An Invitation to the RRBC Writers’ Conference & Book Expo

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After a bit of a hiatus on my blog due to writing projects — and to life itself — I’m happy to report that this week I’ll be a participant in the inaugural RRBC Writer’s Conference and Book Expo — a virtual book fair Dec. 1-3, sponsored by the ever-innovative Rave Reviews Book Club (for more info on RRBC click here).

The live link will not be unveiled until late on Nov. 30, but come back to this post then to access the various “Author Booths” of fiction and nonfiction writers from around the world. Right before the holidays – a perfect time to find new “reads”! The conference will also feature “Vendor Booths” for those seeking professional services. There will be so many resources for writers, readers and more, all on virtual display from Dec. 1-3.

My Author Booth will feature more on my novel, Bravura, part one of The Music We Made novel series about three generations of the Driscoll family of musicians. My Vendor Booth will highlight my professional writing and editing services that are the culmiation of 25 years of high-end experience.

Hope to see you there soon. Onward!

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A Review of “On Air”

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My new play, On Air, which I blogged about earlier this summer, received a wonderful production at Scripps Ranch Theatre, San Diego, in July 2016, produced by Robert May.

I’m happy to feature here a review of the play by San Diego-based writer, artist and professor Mindy Donner.


ON AIR
Scripps Ranch Theatre (SRT) presents the 5th Annual OUT ON A LIMB:
New Plays from America’s Finest City 2016

ON AIR is one of those plays informed by and telling about the Viet Nam War
era, and they get it right! “They” are the powerful playwright, Lisa Kirazian; director,
Liz Shipman; their fine cast, and the tech folks at Scripps Ranch Theatre.
The plot takes us along the journey of a dedicated educator, writer and on-air
producer of a reader’s theater hour at a local east county, San Diego radio station. The
entire production echoes and amplifies the eidetic quality of the writing, and that of our
central character, Gary Gordian, a community college professor who believes not only in
his students, but in the transformational possibilities inherent in delving into great works
of literature.

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Gary Gordian’s character and story is based upon and inspired by a real-life Gary
and his wife, Siran. Francis Gercke’s Gary was so believable and passionate that I could
hardly believe he was cast just two weeks prior to the opening. This is a great love story:
the love of Gary for Siran, a poetic seamstress who emigrated from Beirut; her love for
Gary and family; and Gary’s love of teaching the great books to a cadre of students
with limited resources. Siran, as played by Mariel Shaw, is graceful in all aspects,
shimmers with an ethereal beauty and has a core made of steel.

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Throughout the play, the pervasive thread is that of Gary longing for “greatness”–
to be a successful writer, to teach at Berkeley, to earn a real salary–and that of Siran’s
longing for home and family–her need to stay in one place close to extended family.
Siran’s rather old-world brother, Van, is asked to not visit after a boorish evening at
dinner at which he orders his sister around and around! Van is performed by Carlos
Angel-Barajas, who takes another turn as Juan, a Spanish writer with whom Gary has a
meaningful correspondence. While Juan is a more empathetic character, it is revealed
that Van wanted to be a priest, rather than a banker. No character is allowed to be one dimensional in this production.

And that is not the only relationship which becomes strained and frayed—Gary’s
“friend” at the college warns him that he is up for review and suspected of altering
students’ grade in order to give them a military deferment. Charles Peters is jocular and
almost despicable as Ben, fellow professor—who is on the make with his female
students. Gary’s radio station threatens to cut his show, as the listening audience for
“great books” in San Diego is on the wane. Disillusionment threatens to take over Gary’s
soul, if not livelihood.

The stage, which is long and shallow, is deftly designed into smaller focus areas
which become Gary’s college office with desk, his tiny writing study, the Gordian’s living
room, and offstage is quite believable as their bedroom. This suited the play, and the
acting within to a tee. Kudos to Bob Shuttleworth, scenic designer, and Liz Shipman,
who envisioned the perfect world for this play.

