Tuesday, August 2, 2022

The Art of Conversation

It can happen any place in the world. Perhaps in a pub in Ireland, England or Scotland with a pint of Ale. It can be a quiet intimate sharing of ideas or a lively exchange of opinions and attitudes.

It can be in a Paris cafĂ© with a tiny cup of strong black espresso, meant to be sipped for hours on end. But it’s more than just conversation. It is the sharing of ideas and facts and history handed down between generations and friends.

West Africa has its griot or storyteller.  This is the historian for the people. People would gather regularly around the griot and they would pass down the stories, histories and customs of the village communities.

Back in the day, families went out on Sunday afternoon to visit other families for conversation and coffee. Intellectuals, bohemians, and the like had their salon. Children sat around the campfire at night and told stories. I’ve often talked in less than stellar words about the ‘old men at the coffee shop’ who seldom listen and often talk mindlessly.

The military has its bullshit and bravado sessions. Workers have their shop talk and techies talk code. Conversations come in every shape, form, configuration, and stated purpose. It can be two friends sharing, lovers intimate cooing and delightful banter about nothing in particular.

It started for me about two years ago with six friends and associates I simply wanted to talk to. The pandemic was raging and close contact was fast becoming a thing of the past. I still wanted to meet and greet and share ideas so I came up with the idea of a C & C; a coffee and chat session. It was always outdoors and usually first thing in the morning before our regular lives took ahold of our day.

Then it grew last year with eight and now ten folks whom I meet up with to chat about anything and everything. It’s neither formal nor structured.  Some are only once or twice a summer while others are much more frequently. But they all bring something different to the table.

Different folks, different backgrounds, different perspectives. We’ve managed to avoid talking about politics unless our views are in close alignment. Even then I’d rather talk about something fun, enjoyable, stimulating, thought-provoking or satisfying.

My friend Bob, in California, loves to talk about his current writing projects and me about mine. We’ve found that our sharing critiques are really helpful in bringing a fresh perspective to any current project of ours. My friends back home bring a plethora of similar life experiences to our vernacular mix.

Not surprisingly, there’s been a weeding out process over time. Some of those folks have fallen by the wayside, busy with other aspects of their lives. The ones that remain continue to bring new visions, new challenges and new reasons for getting out of bed each morning.

It may have taken me a lifetime to find pleasure and great value in cerebral discourse and exchange but I’ve got it now…and it’s a hoot.

Tuesday, July 26, 2022

One Trick Pony

I know this sounds like a criticism but it really isn’t. Seriously!

Most artists that I’ve met are one-trick ponies. That is, they’re folks with only one special talent, gift or area of expertise.

Wikipedia explains the origin of ‘a one-trick pony’ The idiom one-trick pony is derived from the circus. A circus featuring a pony that has only been trained to perform one trick is not very entertaining. An old joke claims that a certain circus was so bad; the trick that the one-trick pony performed was to play dead.

Most of the writers I know just focus on one aspect of their craft. Novelists write novels. Playwrights write plays. Screenwriters focus on films. The lists can go on and on. Most of them have found their special niche; whether it’s a certain genre, subject matter, or area of interest. That is the norm. That is the average. That is what most of them do. But not me. And it isn’t by design.

Without qualifying, clarifying or apologizing, try as I might, I’m just not able to focus on any one genre, format or area of interest for any extended period of time. Guess you might call it an adult version of attention deficient syndrome.

One of the first pieces of advice I received when entering this new world of writing was to focus on just one genre and stick to it. If I wanted to write westerns, then I was advised to become the best western writer after Louie L'Amour or Zane Gray. Similar advice came from a mystery writer who had found great success in his chosen genre.

Even back then, easily twelve or thirteen years ago, I knew I could never do just that.

When I was first getting started as a writer, in one four year period, I pounded out four novels, four plays and four screenplays. After that, I branched out into blogs, templates for new works, novellas, outlines for future projects, a children’s book and finally a comic strip.

Even though I had written several plays beforehand, I fell in love with the whole creative process of playwriting when I penned ‘Riot at Sage Corner.’ RAAC (the Rosemount Area Arts Council) was kind enough to accept it for their newly formed theatrical troupe called ‘Second Act Players.’ It was a wonderful play that filled the house for all four of its performances. Two more plays, ‘Club Two Ten’ and ‘The Last Sentinel’ followed that initial success. A fourth play ‘Polly’s Amorous Adventure’ debuted in California in 2018. Now another new play will premiere this fall in California.

I have created three versions of ‘Waleed, the Skinny Hippo,’ my first attempt at writing a children’s book. It has been translated from English into Swahili, Hmong and Spanish. Now the challenge will be to get it into the hands of children of all ethnic backgrounds.

