My oldest daughter begins middle school this year. That’s right. She officially moves into that dreaded territory that I refer to as the “Jan Brady Years.” For those that don’t get the reference, Jan Brady was the middle child in the 70s TV show The Brady Bunch. She wasn’t the pretty and popular one – that was the oldest daughter, Marcia. She wasn’t the cute little one – that was the youngest daughter, Cindy. Jan was the awkward middle child. The one that no one wanted to be.
So, middle school is the “Jan Brady Years.” Very few people look back on their life and say, “Man, middle school was the best time of my life!” I certainly don’t. Which is one of the reasons that I wanted to teach middle schoolers: to help students do the best they can to survive and perhaps (at times) even enjoy these three years of their life.
And when I harkened back recently to those often dark days to come up with some tips for C, I thought about the things that I wish I had known back then. Below is what I came up with. And yes, I am aware that middle school in my day, the 1600s, was vastly different than middle school now – but middle schoolers, in most ways, are still the same. So here are the things I wish I’d known in middle school:
1. No one is actually cool. Yes, some middle schoolers are cool compared to their middle school brethren, but that’s like being the best fish in a pond full of dogs.
2. Keep your friends close. What’s worse than being in middle school? Going through it alone. Find one or two people that you know you can play with, talk to, hang out with, and trust – and don’t let them go. Forgive them when they do something dumb. And if those real friends aren’t considered cool? See number 1.
3. Being clean and not smelling bad is a good thing. Bathe. With soap. Wash your hair. Wear deodorant. (Of note, cologne is not deodorant. Spraying forest scent over odor just creates a scent that’s akin to a forest where everything in the world dies, decomposes, and evacuates all of their waste.)
4. Know that you’re not alone. Every single one of your peers is struggling to get through these years, no matter what you see on the outside. Think of clowns here.
5. If you are lucky enough to have a supportive and loving family (like I was), embrace them. Talk to them. They are your shelter through rough times and your biggest fans in the good times. The instinct here is to shun your family and run to your friends. Fight that urge. Most friends come and go, while family (however you define it) is always there.
6. Be the friend you wish everyone would be. The whole “Do unto others” thing? Pretty spot on.
7. Avoid having braces in middle school if possible. Trust me on this one. It just adds another name for you to be called.
8. Learn to laugh at yourself and don’t be easily offended. You’ll have plenty of opportunities to practice both of these.
9. Stand up for yourself. And others. The only reason that bullies do what they do is because people let them. If everyone stopped standing silently by, there would be no bullies.
10. Don’t isolate yourself. Join groups, don’t hide in the library, talk to new people, make yourself uncomfortable, be a part of stuff. In the end, you’ll be happier that you did.
11. Know that middle school won’t be awful. Sure, there will be bad moments, even really bad ones. But there will also be good moments, even great ones. Yes, I wasn’t a fan of middle school overall, but some of the best times of my youth happened during those years.
12. No matter what, be you. Don’t let the world silence you or take away your joy, hope, passion, empathy, or fun. You define who you are and own it.
When you’re an adult, your middle school years will be but a distant memory. You will recall some things about this time, good and bad, but those memories will not feel as important or as permanent as they will while you’re going through it. And you will get through it. And, who knows, you may actually enjoy it.
If you don't enjoy it, keep this in mind: Even Jan Brady eventually made it out of the “Jan Brady Years.”
I’ve never been a fan of curtain calls. I used to say that that it was because I wanted to “maintain the truth of the world we created onstage,” which sounded sort of cool in my head. But then I realized that I really just didn’t want to go back out there because I thought my smile would be weird.
Another thing that troubled me about curtain calls (besides my potentially weird smile) was that no matter how the performance went, we would always get applause. Sometimes we’d even get a standing ovation, whether or not the performance actually deserved one.
Now I include a talk about curtain calls early on in all my acting classes. I tell my actors that no matter how good or bad the performance is, their audience (usually parents, relatives, or friends) will applaud for them. But then I tell them not to be satisfied with something they’re guaranteed to get. I want them to know that they deserve the curtain call. So after that talk, my job becomes putting them in a position to “deserve the applause” – while at the same time, taking the focus off the applause.
So how do we accomplish this apparent contradiction? By stressing certain key points that I believe are vital for young actors. Or really, for any actors. Here’s a partial list, in no particular order.
A side note: To be able to do this, you must actually know what your character wants. That’s why we do character bios and spend a lot (perhaps too much) time talking about the characters. But in the end, the more you know about the character you’re playing, the easier you’ll find it to immerse yourself in the world of your character instead of your own.
