Smorgasbord Writer in Residence – Back by Popular Request – The Party’s Over – Cabaret : the Evolution of a Musical

Cabaret is great play and a wonderful movie adaptation. Sally, thank you for sharing! 🙂 reblogging this wonderful post on Smorgasbord – Variety is the Spice of Life! by Sally Cronin, Blogger Extraordinary!

Smorgasbord Blog Magazine

Paul Andruss was unable to join in with his usual amazing posts over the End of Summer Party, but he has written an exclusive piece to end the party week with a flourish… Thanks Paul…you are a star…

Most of us are familiar with the musical Cabaret, but Paul goes into the background and the real life characters that morphed into Sally Bowles and the rest of the cast.

Cabaret: the Evolution of a Musical by Paul Andruss

In 1931 Christopher Isherwood moved to Berlin, aged 26. At the time Christopher said he moved to escape the stifling confines of upper middle class England. He did, but later admitted the main attraction was the laissez-faire attitude of Berlin’s working class young men inhabiting the sexual underworld.

These young men were happy be available to comparatively wealthy foreigners, not in a professional capacity, more as ‘young brothers’. They received…

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The Importance of Story Setting by Gordon Chaplin

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“On Saturday afternoon Billy Buck, the ranch-hand, raked together the last of the old year’s haystack and pitched small forkfuls over the wire fence to a few mildly interested cattle. High in the air small clouds like puffs of cannon smoke were driven eastward by the March wind. The wind could be heard whistling  in the brush on the ridge crests, but no breath of it penetrated down into the ranch-cup.” –John Steinbeck, The Leader of the People. (1937)

Gordon Chaplin writes: Now that is powerful writing. So there’s the setting of the story. I’ll never forget it, though its characters and plot have faded in my mind and it’s only through the setting that they can be recalled. The setting never gets in the way. It is the way of the story.

I first read Steinbeck’s Cannery Row in high school, too, and was mesmerized by its mythical setting among the sardine canneries of Monterey. The book was published in 1945. When I found myself in college in the bay area in the seventies, I made a pilgrimage. The setting sets the stage for what comes next and almost determines it.

In the next paragraph we encounter a black cypress tree full of white pigeons so we know we’re somewhere near the California coast. The hills around the ranch-cup are “washed with lean March sunshine. Silver thistles, blue lupines and a few poppies bloomed among the sage bushes.” The poppies are another giveaway. They are the California state flower.

“Jody plodded up the hill toward the ridge top. When he reached the little cleft where the road came through, the afternoon wind struck him and blew up his hair and ruffled his shirt. He looked down on the little hills and ridges below and then out at the huge green Salinas Valley. He could see the white town of Salinas far out on the flat and the flash of its windows under the waning sun.” Not too far away is the Pacific coast, where Jody’s grandfather, who’s coming to visit, lives and looks out, dreaming of his days as a pioneer leading the people west across the country. He can go no further.

*****This guest post on Writer’s Digest is by Gordon Chaplin. Chaplin is the author of the novel Joyride and several works of nonfiction, including Dark Wind: A Survivor’s Tale of Love and Loss and Full Fathom Five: Ocean Warming and a Father’s Legacy. His latest novel, Paraiso, is now available. He lives with his wife and daughter in New York City and Hebron, New York. Visit him at gordonchaplin.com and follow him @Gordon Chaplin.

 

Critical Thinking: The 5 Factors that Earn 5 Star Reviews!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

An excerpt from: Paul Goat Allen | March 12, 2018, Writer’s Digest. Paul Goat Allen has worked as a genre fiction book critic and written thousands of reviews for companies like BarnesandNoble.com, Publishers Weekly, the Chicago Tribune and Kirkus Reviews.

Novelists live and die by reviews yet uncovering what garners a gushing ovation or blistering takedown is often a mystery. A professional critic lays out what it takes to earn five-star book reviews. For two decades I’d been working as a freelance genre fiction book critic for outlets such as BarnesandNoble.com, Publishers Weekly, Kirkus Reviews and the Chicago Tribune. After sharing my credentials with the group, some of the writers began telling stories about mediocre or bad reviews they’d received at different points in their careers from one or more of the companies I’d listed.

As a reviewer, not much has changed since then. I enjoy all genres and have reviewed thousands of titles in hundreds of sub-genres ranging from apocalyptic fiction to zombie erotica. (Yes, there’s such thing as zombie erotica.) In the end, genre categorization matters little to me—it’s all about the story. With that in mind, I decided to formalize a universal framework through which I process and analyze my various reading experiences. While there are undoubtedly specific narrative elements I look for in-particular-genres (pacing and tension level in thrillers, for example), there’s a pyramid of qualities—a Hierarchy of Needs, if you will—that I seek in every story. While highly simplified, it’s this structure that dictates whether I give a book a positive or negative review.

