Sunday, August 18, 2013

Three Days of Heaven in Xanadu

(Life without makeup)
For the past two months, I haven't felt much like my usual sunny self.  I can blame it on the Second Coming of that horror from the spring, Jurassic Cyst (which landed me in the hospital for nearly five full days in April and left a divot in my scalp big enough to fly a Saturn 5 rocket through).  The loss of our beloved eldest cat, Chicken. A great deal of writing work that, while wonderful and exciting, is far from what I planned to delve into this waning Summer 2013. Perhaps it was that oft-lamented Mercury Retrograde I've heard spoken of so frequently, but never gave much of a second thought. Who knows?  Not I.  Maybe it was all of these things, a personal perfect storm that wove together into a shroud that smothered my love for my new home and the writing life.  Whatever the cause, I knew the effect and, focused on recharging batteries seriously depleted, I took three days to get centered. The results were quite spectacular.  They were, in fact, examples of the way I'm used to living my life. Maybe two lackluster months were meant to remind me of how good I've got it.

Despite a lot of recent attention toward my career in newspaper interviews and even TV, I've become a bit of a hermit in these, my late middle years, loving my alone time (never truly alone, with my small and wonderful family and a very grabby Muse).  So on Friday morning, feeling the need to nest, I made a point that these three days, from Friday to Sunday as I type this blog entry, were to be spent at home, without external contact.  I would get off the grid...or as far from it as possible.  I needed to get centered.

Regarding Jurassic Cyst Part Deux: thanks to a wonderful friend in my writers' group and desperate to avoid another lengthy and expensive hospital stay, I began taking a holistic remedy called Chaga, a repellent-looking fungus-among-us that apparently is growing all over the woods in my backyard. When mashed and then boiled, it makes a lovely tea.  My friend urged me to give it a try and I found it not only delicious, but within one week's time (the Friday start to my nesting period), Jurassic Cyst became extinct.  In feeling physically better, I also began to improve in the spiritual sense.  I woke up on Day One and resumed working on numerous projects that have been shuffled to the side -- completion of a short story started in Vermont last December while attending When Words Count Retreat Center for Writers called "The Honeysuckle Snow" and submission of my novelette, "The Arsonist", to a market I'd love to crack.  I worked on keystroking a novel from longhand draft onto the computer for my German Publisher, who requested a look at what could amount to a full series commitment.  I listened to music I love, played a few favorite movies I haven't seen in a while (Blue Velvet, Day of the Triffids), sipped coffee, walked around my yard and along my road with its stunning mountain views, read for fun (a wonderful old paperback with a tawdry cover, the Ellery Queen mystery The Origin of Evil), and indulged in some online soap operatic episodes of the ABC daytime drama Loving -- later The City -- which I used to watch being taped in New York City and covered for various industry publications, way-back-when.  I recharged those dead batteries.

(Sunday on the sun porch with Ozzie)
Most of all, I remembered.

I remembered that, twenty years ago, I reached the second-biggest turning point in my life, right after that which first inspired me to write.  Late summer of 1993 into the fall, I made a very conscious decision to be a writer, and only a writer because, simply, I love to write.  Not that I forgot this basic yet all-important truth.  I think I needed reminding, however.

Over the past twenty years, my career's enjoyed plenty of highlights and just as many low marks to keep me grounded.  On Halloween weekend in October of '93, I stood atop Wentworth Mountain at my very first writing retreat and, as wet autumn snow began to fall from a gray sky, asked the Muse for a sign, and I sure got it upon my return home -- in the form of my first professional sale to a national magazine, a writing award, and my first book deal.  The message was that if I gave myself completely to that which I love, it would keep me protected, provided for, and supremely happy.  It has.  I may have overlooked the interoffice memo regarding this truth these past two months, but I remembered where to look over the course of the past three days.  And I finished a particularly disturbing little tale of some 4,000 words on Day Three, "Thumbling", after bringing my current novel, which got lost in the muddle of the summer's demands, to its halfway point.  It didn't feel like work, not one bit.  It was fun.  The purest.

Tomorrow is Monday, and regardless of what the morning brings, I plan to wake up with a smile, pour my first coffee of the day, uncap my pen, and remember how lucky I am to be right where I am, doing what I love most.  Hallelujah!

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Experience the Magic of Arthurian!

