy, No Water and One Shark, No Swim are available now. Book 3, One Fight, No Fist will be published in 2014.
So far Lehua has been a live television director, a school teacher, a courseware manager, an instructional designer, a sports coach, a theater critic, a SCUBA instructor, a playwright, a web designer, a book editor, a mother, and a wife. She currently lives in Utah with her husband, two children, three cats, two dogs, six horses, and assorted chickens. During the snowy Utah winters she dreams about the beach.

Connect with Lehua Parker
Blog & Free Short Stories:
All things Niuhi Shark Saga:
Twitter: @LehuaParker

One Boy, No Water               
Barnes & Noble

One Shark, No Swim:           
Barnes & Noble

Monday, January 20, 2014


As you probably know, we often visit Finland because our son, his wife and their two children live there. Over dinner one evening, our son’s inlaws spoke about the pros and cons of being part of the EU. 

Evidently the euro is doing pretty well as currency, 
and travel among EU countries is possible with a single passport issued by the EU. However, countries with stronger economies aren’t always so thrilled about bailing out nations they don’t think have been as fiscally responsible. In fact, my son shops for groceries politically. Produce is always labeled by country of origin, and he refuses to buy any produce from Greece. He’s not fond of China or Russia, either, due to economic threats they present to many European countries.

That said, my son’s inlaws also mentioned certain restrictions and laws that all EU nations must honor. One relates to wolves: under the laws of the EU, wolves are a protected species. Parents in the far north of Finland, in the area of Lapland, the home of Santa, reportedly are worried about the safety of their children on their way to and from school, and don’t want them walking alone due to fear of wolf attacks.

A year or two later I was in a workshop when an environmental writer mentioned that parents in Montana have fears about their children being attacked by wolves as they travel to and from school, and won’t let the children walk alone anymore since wolves have been re-introduced into Yellowstone Park and other areas, and are a protected species. I spoke to the presenter afterward and told him, “You’ll never guess where else I’ve heard about parents fearing for their children going to and from school, with more wolves living in the region….” He was stunned. 

 Last week I reviewed My Antonia by Willa Cather for my book club. I loved reading the book again after many years. And within its pages there was a story that seemed quite familiar. Russian Peter and Russian Pavev, two immigrant ranch workers living in the Nebraska territory, had a dark history involving wolves. Back in their motherland, they had been hired to escort a wedding party from one village to another in the darkness, in the deep of winter.

They led the caravan in their horse-drawn sleigh, followed by the other sleighs carrying members of the party. One by one, beginning at the back, each sleigh was attacked by wolves and its riders were devoured. When Peter and Pavel arrived at their destination, theirs was the only sleigh remaining; there was no wedding party left to be honored. No matter where they went after that unfortunate event, Peter and Pavov were treated with disgust and disdain for not protecting the wedding party, so they eventually left their home country in disgrace and came to America to start a new life.

Is there an undercurrent of truth in these stories, I wonder? Or are wolves just getting a bad rap? I know they are hated by ranchers, who lose sheep and cattle to wolf attacks every year. But are there ever human victims? Or are the wolves just getting a bad rap?

What do you think?

Monday, January 13, 2014

Our latest trip to Finland Part Two

A Red Bird theme ride for children is seen in Angry Birds Land, an Angry Birds-themed activity center within the Sarkanniemi adventure park near Tampere, Finland