These five criteria will not only provide a glimpse into how a veteran book reviewer dissects and evaluates a novel but, hopefully, make you look at your writing in a different light. See for yourself: Does your work-in-progress have what it takes to earn a positive review?

The Book Reviewer’s Hierarchy of Needs: How to Earn Five-Star Book Reviews

  1. Readability

A book’s degree of readability is the base layer of my reviewer’s pyramid, and the foundation for any good story. The quality of a novel—narrative clarity, narrative fluidity, having a coherent storyline—is directly related to the number of times I put that book down. Some are so bad, so poorly written, that I struggle to get through a single paragraph without wanting to walk away. Others have such a fl uid plot that I find it virtually impossible to stop reading—Tad Williams’ The Witchwood Crown and Jim Butcher’s The Aeronaut’s Windlass being two such examples of utterly readable, page-turning novels.

I’ve read a lot of “unputdownable” books over the last few decades, and the vast majority of these all have something in common beyond a clear and fluid narrative: The stories have noticeably strong chapter beginnings and endings. It’s a small thing, but a great way to compel readers to keep reading. How can you put a book down when every chapter begins and ends with a cliffhanger sequence, bombshell plot twist or powerful statement? When I consistently find these elements in a novel, I know the author fully understands the significance of readability.

Conversely, novels that aren’t as readable—that are poorly written with awkward sentence structure, a confusing storyline, weak chapter beginnings and endings—are almost asking to be tossed aside. This may sound obvious, but if you can’t compel a reader to read your story, then you need to focus more on your craft before penning another book.

  1. Immersion

I define immersion as the ability for me, the reader, to not only lose myself in a novel (I call these “stay-up-all-night-till-your-eyes-bleed” reads) but to experience the story intimately, living vicariously through the characters. This trick is accomplished through a continued focus on setting, rich description and atmospherics. I don’t want to experience the story as a detached viewer looking down at what’s happening—I want to feel like I’m in the story.

The litmus test for this is easy. If I become so engaged with a book that I lose track of time—if I glance at the clock and hours have passed by—you’ve succeeded in drawing me fully into your read. Writers who are absolute immersion masters (think Cherie Priest, Justin Cronin, Charlaine Harris) are so good at captivating description that weeks, months and oftentimes years after reading their novels I can still vividly recall specific scenes.

This layer is where many writers stumble, and here’s why: While they may excel at world-building and meticulous description at the beginning of a novel, once the action and adventure ramps up, they not only lose focus but completely ignore description altogether. I’ve seen this happen countless times in every genre: rich description for the first 100 pages or so, then almost nothing in the final 200. It’s called literary escapism for a reason. If I can’t lose myself in a read—from beginning to end—then I haven’t fully escaped. Writing the Intimate Character: Create Unique, Compelling Characters Through Mastery of Point of View

  1. Character Depth and/or Plot Intricacy

Three-dimensional, interesting and identifiable characters bring emotional connectivity and intensity to the read. If your readers aren’t emotionally invested in your characters, then the narrative impact of your story is inevitably going to be negatively impacted. Emotions wield power. If you can bring your readers to tears, make them laugh out loud or scare them to the point of checking under the bed, then you’ve succeeded on some level.

Creating authentic characters to whom readers can relate is a solid achievement—but an obvious word of warning: Stay clear of clichés and stereotypes. Overused conventions—like the Chosen One in fantasy who is consistently a white male, or the emotionally damaged billionaire entrepreneur in erotic fiction who needs to sexually dominate his love interest—even if brilliantly rendered, will underwhelm and disappoint more than a few readers (and reviewers).

Now, the reason I include an “and/or” between character development and plot intricacy is because, in some rare cases (particularly in mainstream thrillers), a novel with an impressively knotty storyline can still succeed with relatively cardboard characters.

Which is why plot intricacy is key: Why read a novel where you can accurately predict what’s going to happen after a few chapters? (I do that quite often. After reading the first chapter or two, I’ll jot down a prediction in my notes. You’d be surprised how many times I’ve guessed the ending correctly.) I just finished reviewing a brilliant historical mystery for Publishers Weekly that was filled with so many plot twists I was left guessing until the last few pages. It doesn’t matter if you’re writing a fantasy or a thriller or a romance—the plot has to be intricate enough to keep your reader simultaneously engaged and a bit off balance.