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Gary’s college students were delightful with earnest longings, confusion, angst
and all that students really experienced during that fateful era. Robert Bradvica, as
Steven; Michael Crosby as Mitch; Christopher Torborg as Shay, and Michelle Marie
Trester as Abbey/Toni—all were praiseworthy.

Gary gets his opportunity to take a job at Berkeley; Siran almost dies bearing their
child; and they transform into people who now know what is most important.
Siran realizes that “home” is where Gary and their child reside. Gary knows he is
committed to teach these community college students, who truly need him.

The delicacy and beauty of Siran in the “hospital”, a chair, her child which is
birthed from a blanket folded just so, and nurtured by mother and father, and Siran’s
Armenian dance of joie de vivre to follow are traces of director and choreographer Liz
Shipman’s imaginative fingerprint on this production.

This memorable and inspiring production needs to be mounted again for a longer
run, so that more audiences can enjoy this work.


Thank you, Mindy. Thank you, director Liz and cast. And thank you, producer Robert May and SRT!

Onward!

(all photos by Darren Scott)

Walking “On Air” – Journey of a Play

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Sometimes our life and work synergize in ways that we don’t expect.

In writing my new play, On Air, that certainly happened, with the added synergy of such dedicated theater artists who brought it to life at San Diego’s Scripps Ranch Theatre (SRT) and its new play festival, “Out on a Limb,” which concluded yesterday.

In On Air, a young, principled professor at a San Diego community college navigates his family obligations and professional ambitions against the backdrop of a campus in crisis from the Vietnam War.

The one-act version of On Air premiered in the inaugural year of SRT’s Out on a Limb New Play Festival in 2012, with the outstanding cast (shown clockwise, below) of lead actor Jeffrey Jones, Vimel Sephus, Charles Peters, Joshua Jones, Steven Smith, and Tyler Jones, directed by Antonio TJ Johnson.

(All Photos by Darren Scott)

That original one-act version focused only on the professor, Gary Gordian, and four students who come to him in various stages of crisis — amid being drafted to Vietnam, family dysfunction, relationships. Gary’s dedication to his ideals, amid campus politics and pressures, results in his job and future being at risk.

When the play drew such a strong response from audiences, SRT Artistic Director and festival producer Robert May asked me to expand the play to fill out the picture of Gary, to include his personal life and challenges.

Four years and much soul-searching later, the full length version of On Air premiered this past week, with the spectacular cast of Fran Gercke, Mariel Shaw, Charles Peters, Carlos Angel Barajas, Michelle Marie Trester, Robert Bradvica, Chris Torborg, Michael Crosby, and directed by Liz Shipman.

My heart and mind are still spinning. Why?

Because On Air and Gary’s story are loosely based on the life of my own father, a retired and courageous literature professor, who endured much of what is chronicled in the play.

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Fran Gercke as Gary

And in the full length, I introduced the character of Gary’s wife, Siran, loosely based on my mother.

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Mariel Shaw as Siran

Their life together, amid Vietnam, family challenges, and the early days of the tumultuous San Diego Armenian community, are my main expansions to the play.

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Writing about family, about personal events, is never easy. I don’t do it often. Of course I poured over old letters, photos, articles, recordings. But how can one do the subject matter justice, truly? How can a writer be objective in these situations? Or maintain a workable balance between fact and fictionalizing? These challenges, among others, are why it took me so long to complete.

And of course I eventually had to show my family the script. I was braced for the worst, because I could only imagine what my parents, nearly 50 years later, would feel as they revisit one of the hardest times in their young lives. But they couldn’t have been more supportive. A few requests for changes, sure, but just when I was expecting a full-throated veto or a boot out the door, I instead got a thank you. “Thank you for acknowledging that it was such a difficult time in our lives,” my father said. It was a time in their lives that pre-dated me and yet which they always mentioned as I grew up, hence my desire to explore it in writing. I wanted to show them coming through, victoriously.

