Thursday, November 9, 2017

Journey of a Bookseller: West from the Cradle by Brigid Amos

Journey of a Bookseller: West from the Cradle by Brigid Amos: Gold fever is a disease.  When men hear of a discovery, their imaginations run wild and they will pick up and leave where they are to go m...

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Writing to a Theme

An early rehearsal of "Our Daughter Katie."
From left to right: Actors Christie Emler and Mark Mesarch, Director Trey Martinez, and actor Eleanor Schmeichel.
 Not pictured: Actor Alaina Conner.

For a writer, a prompt or specific theme can feel like a nice springy board from which to launch into a short story, poem, or play. Sometimes, those prompted quick-writes transform over time into novels, poetry collections, and full length plays. If they do nothing more than sit, an incoherent mess, in a dusty of notebook in the writer’s basement, no matter. All writing is worthwhile to a writer in the same way that all exercise is to an athlete, or the practicing of scales is to a musician. It’s what we do in order to do what we do, if that makes sense.

I’ve met a lot of writing prompts in my journey as a writer, in classes, workshops, and the like. Usually, I attack them with gusto head on. I fear no writing prompt, and never met a one that could stump me. Until this past year, that is, when the Lincoln Theatre Alliance chose family as the theme of this year’s theatre season.

It wasn’t that I didn’t like the theme of family. I love family. I have one myself. In fact, every play I’ve ever written, as well as both of my novels, involve family in and integral and indispensable way. I realized that no matter what I write, in some way, I am writing about family. But when Judy Hart, director of Angels Theatre Company, presented the theme of family to us members of Angels Playwriting Collective and requested that we write family-themed plays for the 2017 First Flight Festival, for me, the theme of family turned into the insurmountable wall called FAMILY!

By December of 2016, I was beginning to believe that I would have no play to submit to First Flight 2017. But in early December, my husband and I went down to Mission, Kansas to see a production of my ten minute play “Bernice’s Birthday.” (Those of you who attended First Flight last year may remember the production with Cecilia and John Burkhart, directed by Jan Bretz.) After the show, Bob and I were discussing and dissecting the other plays we had seen. One of the plays involved a man sitting on a park bench when a stranger walks up to him and pretends to be an old teammate from his high school football team. The first man pretends to remember the stranger, and in the end, the stranger poisons him with a cigarette. Analyzing that play got me to thinking. What if you upped the ante there? Instead of a stranger claiming to be an old friend, it’s a stranger claiming to be a family member? What if this stranger appeared, not on a park bench, but in your own house? And what if there were a real and corresponding family member still at home, and you had to choose between them? Now the play takes a turn for the surreal of course, but you can see how the stakes are upped in each case.

So I had my family play at last. I sat down in a cafe with my notebook and wrote it in one sitting. But don’t think with a play that that’s that. That is not that!

A Play is not like fiction. People read fiction, in the comfort of their homes, beaches, cafes etc. It has to be well-written, edited, rewritten, and on and on so that it’s good and they will like it, and not leave nasty reviews on Amazon. A play is different. It’s more like a structure that people climb all over and sometimes jump up and down on, and it has to be strong to hold up under all that abuse. This is where Angels Playwriting Collective and Angels Theatre Company’s First Fight Festival comes in. The process makes plays strong, so that when the director starts to work with actors in rehearsal, and ultimately, those actors walk out onto a stage and perform, the whole structure doesn’t collapse into a pile of debris and dust before the eager eyes of an audience.

This is my third time through this process, and as always, I am coming through it a better playwright. At our first table read of “Our Daughter Katie,” I received invaluable input that helped me to shape the play in such a way that the action and characters would be clear to an audience. After that first read through, I thought a lot about what I heard, and one night when I couldn’t sleep, I got up at 2:00 am and rewrote the play.

