Friday, July 18, 2014

Beer for my horses

Thursday night's triple-header concert at Interlochen --with country legend Willie Nelson, Grammy record holder Alison Krauss and Union Station, and rising star Jason Isbell -- was more than we could have hoped. It will probably go down in my memory book as one of the best shows I ever attended. It was as if we had ordered "Whiskey for my Men" and the bartender threw in "Beer for my Horses."

That's the way Willie did his set, singing half the lyrics and waiting for the crowd to fill in the rest. And they did, gladly. At 81, Willie's voice isn't as strong as we fondly remember. He talks more than sings, and not always in rhythm. But his guitar chords make up for any failing in the vocal chords.He blended one hit into the next for a continuous retrospective of his bountiful repertoire.

Alison Krauss and Union Station were in rare form, full of playful quips about each other and the best, most beautiful bluegrass ever, with plenty of clear harmonies and no nasal tones in the bunch. Jason Isbell opened the evening with a selection of his songs, all new but tunefully done, with enough bass to make the speakers reverberate.

The weather was wonderful, cool enough to be comfortable. My only regret is that I had allowed my phone to run out of power so I wasn't able to shoot any photos from our second-row seat. And I'm also regretting that I may never get another chance to see Willie perform. Here's to you, Willie! Thanks for another memorable concert!

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Laughing overtime

        What a rough life.
         Wednesday morning I reviewed a new children's show, "The Doll People" at Hope Rep. It's brand new, written and directed by Jahnna Beecham. It's such fun to be on the  ground floor of a good show. I can imagine this  being picked up by all the local theaters. It's fast-paced with some catchy music. I loved the ensemble doing hand jive in a circle on one number. And I really loved the pacing at the climax. Every little kid in the room was looking at those scary cats eyes. But no one was crying. They were too caught up in the story and song. Very well done.
           Then Thursday night I went to Circle Theatre to review "One Man, Two Guvnors." A real tour de force for that One Man...Dylan Harris. Quite a role. He's running around in circles and talking out of both sides of his mouth. Very funny. And so were many other performers.Old man's walking too slow? Just turn up his pacemaker. Hilarious!
           On Friday night it was back to Holland to review "Hot Mikado."  Gilbert and Sullivan's operetta has been adapted to '40s fashions and music, with big band horns, jitterbug, tap dancing and Zoot suits. What fun! The music and dance is so startling that I almost forgot the real humor Gilbert packed into his illogical stories. Making flirting a capital offense! What a crazy idea. And having a Pooh-Bah with all the government titles rolled into one...he makes the laws, enforces the laws, judges the guilt, investigates the crime, ... no disagreements. It's so ridiculously funny.
           This is what I call "Laughing for a Living." Three days in a row. Getting paid to have a great time. And I'm supposed to be retired.
           Tomorrow, I'm headed to Chicago to see the final performance of "The Last Ship," a new musical by British pop rocker Sting. It will open on Broadway in the fall.  I'm not getting paid to see this one. I'll have to buy my ticket, pay for my trip. I'll leave the house about 7:30  in the morning and not get home until 11:30 at night. But a chance to see a new show before it goes to Broadway? Wouldn't miss it for the world.
             It's a rough life, but somebody has to do it!

            P.S. Sting surprised us -- not only by creating a moving stage musical "The Last Ship" but also by showing up at curtain call and singing the title song! Loved the show. More Celtic than rock. Perhaps too dreary for Broadway but says a lot about the relationships between fathers and sons, and a broader statement about workers vs. industry. Maybe because I'm seeing my own life's work on stormy seas now, I can relate to the end of an industry.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Proud Papa

          When you give birth to a new book, it's not unusual for the baby to get all the attention. Recently when I was invited by Schuler Books to participate in a local author panel, I was asked to provide the store with 15 copies of my latest book, Full Moon Friday. The third book in the Jordan Daily News Mystery Series, it's about a day when everything goes wrong.
          Full Moon Friday sold well, but we failed to realize that many fans of a mystery series want to start at the beginning. We didn't have enough copies on hand of the first book -- Great News Town -- and quickly sold out.
        Great News Town is the papa of the series, the story that had to be told. It was inspired by a series of murders that happened near Joliet, Il., when I worked for the Joliet Herald-News in 1983. The whole series grows out of recreating a spunky newspaper staff that solves mysteries in the pre-DNA, low-tech world before you could hold the internet in your hand. 
       Although the books don't need to be read in order, Great News Town is the perfect introduction to the fictional Chicago suburb that seems to attract more than its share of big news stories.
       In April, Writers' Digest Magazine gave  Great News Town an honorable mention in its Self-Published Book Awards. Recently Windy City Reviews published  this review. I didn't realize until I read the review, that the reviewer actually grew up in Joliet during the events that inspired the story.
        All my books are available on Kindle, but Great News Town is also available for Nook, Itunes, Kobo, you name it.
        Full Moon Friday garners all the ooos and ahhs of a "cute" newborn, but Great News Town is the proud papa passing out the cigars!


