All posts by Steve

Good Books, Great Books, and That Book

Le rive seine

We drove up to Cedar City, Utah over last weekend to catch a few plays at the Utah Shakespeare Festival. Specifically, we saw The Merchant of Venice by some dead English guy; Big River, based upon That Book, Huckleberry Finn, music and lyrics by Roger Miller, book by William Hauptman; and The Foreigner by Larry Shue. In that order. As I do occasionally, I’m offering my thoughts on the program.

First, the Shakespeare. Merchant is well written, and funny in parts, but I must have been very young when I read it because I forgot just how intense the anti-Semitic bigotry is in that play. Holy cats, Will, what’s up with that? I’d never seen it. Doubt if I’ll see it again.

The festival is doing the entire Shakespeare Canon, so they had to include it. I think, though, that they maybe felt a bit bad about that, because they also included a musical version of That Book, Huckleberry Finn, my favorite story. The musical sticks to the original plot amazingly faithfully. Huck was played by a tenor, Jim by a baritone, and the two actors worked well together, in song, and in action. Excellent choices. And, of course, That Book is one of the most vehemently anti-bigot works ever created. Bless you, Sam Clemons, for producing it in the first place.

But wait, that’s not all! The Foreigner is, first, hilarious. Both in dialogue and in action, including some top notch silent work between some of the actors. The man who plays Huck is in this play as well, in a prominent, but not title role. A major plot point (even comedies need one) involves defeating a contingent of the “invisible empire,” the Klu Klux Klan. Another swipe at bigotry here.

The other Shakespeare work playing last weekend was Othello. As I said, perhaps the festival was feeling a bit nervous about presenting The Merchant of Venice.

The writing in all of the plays is, of course, superb. I like watching well-written plays, because I think that the more top-notch material I absorb, the more nearly top-notch my own material will be. Hey, you can’t read ’em all; sometimes it’s good just to soak it up, you know?

And, if you haven’t guessed, these plays, particularly Big River, have reinforced my notion that some books are good, some are great (talking to you, Thomas Pynchon) and then there’s Huckleberry Finn. Hemmingway said that American literature began with that book, and that there has been nothing as good since. And who am I to argue with Ernest Hemmingway?


A view of the harbor at Barcelona, Spain

I chose a picture of Barcelona because Dali lived there for quite a while. I couldn’t find a picture of the artist himself that I could be sure I could legally use, but I imagine that he enjoyed looking at this view from time to time.

Dali was a writer in addition to being a visual artist. I didn’t know that until I visited the Dali Museum in St. Petersburg Florida. I know, right? A museum of Dali stuff in Florida? Whoda thunk it, but as it turns out, a couple of people who lived in St. Petersburg were very good friends with the artist, and amassed a large collection of his works over many years. They subsequently donated all of their Dali art to the organization which was set up to build and operate the museum. I mention that he was a writer because he is also a good example of someone who apparently never believed that he was good enough, if that sounds at all familiar.

In his case, he was the second child his parents named Salvatore. The first one died very young. Several things happened as a result. When he was twelve, the second Salvatore knew that he wanted to be an artist. He attended a prestigious art school, but ended up getting expelled for being too, well, I guess it was radical. His ideas on how art should be made also estranged him from his parents and from his sister. In brief, his art went from more or less impressionist, through surrealism, and into something all its own. And all the time some people said that he was arrogant, which was, surprise surprise, a cover for being unsure of his place in the world.

Not hard to see how he’d be ambivalent about himself, what with having his dead brother’s name, is it?

This is Salvatore Dali, friends, a man noted for an unconventional approach to art, writing, and life. He had a lifelong case of imposter syndrome, which probably cost him some friendships. Salvatore Dali, one of the most talented artists ever to pick up a brush, was afraid that he’d be caught as some sort of fraud.

Think about that when you’re not feeling worthy. Your opinion may not be terribly reliable, you see.

As for the museum, it’s pretty cool. They had a VR exhibit called “Dali’s Dreams.” You’re fitted with an Oculus headset and earphones, and you can wander through a world of Dali creations (he said they were based upon dreams) for three minutes. This was not long enough, by the way. My personal favorites were the elephants, and if you want to know more about them, visit the museum and see them for yourself. It’s just cool, is all. I was also impressed with just how realistic the man could paint, should the occasion demand it, or how good he was at hiding images within images. Cool stuff!

And remember, he suffered from imposter syndrome, just like you!

What I’ve been up to

My latest harvest. Not quite two pounds of the best honey I’ve ever tasted

So, yeah, there’s keeping bees. Since I collected that sweet stuff, it’s gotten too hot to even open a hive to look in on my workers. They’re flying out and back again, laden with nectar and pollen, so I’m not worried. In about six weeks I’ll take another look. If I’m right, I’ll get about double that from  two of my three hives. (#3 is new this year, so they get a bye.) That’s one thing.

Another thing has been “supervising” the guys installing our new flooring, which looks mahvelous, by the way. There were two of them, and they worked long hours for four days in a row to level our awful floors and install some waterproof laminate that wood’s own mom wouldn’t know wasn’t wood. That killed last week.