I attended three subsequent rehearsals of the play. At the first two, I was fascinated by the way the director, Trey Martinez, encouraged the actors to discover for themselves their own characters’ inner lives and impulses, and to surrender themselves to the unreal and unlikely plot elements. The third rehearsal I attended was the tech rehearsal. At that rehearsal, I felt completely jazzed up to see Trey’s inventive staging and direction. The commitment and playfulness of the actors, their presence in the moment, was a joy to watch. I cannot express enough my gratitude to Trey, and to actors Mark Mesarch, Christie Emler, Alaina Conner and Eleanor Schmeichel. And to my esteemed fellow playwrights of Angels Playwriting Collective, to producer Judy Hart and Angels Theatre Company, you keep me writing plays, and for that, I thank you!


Monday, November 28, 2016

Delbert's Weir

Nebraska Notion is taking a trip to Northwest Washington to join fellow Women Writing the West author Carmen Peone and learn about her young adult novel Delbert's Weir!

Carmen will give away an e-book copy of Delbert's Weir for Kindle to a lucky person who leaves a comment at the end of this blog post. So read on and leave a comment!

Let's find out what Delbert's Weir is about!

In a time when the west was still untamed, sixteen-year-old Delbert Gardner leads two friends into the backcountry for a three day adventure. Little did they know three days of hunting and fishing would turn into eight days of near starvation, injury and illness. When hope of returning home seems out of reach, Delbert recalls watching his Native American friends construct a fishing weir and sets out to build one himself. To him, it is the only way out.
Let's read an excerpt from the book!
He watched the leaves of the quaking aspen ripple in the breeze as if to encourage him. “Get up. Keep going,” is what they seemed to say. His mind flashed images of him watching Pekam. He and some other men walked up a stream and pushed fish toward traps. The same traps he’d made.
Delbert jumped to his feet and sprinted to camp. He shook each tent, even his own in the wake of excitement and yelled, “Get up!”
Jed popped his head out first, a grumpy frown on his face.
Ross attempted to open his blinking eyes.
“Come on. Get dressed. Daylights a burnin’. We’ve got work to do.”
Ross rolled over on his back and groaned. “What’re you babbling about?”
“The traps are empty, but I have a plan.” Delbert shook the tents until the boys crawled out. “Pekam spoke to me. No, God did, through Pekam.”
Jed’s sleepy eyes strained to focus. “What?”
“This better be worth it,” Ross sneered.
“I was sure there would be fish in at least one of them. But listen, when I was young, I saw Pekam and his pals walk up a creek toward different types of fish traps filling ‘em pretty fast. I think we should try it. It’s like herding cattle, but with fish. In water.”
“Now?” Jed complained. “Can’t we at least give the horses a drink first?”
Delbert turned his attention to Jed. “When did you start caring about the horses’ well-being?” Delbert felt hair on the back of his neck spike outward, so he spoke in a calm, slow tone, “Did you hear me?”
“Yes, I heard you. Did you hear me? It’s early. I wanna finish sleepin’.”
“Sure ya do.” Ross walked off.
“Hey, we can water the horses. Then how ‘bout trying to catch some breakfast.  How’d ya like worms for breakfast?  If you’re really fast, maybe you can snatch a grasshopper or two with a flick of your tongue.  I’ll start callin’ ya frog, or does toad suit ya?  Or would ya like to go on a Sunday afternoon stroll?” Delbert felt his patience leave his body as quickly as his last meal disappeared from his fish-oiled fingers.
Ross glared at him.
Delbert held out his hands. “You got a better idea? We’re outta of food. You think it’s gonna magically drop on our plates, cooked and all?” His tone sounded as impatient as a hungry wolf.
“Well, no…” Ross slouched and rubbed his eyes.
“Well, let’s get goin’.” Delbert marched toward the beach. He sat on the cool, damp sand, tore off his boots, and rolled up his pants. He slid the tip of his toe in and shivered.
Jed grunted and followed. He sat beside Delbert and peeled off his socks.
Ross straggled behind. He sat a spell before he yanked off his boots and rolled up his pants, grumbling about the injustice. “Maybe we need to cut off the legs of our britches. I have a feeling we may be in there–a lot.” He tilted his head toward the creek.
Delbert stared at his bare feet. No need to stir those two up any more than they already are. “Okay. Let’s walk downstream a ways, check things out, and meander back up.”
“Yep.” Ross’s eyebrow twitched. “Whatever you say, boss.”
Ross’ll be eatin’ his words soon enough.