          

Monday, June 30, 2014

Support Independents

      
        This is the week Americans focus on Independence.
        We make sure we tell the vets we appreciate their service, even if we don't always agree with the politicians who put them in harms way.
         We bow our heads in a crowded McDonalds to thank God for our burger just because we can.
          And we buy American-made products at small local stores because that's the American dream.
         Nothing can be more independent than a self-published author, unless it's the small independent books stores that sell our books. Twenty years ago there were more than 4,000 independent bookstores in the U.S. Today there are less than half that number. In just the past two years we've seen Schulers Books and Music, our favorite Grand Rapids bookstore, go from three to one location in Grand Rapids.
         That's why I'm delighted to be celebrating Independence weekend by selling and signing Jordan Daily News Mysteries at Travelers Trunk Book Store in Cedar Springs from 2:30-4:30 Saturday, July 5.
        Travelers Trunk is owned and operated by Amanda Litz, an independent children's author and mother of four. She's the author of the Sam and Pam series for early readers. She also wrote "The Great Gumshoe: The Case of the Missing Bear" and The Traveler's Trunk series. 
         Litz runs Traveler's Trunk publishing, which will be sponsoring an Authorpalooza on July 17 with a dozen local children's authors at the Children's Museum in Grand Rapids. Her store features used books as well as local authors, so you can find lots of bargains under $5.
          If you are looking for a quiet break from all the hot and hectic holiday activities, drop in at Traveler's Trunk Bookstore, 25 Main St., on Saturday afternoon. Meet a couple authors, pick up a mystery for Mom, an easy reader for the kids, and a couple bargain books for Dad. It's the American way!
         . 
        

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Don't believe in full moon madness?


         I wrote the book on Full Moon Friday the 13th.The third book in the Jordan Daily News Mystery series, Full Moon Friday is about one of those days when everything goes wrong. I decided to try a crazy marketing scheme as well: doing a book signing at my neighborhood garage sale on June 13, a rare date when the full moon coincided with Friday the 13th.
I should have known the double whammy would attract some weird customers to our sale, but even I wasn't prepared for the parade of unusual characters. Now more than ever I believe the full moon is a beacon to the insane, attracting them like a magnet attracts steel filings. 
Each of my unusual guests walked up my driveway and into my garage as though drawn by some unseen force. I felt like they were angels on a television program visiting me personally.
My first unusual customer was a gregarious guy in jeans and a flannel shirt. Barely taking a breath,  he told me one story after another about his career in dumpster diving. How he once found $1,000 in an envelope. And prize-winning lottery tickets. Sure, he had run-ins with the cops, but once you know the schedule and the regulations in various communities, you can make a good living dumpster diving, the guy said.
           The second unusual man was an Hispanic gentleman probably about 70, wearing tight jeans and a beautiful white cowboy hat. He came up the driveway and walked behind my table into my dark garage.
                “Are you feeling OK?” he asked in his heavily accented voice.  I must have said “What?” two or three times because the question seemed so out-of-place.  He repeated his question until I assured him I felt fine. Then I inquired about his health.
                “I have cancer,” he replied. “I almost died two years ago.”
     He proceeded to tell the story of his brush with death,  even though his accent obscured much of what he was trying to tell me.
The strangest character of the day arrived about 4:30. He walked directly up my driveway and stood next to me. He was in his 20s, painfully skinny, wearing white jeans and a paint-splattered shirt.            
“Can I help you?”  I asked.
“I need a place to sit,” he replied. 
Once again I felt like the visitor was an angel and I was being put to the test. 
“Oh, you can have my chair,” I said, rising to my feet.
He took my chair and quickly helped himself to my glass of ice water.  “Are these free?” he asked, motioning to a basket of moon pies left over from my Full Moon Friday launch party.
“Sure, help yourself,” I said, backing away.
  I decided to let him rest a while. I had some calls to make. I was searching the Internet on my phone when the young man said, “That hurts me.”
“What?”
“That device.It messes with my brain,” the he said.  He held his head high, his jaw set as if he had just said the most logical thing in the world.
“ I can respect that,” I said, turning off my phone.
“I would buy a book if I knew where my money was,” the young man said.
“What happened to your money?” I asked.
“I don’t know,”  he said, folding the cellophane wrapper from the moon pie into an ever smaller package. “I left my bike at the computer store. Maybe the backpack is there too.”
“The computer store?”
“Around the corner.”
There’s no computer store around the corner.
I looked at him as a mother might. He was exasperating, hurting, maybe dangerous. But he was somebody’s son. Lost. Confused. And full moon crazy.  What could I do for him?
I was distracted  when he spoke again. “What did you say?” I asked.
“I wasn’t talking to you. I was talking to him.”
“Him?”
“The man in the car over there.”
I looked across the street. There was a man sitting in a car, probably waiting for his wife.
“Are you here with that man?” I asked.
“No.  I don’t know him. But he heard me.”
The boy looked at me with a piercing stare, as if daring me to contradict him. I didn’t.  I walked a few steps away and used my phone. When I turned around the young man was standing  up holding his hands over his ears. He walked down the driveway and toward the imaginary computer store.
           At five o’clock we gathered our goodies from the driveway and closed our garage doors. The sale was over. I went inside and called a friend to describe the crazy customers.
“Lock your doors,” my friend said.
I wasn’t afraid. None of the people had been threatening, even the final customer. But my friend’s advice stuck in my head.  My front door was open with just a screen. I went to it to see if there was a way to lock the screen. In my driveway stood the skinny  boy in the paint-splattered shirt. He was looking around as if wondering where the people and sale items had gone.  He turned and walked down the street. 
I locked the door. The full moon would be coming out soon.