4. Come through. Your fellow actors must be able to trust you, to know that you will do everything you can to come through for them, for yourself, and for the play. That means doing the work before rehearsals, doing the work while at rehearsals, and doing the work after rehearsals. It doesn’t mean never making a mistake. It means setting up yourself and your other actors to have the best chance of success. That’s the only way that you can truly take an audience on a journey through the world and events of your play. What people sometimes don’t realize at first is that the majority of that trust is developed offstage, even (especially) when you’re not at rehearsal. In class, in the hall, wherever you see each other, you are always creating either a community of trust or one of distrust. And only one of those creates success.
5. When you’re onstage, don’t act. It’s one of the worst things you can do. When I first tell my actors this, they often stare at me with confused looks and then one will say “But aren’t we actors?” Then I explain that sure, you’re actors. Off the stage. When you’re doing the work, learning the basic tools that will allow you to interact with the audience during the show. That’s the performance aspect. And if you develop those skills, they should be an afterthought during the show, because you will just automatically do those things – they should become as automatic as locking the door without actually remembering doing it.
But onstage, you are your character and you must respond as such. You listen. You respond. You work for your character’s goals and wants. You forget what’s going to happen, because this is the first time any of this has happened. You can’t plan how you’re going to say something or how you’re going to respond or listen only for your cues, because the moment you do any of that, it becomes a performance and the truth of the moment, the show, evaporates. Maybe not for your audience, but for you and your character.
Those are just a few of the things that my actors and I discuss. Are they difficult to accomplish? Absolutely. But my goal isn’t for them to actually accomplish them. If they do, awesome. But really, it’s all about being aware of them, working to accomplish them, and getting better at them each time. To me, it’s not about the end result. Or even the performance. It’s about the process. And if you focus on the process and work hard, the performance will always take care itself.
And the actors will know that they deserve that curtain call.
Another year has come and gone. I was thinking of writing about the passing of time, the hope each new year brings, and . . . actually, I wasn’t. I knew what post I wanted to write: I wanted to make a simple list that allows itself to be defined by the reader (you!) without imposing my own meaning on each item.
So this post, as you can see by the title, is about 33 things that I hope you will embrace this year. It’s merely my opinion, of course, and in no way should be seen as either factual or instructive. So please interpret and use these however you see fit, and I hope that the coming year is full of whatever you wish it to be. Well, as long as it makes you and the world better.
I love Mickey’s Christmas Carol, and if I reviewed it like I do other Christmas specials, I would only gush about how great it is – so instead, I’ll talk about . . . casting decisions.
In the original opening, Mickey explains that he and his friends performed a version of Dickens’s Christmas Carol. (This intro is often left out on TV now.) It was a much shorter version – some script cuts were necessary (made by Mickey, who also served as director) – but still manages to hit the high points. The question is: Did Mickey get the casting correct? Let’s take a look.
Scrooge McDuck as Ebenezer Scrooge
Obvious choice, with his name being what it is. Did I feel like Scrooge merely plays himself? At times (though his happy skipping near the end and the line “I’m going to make you my partner” feel authentic). The major impact of this casting decisions is that Mickey Mouse is not the lead. Did he do it to put the show first or did he really have no choice (because of the name thing)? I don’t know because he declined my many requests for comment. It did, however, have ramifications for another well-loved mouse. More on that soon . . .
Mickey Mouse as Bob Cratchit
Mickey pretty much plays Mickey in this movie, kind of like a mouse version of Kevin Costner. But I really like his version of the ever cheerful but put-upon Bob Cratchit. It has a level of depth that is not normally associated with Mickey. His tear in the final scene while putting Tiny Tim’s tiny cane on his grave . . . wow. Just wow.
Donald Duck as Fred
Okay, I get it. Donald had to be Fred once his uncle was cast in the role of . . . his uncle. To me, Donald has always been ill-tempered, destined to be that old drunk duck at the bar talking of days gone by when he was a success. Only no one would understand him – and not because he’s drunk, but because he’s hasn’t learned how to speak clearly. How does he have a career? I mean, explain to me how his uncle and Daisy can speak perfect English but Donald’s speech is still duck-like? Is there no voice training at Disney? The only line I can clearly understand is “I will! I will!” They even had to cut Fred’s famous monologue – and no, it wasn’t a time issue. It was a Donald issue.