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With the remarkable dedication of Robert May, SRT and actors who sat to table read the working versions of the script so many times over the past four years (Thank you!), as well as the heartfelt new cast of the full-length version, I saw the story come to life in ways I did not expect.

Even with the fictionalizing I felt necessary in various portions of the play, the fact was that I saw the spirit of my parents, and I saw the spirits of all the students my father used to talk about, even years after their interactions…

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I saw the dilemmas relived of a young married couple facing difficult family choices and pressures, community politics and dynamics.

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Carlos Angel Barajas as Van

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L-R Michael Crosby, Carlos Angel Barajas, Robert Bradvica, Michelle Marie Trester, Chris Torborg, Sarah David, Morgan Kirby

I saw how seminal events and interactions in our lives can stay with us for decades, for a lifetime, and remain as vivid as the day we first experienced them.

IMG_3686L-R: Robert Bradvica, Chris Torborg, Charles Peters, Michelle Marie Trester

The production had its challenges — a key last minute cast change due to illness, and even an accidental campus lockdown where students spotted rehearsal of a tense scene involving a (fake) gun and called the police, fearing the worst, only to be told it was a play. In the very same scene, on opening night of the earlier one-act version, the power went out in the theater, and audience members thought the darkness was part of the scene as stage managers quickly shined flashlights on the actors. The unexpected should always be expected in theater…

But I’m grateful for all of it — and for the conversations the play is generating among audiences, artists, family members, everyone. My father, after watching a period of his life pass before him onstage, thanked me for the play and the “love letter” that it is. Not sure if he even knew that those are the words I always govern my writing by, to make my words a love letter to the story and characters I create. So I was beyond grateful, and at peace, after that.

It seems that the play will have a life beyond this lovely first production, which is encouraging. Because once again as a writer I’ve experienced first-hand that facing our biggest fears and challenges in our life and work yields the deepest meaning in both, a combination of inspiration and release that our souls never get enough of.

As I always say, yet with more conviction every time:

Onward.

 

Heart Full of Fire

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My heart is full today.

Coming off of my daughters’ completion of a brave and whirlwind school year — followed by a beautiful trip east celebrating my nephew’s graduation.

And back home soon after, enjoying the first moments of summer with pajamas, basketball and videos.

Then seeing the horror today in Orlando. The vicious killing. The families forever torn apart.  Somehow hearing the screams of my martyred Armenian ancestors all over again, like I’ve been hearing them lately from Syria and around the world. And knowing in my bones that no matter what is said by this faction or that, God is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit (Psalm 34:18).

But then on the night following this tragic morning, seeing the Tony Awards, and being reminded of the transforming power of storytelling — of theater, like nothing else — to return our minds and hearts to hope, to truth, to love.

And all this … on the eve of a playwriting deadline I must complete. One of the most important ones I’ll ever have. How do I complete the story now, as I had planned before? With all of this new tumult, both good and horrible? Even with the story remaining intact, what changes now in my approach or mindset?

Tonight I realized: it’s exactly the right time to finish this play. Because my heart is more full of fire now than I can remember, and this play is about a character who stands up for what matters most to him, no matter what the consequence. (More on that in a future post). Countless inspirers surround me, here and in the heavens, so I am more humbled, and more grateful now, for the opportunity to tell this story that means the world to me. I’m more convicted than ever that it needs to be told. And that all our stories of courage, faith and persistence must be told, no matter who tells us otherwise. I can only hope I do this particular one justice.

Onward.

 

 

 

When Inspiration Has Bad Timing

 

When inspiration comes at the wrong time…drop whatever you’re doing, right? Not always so easy.

When I went to Armenia one glorious summer, fully expecting to delve into new writings about family history, ethnic identity, the genocide, you name it, what came to mind instead? An idea I had started several years before that I hadn’t finished. Avoidance of the personal? Procrastination? Maybe. But it just didn’t stop coming, and I had to get it down, even if it meant missing out on that one outing or tour. (The inspiration from that trip would come through in writing a few years later, actually).