The week before that, well, see my previous post. Not the one from OddGodfrey, you silly, mine.

Today I drove 200 miles to our place outside Ash Fork Arizona to collect rent from tenants living in our old place outside of Ash Fork Arizona, and to check on the damage from a recent awful storm. For the tenants, the score is storm 2, them zip, as it took out their mini fridge and water heater. So, I’m shopping for a new water heater for my tenants, if you have one extra lying about. For our own place, we have some serious erosion problems, and three of my security cameras now have bad power supplies. Swell. And, when I got there, I discovered that I’d left the water on to the swamp cooler, which drained our cistern, so I had no water. Double swell.

And, besides that, I’m in the middle of revising my YA, and drafting my new Middle Grader, which, yes, I have been doing daily since returning from Denver. Phew. No real point this week, just wanted to vent a bit. Thank you for reading it.

My Turn at the RWA National Conference

It Was Requested of Me to Pose Here. I Declined

I reposted Barbara Oneal’s take on the conference in Denver. Please read it. You can just go to the immediate previous post from this page, or click here. Just close the page when you’re done, if you choose that option.  This was not my first RWA conference, and I’ll get to some reasons why I recommend one below. First, though, I also noticed the almost obsessive attention to diversity in the organization. I have to say, it is about time. Lest you think that a man at that conference was unwelcome, I assure you that such was not the case. My career was as respected as anyone’s. I was a peer, and treated as such. I got to talk frankly with more African Americans than perhaps I ever have before, and that was excellent. I wish those who see “others” everywhere could do something similar, because, in the end, there are no “others.” We’re all stuck with each other.

Yeah, at times that sucks, but it’s true. Humans are the worst species on the planet, except all of the others, and that’s a fact. You think that beavers ever have second thoughts about their destructive ways? 

Thanks to millennia of stupid thinking, the sort of activism seen everywhere in America these days is necessary. Too bad that’s true, but it’s true. There are those who take it farther than necessary, for sure. (Wendy, the new take on Peter Pan, seems unnecessary. When I read the book, Wendy already seemed to be a strong female lead, but maybe that’s just me. And, anyway, if it sells, who am I to say it nay?) But maybe taking it beyond the end point is the only way to get to the end point. That point, for me, is simply when I can quit worrying about being diverse and simply write stories about people. I may not live that long, but I do believe that the current political climate is hurrying us toward that day.

Whew! Now, on to the conference.

My wife has been a member of RWA for decades. And for decades she has been telling me how useful RWA conferences are. Finally, at a conference in New York three years ago, I found out that she is correct. Here is a sample page of a few hours of programming in Denver last Friday:

See what I mean? There are practical workshops (my favorites) on topics like how to price your books, how to use Scrivener, Research help, as well as book signings (by the actual authors, of course) and a chance to meet one-on-one with various publishers, editors, agents, and so on. At that luncheon, seating is mostly open, meaning that you may well end up having lunch with a famous author (it’s happened) or an editor (ditto) or an agent you’ve been wanting to meet (also ditto.) This goes on for four days. The price includes two luncheons, the first being on Thursday, when the awards for best as yet unpublished books are given out. Not surprisingly, being nominated for one of those awards (called the Golden Heart) is an excellent way to exit that unpublished status.

Or, of course, you can publish your own darned book, which is what a lot of the workshops aimed at helping one do. As the previous post says, publishing is a lot different these days. Bomb in the traditional market and you’re a pariah. Bomb today, and oh, heck, try another one. Maybe they’ll appreciate the first one after you’ve wowed them with the second. (This also happens.)

I have written one, count it, one Young Adult romance novel. Heck it has everything: romance, violence, threats of violence, a couple of people who we don’t know die, all sorts of good stuff, and, most important of all, the ending is so happy that it’ll bring tears to your eyes. Watch for it, because you will see it for sale. I’ve written all sorts of other stuff. Chapter books, mostly, which never include romance per se, but which do have happy endings, if not the HEA (Happily Ever After) required of the romance genre. Which is to say, you would (I assume you’re a writer) find this conference useful even if romance writing isn’t really your thing. Sure, romance characters may be a tad overdrawn. Huh. Is Hamlet a tad overdrawn? Is MacBeth? Why, yes, yes they are. You can learn a lot about drawing good characters by simply overdrawing a few.

So, next years conference is in New York City. I probably won’t attend, because, frankly, New York in July is uncomfortable, much as I love that city. But you could go. To learn more about RWA, just click here. Trust me, you could do worse! (A tinge of New York Yiddish humor there.)

Then and Now at RWA National Conferences

My take follows. First, though, here is a view of the RWA conference in Denver from one who, if you’ll check her badge in the picture above, has quite a bit of experience with such things.

I’ve just returned from the Romance Writer’s of America conference, which took place in Denver last week. It was, as always, filled with friends and long dinners over exquisite meals and good wine,…

Source: Then and Now at RWA National Conferences