Goofy as Jacob Marley
I’ve always appreciated Goofy’s work for what it is. He’s limited but likeable. That being said, he was horribly miscast as Marley. There is no way that Scrooge would have worked with someone as inept as Goofy’s version of Marley. Even if he had, Scrooge and Marley would’ve been out of business in days. Who should have been Marley, you ask? Pete, who would have been awesome in that role. But more on Pete later.
(P.S. Why isn’t Goofy called Goofy Dog? I mean, you have Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, Minnie Mouse, Jiminy Cricket and countless others with a last name of their species. Is it perhaps because we don’t want the audience making the connection that Goofy and Pluto are actually the same animal, but one gets to speak and wear pants, while one gets to live in a dog house and be the pet of a giant mouse?
Jiminy Cricket as the Ghost of Christmas Past
Jiminy, who was more popular in Disney’s classic era, was probably hoping that this performance would lead to a career resurgence, a la Betty White’s role in Lake Placid, but alas – it did not happen. But he’s made a nice career of playing the wise cricket nonetheless.
Daisy Duck as Belle
Much like Donald, this was the only role she could be cast in. Unlike Donald, she nailed this role. She plays the early Belle, before Scrooge finds another love, with a sense of childlike innocence and hope, and then manages to bring some anger when Scrooge chooses money over her.
(By the way, can we talk about the lack of roles for women in this production? There are only two females in it, and only one of them has a speaking part. Why didn’t Minnie say something to Mickey about this? Or wait, maybe she did. That would explain what happened to Mrs. Cratchit’s lines.)
Morty Fieldmouse as Tiny Tim
Super cute. The Michelle Tanner of the cast, and it works. He’s my second favorite Tiny Tim. After Robin Frog in A Muppet Christmas Carol, of course.
Pete as the Ghost of Christmas Future
Pete is amazing in this role. Hands down, the best GoCF ever to don those robes, which doesn’t actually say much when you consider that none of the others talk. That being said, he was still the best. However, I do feel that this classically trained actor gets typecast too often in villainous type roles, which means he’s seldom used to the fullest extent of his talent. Yes, he has carved out a nice little niche career as the foil to everyone – but clearly he wants more. And I want more for him. Unfortunately, as long as Mickey’s in charge, he will be stuck in these types of roles. At least he nailed the best line in the story . . . “Why yours, Ebenezer. The richest man in the cemetery!” He, my friend, is destined for the bright lights of Broadway once he breaks free of the shackles of the great mouse. Here’s hoping it happens sooner rather than later.
Minnie Mouse as Mrs. Cratchit
Is Mrs. Cratchit a mute in Dickens’s novel? No, she is not. But in this production, she is. Zero lines. None whatsoever. Minnie’s talents, and the character of Mrs. Cratchit, have never been so underutilized as they are here. She’s nothing more than scenery, much like Mr. Toad, who plays Fezziwig. So Mrs. Cratchit comes off as docilely accepting of her fate instead of that spunky woman who exclaims “Founder of the feast, indeed!” when Bob gives thanks to Scrooge. And Minnie would’ve have nailed that line. Perhaps Mickey and Minnie were having relationship issues at the time. Maybe about Mickey’s lack of casting females.
A Charlie Brown Christmas, based on the much-loved Charles Schultz comic strip Peanuts, comes on TV tonight on CBS. Many people view it as a classic Christmas tale, and I support their right to that opinion. I, though I watch it every year and own a copy (perhaps two), am not really a fan because I find Charlie tiresome, self-absorbed, and way too much into this whole martyr thing. (Note: I don't always feel this way about Charles Xavier Brown. Sometimes, gasp, I identify with him. Not here though.) If the special focused less on Charles (perhaps have him switch places with Marcy and simply call it "Marcy's Christmas,) and more on Snoopy, or on the rehearsals and production of what will clearly be a disappointing retelling of the Nativity, or pretty much anything besides the three-haired wonder, would be fantastic. That being said, I pulled out my DVD copy and decided to re-watch and revisit Charlie and his non-pals to see if perhaps I could discover the magic and the meaning that so many other people found in this tale. So without further ado . . . The 12 Observations of A Charlie Brown Christmas.
Observation 1: As a lead for a Christmas special, Charlie is, at best, questionable.
His first grimace occurs before the show even starts and then pretty much doesn’t leave his face for the rest of the show. And he complains. A lot. About everything. But never asks what he can do for someone else. Good grief, indeed.
Observation 2: What’s my motivation? I have no clue, Charlie Brown.