  1. Originality and Innovation

This one ties in with embracing originality, be it atypical characters or unconventional story structure. So many books out there today are built upon unoriginal, rehashed, derivative storylines. I read a lot. And I get bored easily, especially when reading the same basic story arc again and again. My advice? Don’t play it safe. Write a story that you’ve never read before. In a 2016 Goodreads interview I conducted with fantasy novelist Michael J. Sullivan, author of Age of Myth, he said,

“It doesn’t matter if it’s been done before. It just matters if it’s being done well now.”

I love that quote. Just because something has been done before doesn’t mean it can’t be re-envisioned or reimagined but be innovative—put a new twist on an old mythos, turn a stereotype on its head. Have the courage to be creative!

  1. Thematic Profundity

In the introduction to the 2006 reissue of Walter M. Miller Jr.’s 1960 Hugo Award–winning classic, A Canticle for Leibowitz, Mary Doria Russell writes, “You’ll be different when you finish it.” That’s my hope for every novel I pick up—that within the story there will be a kind of spiritual and/or existential wisdom, a kind of revelation or insight that will change the way I look at myself and the world around me.

A novel that holds this kind of thematic power—as well as the other elements in the Hierarchy of Needs—will get a starred review from me every time. Stories, no matter the genre, have the power to change lives. Novels like Andreas Eschbach’s The Carpet Makers, Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale and Yevgeny Zamyatin’s We have irrevocably changed who I am. After all, that’s the ultimate goal, right? To write a commercially successful and critically acclaimed novel that is both entertaining and enlightening.

Evaluating a novel is a cumulative process. Those with masterful character development but zero immersion will still receive a poor review, for example, while a thematically profound read with excruciatingly bad readability will receive a terrible review.

May this Hierarchy of Needs not only make you more aware of how your writing is experienced by readers—and jaded book reviewers like myself—but also offer up a few invaluable insights that can be used to improve your craft. Who knows, maybe my next starred review will be yours.

Paul Goat Allen has worked as a genre fiction book critic and written thousands of reviews for companies like BarnesandNoble.com, Publishers Weekly, the Chicago Tribune and Kirkus Reviews.

 

 

Milly – The Epilogue

Milly, the Epilogue – 

A Teacher's Reflections


This card was passed out at the memorial service.

It’s an odd thing to say that a eulogy was inspirational.  Yet for Milly, how could it be anything less?  And, it’s unusual to laugh out loud at the words the minister says about someone who is deceased.  But again, when it comes to Milly…

It happened like this:

Milly’s funeral, a memorial service, was held in an old New England church – 250 years old to be exact – in pouring rain and humidity that felt like I was sitting in the rain.  My husband and I arrived quite early, only to discover everyone else had the same idea.  The church was packed.  Sardines in a sauna.  The minister was a young man who didn’t know Milly well.  He began by telling the congregation of his first meeting with Milly.

“Where’s my quilt?” Milly asked me.  I’ve had plenty of…

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How to Use Your Reviews and Excerpts – by Carolyn Howard-Johnson…

I am writing a non-fiction and this is great information to take into account when I publish my first non-fiction. Thank you Chris for sharing. I am reblogging this.

Chris The Story Reading Ape's Blog

on NonFiction Authors Association

USING YOUR REVIEWS AND EXCERPTS

The beauty of reviews and the praise extracted from them is that you can continue to use them as long as you want and some can be used for more than just the book that is being reviewed.

An example of that is a review or excerpt from a review that praises your writing style as opposed to the specific title.

With that in mind, you are ready to go to work

Continue reading HERE

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places not yet lived ~

Do you think that your dreams are past memories from another life or are you being haunted by someone who needs a mystery resolved? You are not alone about having dreams like this. Thank you for sharing. What a wonderful or scary mystery this is.

tornadoday

homeremembersme2

as the steel regard of morning
pulls my tired soul from dreams –
another life beyond the reach
of lowly expectation
stirs within the mystery
and I close my eyes again
flirting with the patterns
where faded roses bloom –
across some great tomorrow
tis there my longing burns
letters curve unsettled
on the page –
by memories returning
of places not yet lived
light beyond the shadows
of my room

. . .

Author’s Note: Those who know me well are aware of recurrent
dreams – of a house in which I have never lived,
on a road I’ve never traveled. Yet, so familiar is the dream that I know the steps from the porch
to the gate, the slant of the yard into the trees. I know the count
of roses on the faded wallpaper,
and the pause between drips into an old basin.
Once asked, ‘Do you…

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Polarity #midnighthaiku

I grew up in farming country in New England and we would go to our neighbor’s farm and feed the chickens and milk the cows. It was wonderful. Chickens are really interesting to watch how they do seem to dance around each other. I like your short poem. It made me remember my childhood.

Sue Vincent's Daily Echo

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