(Poster art by Judi Calhoun)
Mysterious signs began to appear across the northern hamlet of Berlin, New Hampshire.  Even greater mysteries were hinted at through portents, word of mouth, short feature articles in The Berlin Daily Sun, and the Internet destination the curious were directed to, Arthurian. Ancient secrets are about to be revealed, thanks to the luminous Jonathan Dubey, playwright and driving force behind the two-hour theater production set in pre-Camelot England, which takes to the stage starting this week in a venue unlike any other, in a region famous for -- and in desperate need of -- a healthy and thriving theater scene.

It was my pleasure to sit down with Jonathan, a talented scribe from my wonderful Berlin Writers' Group who pens poetry, short fiction, and memoir in addition to writing phenomenal plays (he's also hard at work on a murder mystery for the local dinner theater circuit), about Arthurian, which invites the audience meet a young Arthur, positing the details that created one of history's most beloved legends.

Talk me through the play's genesis.
With a low-budget theater company, I was looking for something that we could do with very inexpensive rights -- or for free.  And I thought that something written locally would be the best way to go.  I had difficulty finding the right project to work on, so I decided why not try writing something myself?  Since I was a kid, I've been fascinated with King Arthur legends, in all the various forms -- books, movies, cartoons.  And I realized that classic literature is free to adapt, and because there are so many different interpretations that contradict, I could just about do anything I wanted with the story. But I tried to keep as true as possible to the classic fantasy of Sir Thomas Malory. Sir Thomas took all these legends and myths passed down through oral tradition and put them to paper.  They got nabbed and rewritten -- still under his name, but making it very Christian and religious.  The church pulled a lot of the mysticism, paganism, sex, and magic out of it.  And now we're putting this show on in a church!

(Arthurian Playwright/Director Jonathan Dubey)
You don't appear in Arthurian but are its director.  Still, you have a lot of history with the local theater scene in this section of the great northern chimney of New Hampshire.
When  I was a teenager, I was involved in a couple of shows in Middle School, High School, and the local community theater, Theatre North.  I then took fifteen years off to grow up, get married, have a career, and buy a house, but returned to community theater five years ago.  I found it to be an organization with goodhearted people but not enough of them, and cursed by the burden of serious financial problems. That theater organization recently disbanded and Arthurian is our attempt to bring something positive out of the ashes -- and to keep the spirit of Theatre North alive as something new.

Local theater in Northern New Hampshire has something of a storied history.  Why is it so important to keep the spirit and magic alive?
It's important to know about local community theater in this area in that there isn't any here anymore. One can travel over an hour to see community theater or summer stock, but art and culture is desperately lacking in this and other economically-depressed regions.  There are artists here, and good ones.  There are writers and other talented people in Berlin and the surrounding communities, and the public needs to know they're here and to celebrate with us.

(Mario Molina as Sir Pellinore in Arthurian)
Arthurian takes a unique glimpse into the King Arthur Legend by showing his life before he was king.  What can the audience expect?
It's a real 'King Arthur Begins' bent, an origin story, starting with Arthur's heritage when his blood father, Uther Pendragon, and Merlin set in motion the events leading to the boy's destiny.  Mostly, it details the difficulties of growing up where he's so different from his adoptive family. We, the audience, steal a glimpse into the workings within the walls of Sir Ector's estate, and come to understand these legendary characters in an intimate and unexpected manner.  Arthur is tempted to make the same mistakes as his blood father, but ultimately makes the correct though difficult choices that eventually shape his fate.

(Arthurian's cast and crew)
You have an amazing cast of local actors!
We have a varied yet talented cast: young Tanner Cote, in his first performance as "Kay"; June Desmond as "Mim", the Head of the Household -- she runs the house, really! -- has over twenty-five years of stage experience; Zachary Boucher as Arthur has some theater experience, but this is his first lead role; after performing the titular role in The Diary of Anne Frank, Samantha Kilbride changes it up as "Sir Ector"; Tyler Fowler and Miranda Braziere play multiple roles, most notably the devious "Scrounger" and the sinister "Larcena"; Mario Molina commands the stage as "Sir Pellinore"; Corey Shaink brings us a quirky and mercurial new take on "Merlin"; and Mary Champlin as the ingenue "Andrivete".  Ramona Dube handles the props as well as the small but important role as "Taubitha", a servant.  Amelia Kendall deftly handles the lights and sounds, and first time Assistant Director Danielle Robichaud also serves as Stage Manager.  The entire cast and crew are local, all living within twenty miles of retrofitted church venue.