Is he trying to find the true meaning of Christmas, or he is lashing out about the commercialism of Christmas? It alternates throughout. If his motivation is to make Christmas less commercial, then one would think he already knows what Christmas is all about. But he says he doesn’t. Or does he? I have no idea.
Observation 3: Never mock someone who doesn’t give you a Christmas card.
Early on in this melancholy tale, Charlie walks to his mailbox, opens it, and it’s empty. He then talks about how he doesn’t need a reminder that no one likes him. (Somewhere, his loyal and saintlike friend Linus is crying loudly into his blue blanket.) Anyway, he sees Violet and thanks her for the Christmas card she sent him. She scoffs at him by saying she didn’t send him one, and he mocks her for not understanding sarcasm. I have a question for you, Chuck. How many Christmas cards did you send?
Observation 4: This entire group knows nothing about putting on a play.
It’s clearly a few days before Christmas, which means that the play should have already happened – but since it hasn’t, surely they’re ready to perform. No, they are not. Amateurs. They don’t even have a director, until Lucy, trying to help Charlie (sounds like a friend thing to do), names him director of the Christmas play.
What? How do you not have a director yet? Why haven’t you been rehearsing? Why don’t the actors have their parts or scripts yet? Why does Lucy have unilateral director-designating powers? Who let's a bunch of whatever-grade-they're-kids run loose in a theatre? Why did they cast someone as the “shepherd’s wife?” Where’s Franklin?
Observation 5: Charlie Brown sexist?
As soon he becomes director, Charlie begins demeaning Lucy by calling her “script girl.” So . . . you’re calling the one who has the power to name you director and is currently the only one in town running her own business “script girl?” For shame, Chuckles.
Observation 6: The first rehearsal goes poorly.
Shocking. But Charlie Brown does exactly what any good director in his shoes would do: He goes to buy a Christmas tree. Wait, that’s not what a good director would do. A good director would, I don’t know, come up with a plan and rehearse the actual play.
Observation 7: Charlie really needs to appreciate what he has more.
If the message of this fable is that we need to stop wanting for what we don’t have and appreciate what we do have, then that’s a good message. Charlie has the best friend that anyone could ever ask for (no, not you, Snoopy. You’re kind of the opposite of man’s best friend) in Linus and all he thinks about is the people that don’t like him. I hope he at least sent Linus a Christmas card.
Observation 7: It’s “Christmas tree,” not “Christmas branch.”
You had one job, sir. To get a stinking Christmas tree. A good one. Sure, you were bothered that the other kids wanted an “aluminum tree” – but let’s face facts, you said you would get a tree. A Christmas tree. And you did not. Despite Linus’s warning, you got a Christmas branch. Why? Because clearly you know better than everyone. And then you’re shocked – SHOCKED – when your friends bash your branch tree. Sorry, Charlie, consider that bashing deserved
Observation 9: Did anyone read the script of this play?
After his choice of trees is ridiculed, Charlie laments that he doesn’t know what Christmas is about. So Saint Linus calls for the lights (Who’s running the lights? Woodstock, perhaps? Or is that where Franklin’s hiding?) and begins to recite the story of the nativity. And that allows Chuck to understand Christmas. But wait: Aren’t they doing the nativity play? Shouldn’t he already have read this story in the script that he’s directing? Shouldn’t everyone in the play have been able to tell him?
But at least Charlie gets the message of what Christmas is about. Oh wait, he doesn’t. He makes it about proving that he was right to buy a branch for a tree? Am I missing something? Wait, is this branch a metaphor for baby Jesus? Well, this story is way deeper than I thought. Though now I keep envisioning a branch wrapped in swaddling clothes and laying in a manger, which is weird. Anyway, Chuck takes his branch home and all of the kids follow him. Am I the only one that cares about the need to rehearse? I hope you’re not charging for this “play” because it will be terrible. Terrible, I say!
Observation 10: Branches are not meant to hold ornaments.
Charlie gets home and notices that Snoopy won the decorating contest. Is he happy for his dog? Impressed that a dog can even decorate a dog house? Of course not. He then proceeds to take an ornament off Snoopy’s house and put it on his branch, and the branch topples. Charlie says that he broke it. Well, actually you just bent it, and if you took the ornament off . . . never mind.
Observation 11: His friends are magic.