Having gone through the gestation stage of creating cartoon characters of my five grandchildren, I have commissioned a sample comic strip of four panels to see how my illustrator (really a comic strip artist) can translate my dialogue and storyline into a visual presentation. If that next step is successful then creating a catalogue of fifty or more storylines awaits me before the next comic strip can proceed.

My first attempt at writing a novella for the new Vella platform on Amazon has been a success. ‘Agnes, Memories of First Love’ has generated a lot of interest. A new novella entitled: ‘Traces Left Behind’ still being hammered out.

The last mountain I want to climb in this writing marathon is a steep one for which I am totally ill-equipped. Nevertheless, songwriting is looming as the next challenge on the horizon. I’ve written the lyrics (terrible at this point) for eight songs I want to incorporate into one of my latest plays ‘PTV.’ But without talented songwriters to help me along this journey I’m still stuck in the starting gate.

Some folks would look at my body of work and see it spread out across multiple genres to which I would answer: ‘Sure it is because it has to be.’ They might say it’s unfocused and I would reply ‘yes, it is, at times.’ We would probably agree that my writing and subject matter is a bit hectic at times and scattered, yet still very prolific.

But with a new play (my fifth so far) to be produced in California this fall (TBA) and ‘Sweetpea’ moving ahead with a sample comic strip, I can’t afford to slow down. In the end, it’s all about choice and I must confess I don’t feel I have any.

This is something I have to do.

Tuesday, July 19, 2022

Sweet Pea has Three Mama Bears

It’s still quite early in the game but some rules and guidelines are already establishing themselves in my quest to create a comic strip. Going into this venture, I knew it would be a many-stepped process. The idea was simple enough; to create a comic strip entitled: ‘Sweetpea and the Gang.’ It would be based on the personalities, antics, quirks, and loveable traits of my five grandchildren at a certain point in their lives.

That would be back when Charlotte was three or four years old, the twins and Brennan about six and Maya older at eight or nine.

The first challenge was to find very close facsimile cartoon versions of the five grandchildren. Then create a storyline of three or four panels in a comic strip format. Next find an acceptable price to pay for 50 such comic strips. Finally, have an illustrator or comic strip artist create fifty or more comic strips in a limited amount of time (estimated 3-4 months).

That was just the first part. If completed, I then had to package the comic strips and coordinate a marketing campaign to expose the comic strips to as many eyeballs as possible. It would certainly take months to accomplish with absolutely no guarantee of any kind of financial return.

Budgeting the project was an important challenge to overcome. Neither illustrators nor comic strip artists come cheap. Their talent is essential and thus needs to be compensated. That being said, I only have so much money in my proposed budget for this speculative venture. If associated costs were more than my proposed budget, the project would stop before it even got started.

So why do it? If you have to ask, you’ve never been a parent or grandparent. Enough said.

The first challenge was to find the right illustrator to create cartoon versions of the five grandchildren. My editor and I went back to our fabulous illustrator of ‘Waleed, the skinny hippo.’  Shamina sent us several versions of ‘Sweetpea.’

Shamina’s versions of ‘Sweetpea’ were good but somehow lacking something. Vida found a comic strip artist by the name of Santijury (from Eastern Europe). His first version of ‘Sweetpea’ came a lot closer to the image of that loveable urchin that we had in mind.

Satisfied that this version (on the left) came pretty close to our imagined cartoon image of Sweetpea, we then asked for his cartoon version of ‘the gang.’

Again, he did a pretty good job of capturing the image I had in mind. After several revisions, I thought we were close to our final cartoon version of ‘Sweetpea and the gang’

It was during this initial phase that Sharon reminded me that I had missed one of the most important steps in the creative process. I would have defended myself and called it less ‘missing’ than ’taking for granted.’ But, once again, Sharon was right.  I hadn’t talked to my daughter and daughter-in-law and asked their permission to proceed with this idea. My assumption of their support was correct but it proved a very valuable lesson for me, the creator of ‘Sweetpea.’

Who better to know their own kids than the parents, especially their moms? Add an ever vigilant and watchful Nana and I realized there was a council of elders I had to respect and defer to. And a good call it was.

These were three Mama Bears I had to satisfy. I would not have it any other way. Fortunately, these are very intelligent, savvy, street-smart women who suffer no fools, especially when it comes to their kids. Add legal skills, interpersonal relationships, and social media skills and the trio was a formidable support system to have.

Both Amy and Melanie were most gracious and supportive of this effort. They gave me their full backing. I assured them that ‘if‘ the project actually took hold and I began the process of creating comic strips they would be the first to know. They would also have input into the comic strips as they were created.

Of course, the final judge, besides me, is the one with deep insight and a realistic perspective of this project. While she doesn’t have the final say, I sure do want her backing. Because if Nana says no, it is a NO GO.

I’m just hoping that fifty years of marriage gives me a competitive edge in any negotiation; slight as it may be.