At other times, in the throes of a PTA meeting, school event or church meeting, the juices flow and I want to run out and take copious notes, but instead I try to slyly put them on my IPhone notepad as if I’m taking notes of the event/meeting itself, nodding along with the speaker but all the while getting my freewrite done.

  

Or I’m on a writing deadline or in a tough spot with one script, and all of a sudden the inspiration comes with another idea (some would definitely call this procrastination if we don’t want to deal with a tough project). Should we at least jot it down?

Or, upon that exhausted first moment we plummet into bed and have some peace and quiet and literally don’t want to move — not even to the nightstand to get the journal and pen (because you DO have them there, don’t you?) — and you’re in the most comfortable position you’ve found in weeks…and then the most exquisite line pops into your head and takes your weak breath away. But you just don’t want to move, and your eyes are heavy, and you tell yourself: I’ll remember it in the morning.

But you don’t. It’s gone. And you kick yourself.

  

Or that flash of an idea first thing in the morning – but if you don’t get dressed now you’ll be late for work or late to take the kids to school. You’ve already pressed snooze; there’s no more buffer time. But you finally came up with the solution to that scene that just wasn’t clicking – til now. And if you don’t get it down now, the day will race by and you never will.

Be late for once. Get it down. You won’t be able to recapture it the same way later.

Here are some suggestions to deal with inspiration at the wrong time:

Have notepads and pens everywhere – bed, car, purse/attaché, kitchen, bathroom, office, living room. Whatever type you like – Mead paper & Bic, Moleskine and Pilot Precise, journal & Ticonderoga #2 pencil, IPhone/laptop, napkins & Crayolas, anything. Just have them everywhere. So that no time needs to be spent looking for something to write with – the tiny spare bits of time can be dedicated to getting the idea written down and done. Then you can continue as you were.

Learn to love – or at least tolerate — your recorded voice. Sometimes it’s easier in the car or in another setting to use the recording function on our cellphone (most of them have it now, like VoiceMemo for IPhone). Sometimes it’s easier to just say what you’re thinking, just like sometimes it’s easier to call someone rather than craft them a detailed email. And if you don’t have the voice recording function on your cellphone? Just call yourself and leave yourself a voicemail with your creative idea. Just don’t erase the message until you have it written down.

Sleep truly does make a difference. I rarely come up with strong creative ideas when I’m exhausted or cranky or preoccupied. And I find that the moments right before and right after sleep, are potent times for visionary, free thinking. But if we never sleep, we wouldn’t have those moments.

Repeat it to yourself, over and over. If you get a great idea and are in a setting – giving a speech, taking a test, changing a diaper, going into the doctor or x-ray — where you’re about to do something that you absolutely cannot get out of — repeat the idea to yourself at least three times, so that it’s engrained in your mind and you can remember it after your obligation is done. If necessary and possible, repeat it to yourself throughout the occupied time until you are free, then run to your car where you have kept your trusty notebook and pen and get it down.

Ask for help. Lean to a friend and say, “Remind me to tell you about my XYZ idea after we finish this meeting.” And if you forget, perhaps they won’t, and their follow up may jog your memory. Or when you get home at night, share your idea with your family. A week later when you’re frazzled with something else, the idea long forgotten, they might mention it and you’ll be grateful you shared it.

And if you do end up not being able to get the idea down, don’t worry. There IS more where that came from. Just give it space to wiggle out. By all means, never stifle your creativity or say “not now” or “that’s crazy” or “it’s no good.” Get in the habit of responding positively to it so that new ideas will be inclined to visit more often. Everything else can (hopefully) wait.

Onward!

An earlier version of this post appeared in 2015.

The Beauty of Book Clubs

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I’ve enjoyed three book club experiences in the past several months where my book “Bravura” was featured and read by a group of women (and men!) Each of them was markedly different and yet I learned amazing things from all of them. Continue reading