Buy the Book!

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About Carmen Peone:

Carmen Peone has lived in Northeast Washington, on the Colville Confederated Indian Reservation since 1988 gleaning knowledge from family and friends.  She had worked with tribal elder, Marguerite Ensminger, for three years learning the Arrow Lakes-Sinyekst- Language and various cultural traditions and legends. She has owned and trained her horses for thirteen years and competed in local Extreme Challenge Competitions for three years.  She lives with her husband and tribal member Joe.  They have four grown sons who are also tribal members and seven grandchildren.  With a degree in psychology, the thought of writing never entered her mind, until she married her husband and they moved to the reservation after college. She came to love the people and their heritage and wanted to create a legacy for her sons.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Thursday, August 4, 2016

The Sound of Summer

(Author's Note: Yes, I have been a negligent blogger, but Nebraska Notion is back! Here is a post that is a year late, but to a Brood IV Cicada, a year is nothing. Enjoy!

Hang on!
They say that smell is the most evocative of the senses. The mere whiff of a scent closely associated with our past can, if only for a moment, speed us back in time and space faster than any invention H.G. Wells could have conceived. For me, sound is also such a time hopping vehicle, often as fast and efficient as smell. An old song comes on the car radio and I am on summer break from college, driving down a different highway in a different state, and the song is new and climbing the charts. The cacophony of children playing during recess at the elementary school on the corner carries me further back in time, to a blacktop far away, full of children who are now on the final lap of their careers, playing with their grandchildren, caring for elderly parents. Some may no longer be alive, a sobering thought. This past June, I took such a sound-powered journey back to the summers of my childhood courtesy of the very loud and rather large insect known as the Cicada.

It all started when I opened the Lincoln Journal Star on May 25th 2015 and read an article entitled “Cicadas emerge after 17-year sleep.” The article said that Brood IV, commonly referred to as the Kansan brood, was about to emerge for the first time since 1998. I moved to Nebraska from California in late summer of 1998, which is why I was completely oblivious to Brood IV. The article explained that some species emerge every seven, thirteen, and seventeen years. They mate and die in about three weeks. The females inject their eggs into tree branches, and the baby Cicadas crawl down into the tree roots where they molt and complete their development. So this brood will hang out underground until 2032. It is amazing what a species will do to survive!

A bridge in Platte River State Park. Yes, this is Nebraska!

We missed the actual emergence, but saw much evidence of it. That was fine with me. I was there for the sound. I grew up on the East Coast in New Jersey and Connecticut. We must have had a lot of yearly emerging cicadas, because that huge chorus of rapid ticking seems to be the base track of the soundtrack of my summers. But I wonder if I had witnessed one of these broods that emerge only once in a while. One of my most vivid memories of growing up in Madison, Connecticut is of walking down Horse Pond Road passing a dense thicket of trees and bushes. Apparently, in order to not go completely insane, I had learned to tune out the cicadas. But suddenly, I became aware of this wall of sound and turned to stare in wonder into a large bush by the side of the road. The sound was overwhelming, deafening, like standing under a jet airplane right before it takes off. How was it that I had tuned out this sound before?

"Hey Mister, is it time to go underground yet?"

So on a warm muggy evening in June, by husband and I set out for Platte River State Park in Louisville, Nebraska for a “cicada hike.” Even with the windows closed and the air conditioner on, I could hear them whenever we passed a clump of trees at the edge of the fields along the road to the park. And when we parked the car and opened the door, I was back in a childhood summer, daydreaming to that cicada symphony.

I don’t know where I’ll be in 2032, so I don’t know if I’ll hear Brood IV again. At the end of our visit, my husband and I decided that once in a while, we’ll pack a picnic dinner and go hiking at Platte River State Park, and when we do, it will be nice to know that Brood IV is there, safe underground.

At the end of our visit to Platte River State Park, enjoying an ice cream cone by the lake.