Monday, June 9, 2014

Full Moon Rising

       
Have you heard about the full moon Friday the 13th?
         Dave DeBruyn, curator emeritus of Roger B. Chaffee Planetarium, mentioned it in his West Michigan Skies column in Sunday's Grand Rapids Press.
        I talked with Shelly Irwin about it this morning on the WGVU Morning Show. 
        And, of course, the internet is abuzz with references from Syracuse to New Zealand
        This Friday is a very rare  occurrence. The full moon coincides with Friday the 13th. That's right. Two mega superstitions at the same time. It won't happen again until 2049.
      In reading the stories online, my favorite is about an emergency room doctor who didn't believe in superstitions, but tells a very funny tale about what happened when he worked on the last full moon Friday the 13th in 2000.
     Some people say one superstition cancels out the other so it will be a lucky day.  I hope so.
      That's the day I'm releasing my next book, Full Moon Friday.  It's the third book in the Jordan Daily News Mystery series. It's about all the things that go wrong on a full moon Friday the 13th. Silly things, like a loose gutter pouring water on our heroine, City Editor Josie Braun. But things go seriously wrong, too, like a school bus that disappears with 23 school children, including Josie's son, Kevin.
          I don't know if I am really superstitious. I think it is unlikely the full moon really causes people to behave differently. But who am I to disagree with Aristotle? He believed the full moon caused people with certain mental illnesses to become agitated. The words lunatic and lunacy come from the Latin word for moon.
          Personally, I'm more agitated by Friday the 13th. I know it is silly, but would you plan a wedding on Friday the 13th? It's just something I prefer to avoid, usually. So why am I releasing a book on that day? Betting everything on a double whammy of bad luck?
          Guess I'm taking the advice of philanthropist W. Clement Stone who is credited with saying "Aim for the Moon. Even if you miss, you'll land among the stars."

Friday, June 6, 2014

Grey Play?

    
Grey is such an insipid color.   Gloomy, but not as bleak as black. Lighter, but not as bright as white.
       I guess in some ways that describes "Grey Gardens" which Actors' Theatre opened Thursday to a packed house. In a way, grey is the very definition of depression, and that's what the story is about, a pair of "staunch" socialites who are desperate for their own creative outlet, while the men in their lives insist they be satisfied to remain in the background. Eventually they end up codependent recluses surviving "staunchly" in a "24-room litter box" deemed unfit for human habitation by the East Hampton health department.
       The situation is depressing, even bleak at times. And yet the musical has its bright moments too, Although the story focuses on the mother and daughter -- Edith and Edie -- the show features an ensemble of others who add flashy Broadway productions numbers about positive thinking and haunting cats.In my Press review, I failed to mention music director Michael Shansky, his crew of musicians and choreographer Erin Kacos. My failing, not theirs. Certainly the musical numbers lift this story out of the stagnant morass of depression that weighs down the 1975 documentary about the Edith Beale recluses.
       Designers call grey a neutral color. But no one would think of Actors' production as neutral. Far from it. It makes you want to cry or laugh or throw something. Not just sit there in neutral with no response.
        But no one would call this show fast-paced either. The first act is suspended in 1941, with the conversation slogging through swing and softshoe. It takes forever to build to the inevitable climax. Act II is stuck in the depressed 1970s where a squatter chomping down on an ear of corn passes as cause for celebration.
         This is not a play that shines on its own devices. Instead, it's an opportunity to admire the vocal and acting talent of Kathy Gibson and  Rose Anne Shansky, with strong support from several others. When Kathy is daydreaming about going round the world or or Rose Anne triumphantly declares she ate the cake she had, this play is anything but grey. They add the spark of sunshine.