The friends arrive and see that the “tree” is bent over. Seriously, guys, you can just take the ornament off. Linus wraps his blanket around the branch and says that he always thought it was a good tree. Did you really, Linus? Then the gang steals all of Snoopy’s ornaments (Does no one understand how awesome and improbable it is that a dog decorated a house?) and turns Charlie’s branch into a full-grown Christmas tree. See? Magic.
Observation 12: We finally have a nice moment.
Charlie comes out, sees the tree and is shocked. I am too, Charlie. Then the others wish Charlie a merry Christmas and sing “Hark the Herald Angels Sing.” Finally, a sweet moment. And their rendition of the song is flawless. Clearly, they rehearsed this song. Unlike the play.
Well, those are my 12 observation A Charlie Brown Christmas. And after pondering it more . . . I’m still not much of a fan, though I will continue to watch it every Christmas. Why? No idea. Or perhaps it's simply because that's what you do at Christmas. Besides, you know, like the other stuff.
Today, my oldest daughter started 5th grade. Back when she started 3rd grade, I gave her a list of “Do’s.” I didn’t give her a list last year, and her 4th-grade year was awful. Just awful. (I’m kidding. She had a great year.) But I decided to update my list anyway, to make sure that her 5th grade year is all that it can be.
I hope you’ll find that this list of “do’s” doesn’t just apply to Chloe: It applies to all kids, whatever their age.
My new play, Helga, had its world premiere July 9th in front of a sold-out audience in the Playhouse at the Overture Center in Madison, Wisconsin. It's an uproariously dark comedy that follows Hamlet's storyline with some bizarre twists along the way. Good news . . . everyone still dies. Well, almost everyone.
Below is a short scene that happens near the beginning of the play. Helga's best friend Helena has recently seen the ghost of Helga's dead mother, Queen Helga, along with a servant named Balder. Here, Helena is about to relay the news to Helga, who enters wearing a grief mask.
Helga: How now, Helena? Balder told me - - (Helena turns and sees Helga.)
Helena: Nice mask. Note the sarcasm, of course.
Helga: Noted. It is my mother’s face. With an “X” through it. Because she’s dead.
Helena: I see. It’s a terrible likeness of her.
Helga: It’s a grief mask. Family custom.
Helena: Well, it’s awful. And your customs are odd. Speaking of your dead mother, I have news of her.
Helga: She’s alive?
Helena: No, she’s dead. How would she - -
Balder: We saw her ghost! (Helga turns to Balder.)
Helena: (To Balder.) I was supposed to tell her!
Balder: I thought - -
Helena: You thought incorrectly. Now leave us.
Balder: But - -
Helga: Leave us, Balder.
Balder: Yes, my lady. (Balder exits. Helga turns to Helena.)
Helga: What’s this now? Of my mother?
Helena: I’ve seen her, Helga. Her spirit was standing here mere moments ago.
Helga: Why did she depart?
Helena: I think I scared her.
Helena: I was going to throw a rock through her.
Helga: You were going to throw a rock through my dead mother?
Helena: Well, the ghost of your dead mother, and . . . yes. (Helga crosses away, pondering for the first of many times. She turns back to Helena.)
Helga: Do you think it would have gone through her?
Helena: I guess we’ll never know. She fled like a coward.
Helga: I don’t feel that calling her a “coward” is appropriate. She thought you were going to assault her with a rock.
Helena: It probably would’ve - -
Helga: Why is she here?
Helena: I don’t know. She will speak only to you.
Helga: I shall find her restless spirit then. Perhaps alone, though.
Helena: Because of the rock?
Helga: Yes. But wait for me. I might need your company afterwards.
Helena: How long will you be?
Helga: I don’t know. How long does talking to the ghost of one’s dead mother normally take?
Helena: Don’t have a basis for an estimate.
Helga: Nor I.
Helena: I will wait regardless. But don’t take too long.
Helga: Of course. (Helena starts to exit and then turns back.)
Helena: (Holding out the rock.) Do you want this? (Helga considers it.)
Helga: I don’t think I should. (Reconsiders.) But you know what, on second thought, I’ll take it, you know, just in case it comes up.
Helena: Of course. (Helga takes the rock and Helena exits. Helga watches her go and then turns and sees . . .)
"As I look back on my life, it has been a life full of experiences-some good some not so good, all of which have made me who I am."
Taken from What a Life?, a book about his life that he was working on.
My dad, Claude Stack, died on June 4th.
He had cancer. He made a valiant effort, but in the end, he moved on.
But while he was here, he didn’t let the cancer rule his life. He and my stepmom made the most out of every day, including a trip where he got to see his youngest granddaughter for the first time. Through it all, they never gave up hope. And he didn’t lose to cancer. Cancer didn’t win. Because in the end, we all age and we all die. Of something. My dad lived life until he couldn’t live it anymore, and that’s all you can ask for.
He was a good man. He was funny, creative, and caring. He was in the Navy and got to see the world. He was a wonderful dad, husband, grandfather, and friend. And yes, he was also flawed like all of us.
He and my mom divorced when I was 3. He remarried. My mom remarried. I picked up a great second dad without losing the first, and my dad got a wonderful wife and two awesome kids, who became my brother’s and my new brother and sister.
It was different. But it became the new normal. A good normal. Going over to their house and spending a few hours or the whole day. Going on trips. And at the end of our visits, we always went back home. I remember as a kid watching him drive off, never quite understanding but accepting what it meant.
But this isn’t about that. This is about Claude Stack, a dad I loved, who I knew but not as much I wish I did. A man whose story here has ended. My life with him was full of a lot of memories, ones that comfort and haunt me all the same.
Like how in a crowd, he liked to play the clown. Perhaps he was more comfortable in that role, or he just liked seeing people laugh. Or maybe it was a mixture of both. In any case, he knew how to bring laughter to a room, even if it was a “pull my finger” joke. Which, to be honest, was his go-to more than once.
I'll remember the truck rides when he took me and my brother home. He would tell us stories of when he was a kid and the adventures he and his friends had. Even though some of those stories have faded over time, that image of being a little boy sitting beside him is still strong. Guess I’ll never stop being that little boy.
I’ll always remember the fantastic beach trips we took, filled with so many moments. Moments that I will always look back fondly on, even that time where Dad pulled me aside to give me a talk about the birds and the bees after a certain incident. I remember that when he started, my first response was “Are we seriously having this conversation??”
I’ll remember the schoolboy giddiness that he had for whatever book he’d just read, or a new toy that he had gotten. How excitedly he talked about them. I saw that giddiness in October 2014, when he got to meet his favorite writer, Alex Bledsoe, one of my friends. It was like Dad became 12 again. He had a rough year and it was great to see that, for a moment, his cancer was forgotten.
I'll remember when he thought I hated him because of the divorce. It was the first serious talk I ever remember having. I remember that it was both uncomfortable and wonderful. For the first time in my life, I felt like my dad had pulled back the curtain and let me get to know him. And I never did hate him. Life happens, and to hold a grudge against someone for something they can’t change isn’t fair. It was a turning point in our relationship.
I’ll remember seeing him cry when I handed him his copy of my new script that just come out – the script that’s dedicated to him. That was also one of the last times I saw him. I always knew he loved me, but I really felt it in that moment. And then I was the little boy in the truck again, and I’d made my dad proud.
I'll remember one of the last times I talked to him. We talked about taking a family beach trip this summer, just like old times. Though he and I probably knew on some level that the trip probably wasn’t going to happen, it didn’t take away our enjoyment of talking about what we were going to do. The longer we talked, the more we hoped that maybe – just maybe – it would happen. My stepmom even told me that after we got off the phone, he had started looking for beach houses.
Hope’s a weird thing. Especially when logic tells you otherwise. But sometimes logic is overrated. This was one of those times. He was so happy talking about that beach trip. I was too.
I’ll also remember the last time we talked on the phone. It was several weeks after our last talk, and after the doctor had told him that they were stopping chemo. The medication he was on had made him pretty out of it. He did most of the talking and told me a story that was really hard to follow. It covered many decades, but the through line was about being in a play and wishing I was there. He then talked about a message that I never left. He asked what the message said. I told him it was just to tell him I loved him.
We never talked again.
I’ll remember a lot of other things, too. Too many to mention here because life is full of moments. Some that seem unimportant until someone isn’t around anymore. But when I’m missing him or wishing that we’d had more moments, I’ll remember most of all the joy he had for life and how he shared that joy. He kept so many things to himself, but that joy . . . it was something he shared freely. Though some other memories might fade, that one never will.
Alex Bledsoe, who once hailed from a small town in Tennessee and now resides in a village overrun by trolls in Wisconsin, is a father, husband, friend, and writer. For the purposes of this post, we will focus on the writer aspect of the man called “Prentiss” by those who call him by his middle name.
The creator of the sword jockey Eddie LaCrosse, the mystical Tufa people, a certain witch, and a rather menacing group of vampires, Alex has written 12 books and over 200 short stories. His latest book,Long Black Curl, came out May 26th and continues the much beloved saga of the Tufas. I was fortunate to read an early copy of it. I can honestly say that it’s my favorite Tufa novel, and I’ve liked them all.
Alex was gracious enough to sit down with me recently and answer some questions. Okay, actually I sent him the questions by email and he sent them back to me. Answered. We do have coffee on Tuesdays at Sjolinds Chocolate House, but we’re much too busy discussing our families, bad movies, and Kevin Sorbo to do any interviewing.
So let’s get to it. And after you’re done reading the interview, rush out and pick up a copy of Long Black Curl and read it. It will be the best thing you’ve ever done in your life. Or at least top 5, depending on how awesome your life.
1. You have a new book out, Long Black Curl, which continues to expand the world of the Tufas. When you started exploring this world, did you have a long term goal of where you wanted to go, or are you discovering it as you write?
In the case of these books, there’s not really an overarching story. There are recurring characters, and they change and evolve, but each book is meant to be a self-contained story.
2. In our conversations, you have stressed how you wanted each book to be a standalone story. Why is that important to you?
Because as a reader, I’ve been frustrated too many times by picking up a book that looks interesting, only to discover that it’s book 3 in a series and absolutely indecipherable unless you’ve read the preceding novels. I want to make it easy for readers to get into my books, not harder.
3. As a creator of several different worlds, do you ever see a when where certain characters might come into contact with each other? I only ask because I think it would be awesome to see a certain vampire enter the world of the Tufas . . .
Ha! Well, I wouldn’t say, “never,” but each world seems more powerful to me if it exists on its own. There are plenty of authors who disagree and populate their worlds with all sorts of supernatural beings, but to me, it weakens the power of the story.
4. As a writer and a teacher of writing, what advice would you give to an aspiring writer of any age?
Write every day. Just like an athlete practices every day to be ready for the big game, a writer has to practice every day to be ready for the big idea.
5. You once told me that you don’t believe in writer’s block, which has helped me immensely as a writer because it removed an out for me. Could you talk about writer’s block and your feelings on it?
Well, when writing is your job--and I firmly believe you should approach it as a job--you don’t have time for blocks. Do electricians get electrician’s block? Do mechanics? Sure, some days will be easier than others, but the point is, you go to work every day no matter how you may feel about it. Same thing with writing: you do it every day, even when you don’t feel like it.
6. What surprises can your readers expect from Long Black Curl?
It’s the longest book I’ve written so far, so you get more words.
1. Favorite writer when you were a child: Edgar Rice Burroughs
2. Best line from a story other than yours: “Next time, why don’t you just mail me your guns?” That line is hysterical in context.
3. Favorite line that you have written: “If a rattlesnake bites you, you don’t blame the rattlesnake.”
4. Favorite flavor of Pop-tarts: Blueberry
5. Are you fan of grits? I won’t change the channel if they’re on.
6. If you were any superhero, who would you be? Batman.
7. If you could be any character from your books, who would it be? Jane Argo.
8. Favorite member of the Bee Gees? Maurice.
9. If you lived in the world of cartoons, what type of character would you be and what would your name be? I’d be the guy who finds Michigan J. Frog. Poor bastard never got a name.
10. Of all of your uncles, who has the best name? Nuell.
Now that you're done reading this interview, be sure to pick up a copy of Long Black Curl. It's available everywhere books are sold and in all formats. And if you can pick up a copy at a local bookstore . . . all the better.
You can find out more information about Alex and his books at his website alexbledsoe.com.
Sadie wants nothing more than to chase her dream of opening up a little theatre in the woods where her plays can be performed.
But she can't. Because although her dream is to be the Dread Playwright Sadie, right now she's the Dread Pirate Sadie, the most feared pirate in the land . . . only she's not. She's actually quite a terrible pirate. But no one knows this. And no matter how much she wishes to leave the swashbuckling life behind, she can't. Her sister Anne, the true toughest pirate in the land, refuses to take her rightful place as captain of the ship due to a childhood incident.
The Dread Pirate Sadie is an original swashbuckling fantasy comedy (40-45 mins, 8 F, 1 M, 1 M/F) full of twists, sword fights, treasure, family issues, betrayals, lots and lots of pirate speak, fish, and two awesome ships (well, actually one- dinghies aren't all that awesome if you're a pirate.)
This scene takes place at Pugly's Pub as Sadie has her crew rehearsing a new play she's written, instead of . . . I don't know . . . finding the most valuable treasure in the world that they just happen to have a map for.
More information about the play can be found by clicking on the title above or the picture below the scene. Enjoy!
Dagger: (As a beautiful butterfly in search of a mate.) Oh, if only I could find another butterfly! One to face this dark and cold world with. (Anne enters uncomfortably as a fairy. Dagger sees her and flies over to her.) Dear little fairy, do you know where I might find what I’m looking for?
Anne: (Rather angrily and with a scowl.) To find what you’re looking for - -
Sadie: Stop! You’re helping her, Anne. Not threatening her death. Now, again, but this time less . . . you.
Anne: (Anne smiles awkwardly and delivers her line again, this time less threateningly.) You must find a tree-like shrubbery that is neither a tree nor a shrubbery, for there you will find what you are looking for. (Begins to leave and Sadie mouths “Float away.” Anne floats away. Sal enters as a tree. Sadie points Finnegan to one of Sal’s “branches.” Finnegan does so but begrudgingly. Dagger notices the tree. )
Dagger: There it is! A tree-like shrubbery that is neither a tree nor a shrubbery. Are you the one that has what I desire? (Sal enters and the “play space” and stands like a tree-like shrubbery that is neither a tree nor a shrubbery.)
Sal: (In a tree-like voice.) I am. Look to my branch. (Dagger looks to a branch.) Not that one. (Dagger looks at the other “branch.”) See it. It is a cocoon. A place of rebirth. Soon something of beauty will emerge.
Dagger: From a simple cocoon?
Sal: Yes, yes, indeed. As you emerged from one, so will it. Watch and bear witness. (Dagger watches in anticipation as Finnegan stands there.)
Sadie: It’s your turn, Finnegan. Begin emerging.
Finnegan: This is bloody stupid! I don’t know how to emerge!
Sadie: Just do something. And don’t insult my work! (Finnegan does something that is ridiculous and nothing like emerging.)
Sadie: That was the worst emerging I’ve ever seen. We’ll have to work on that. Go, Dagger.
Dagger: It’s like looking in a mirror. A mirror that doesn’t show the same image, yet something similar. Speak to me, oh new found eternal friend.
Finnegan: (Delivered poorly.) I’ve waited so long inside this . . .
Sadie: Again! This time with feeling. (Finnegan shakes head but does it again. This time it’s even worse.)
Finnegan: (Still awful.) I’ve waited so long inside this - -
Sadie: Blast it! Do it again like you’re not dead inside!
Finnegan: Don’t want to! Why can’t we just drink?
Sadie: You will get a drink when you get this line right. Now, again. (Finnegan looks at Sadie angrily. Anne touches her sword to threaten her. Finnegan looks back at her script.)
Finnegan: I’ve waited . . . so . . . long . ..
Sadie: Stop! You’re terrible. And sound nothing like a butterfly who’s just emerged from a cocoon!
Finnegan: Butterflies emerging from a cocoon don’t sound like nothin’.
Sal: I disagree. I’ve witnessed many caterpillars beginning their second life and they do make a sound. It’s a rustling sound. Very relaxing. (Dagger turns to Sal.)
Dagger: I agree. That sounds always put me to sleep as a baby. That’s why me mother made me sleep in cocoons.
Finnegan: Well, butterflies don’t talk!
Sadie: It’s called theatre, Finnegan. Where anything happens. So this butterfly, you, speaks. You must find, Finnegan, your motivation for speaking. What do you want most of all?
Finnegan: I want a blasted drink.
Sadie: Not you as you. But you as the butterfly.
Finnegan: I don’t know.
Sadie: Give me something! (There is silence and then, finally, Finnegan speaks.)
Finnegan: A shot at a new beginning. Where I am free to spread me wings and experience something me have never known. (Sadie stares at Finnegan, as if thinking deeply, and then a big smile crosses her face.)
Sadie: My god. That’s brilliant! A true breakthrough, Finnegan. I think - -
Anne: Cap’n, now that Finnegan’s had a . . . breakthrough, don’t you think it’s about time we have a drink and be on our way?
Sadie: Avast ye, matey!!! It is. We shall rehearse again on the ship. This time in costume. (Dagger Tooth and Sal celebrate.) I know, Dagger Tooth and Sal, it is quite exciting. But now it be . . . time to find Serranto’s Treasure! (The other pirates cheer.)
Here it is. Steven's blog, where his thoughts about things are revealed. Good luck.