A Chat With David Selby

 

Selby Collage Framed

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

Once upon a long ago time—half a century, to be precise—my friends and I used to rush home from school to catch an American Gothic soap opera called Dark Shadows. The imaginative brainchild of creator Dan Curtis, the weekday series was unlike anything on daytime television. While it is often quipped that Jessica Fletcher’s Cabot Cove, Maine (Murder, She Wrote) is the murder center of the world, Curtis’ spooky Collinsport, Maine was the gathering place for witches, vampires, werewolves and ghosts—all of whom conspired to keep the innocent Victoria Winters off-balance in her quest to decipher a murky past.

Miss a single episode and you could literally miss a hundred years, so artfully did the storylines incorporate reincarnation, time travel, parallel time and dead relatives who, bless their hearts, just couldn’t stay dead and entombed in the Collins family crypt. From 1966 to 1971, the series developed what subsequently became a cult following that still exists today. Despite the wonky missteps of a feature length film called House of Dark Shadows in 1970, Night of Dark Shadows in 1971, a prime time series reboot in 1991 called Dark Shadows: The Revival and a Tim Burton horror comedy in 2012 called Dark Shadows, it’s the original that still stirs fond memories. Among my own favorite memories was the introduction of a brooding werewolf named Quentin who had a propensity for flying into a rage and hurling brandy snifters into the fireplace or against a wall. David Selby, the actor who made the role of Quentin so swoon-worthy, not only continues to act in film, television and onstage but is also an accomplished author, a distinction that earned him an interview slot on You Read It Here First.

The 6’3” West Virginia native is unabashed in his praise of why Dark Shadows was a much needed respite during the decade it debuted. “We had the Vietnam War going on, the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy, and I think people in general were feeling anxious about the state of the world. The show was fantasy escapism that gave viewers something ‘different,’ fun and totally strange to look forward to every day.”

That it attracted notable stage actors such as Jonathan Frid, Joan Bennett and Nancy Barrett was a treat matched only by the tight-knit sense of family the cast enjoyed working together in a small studio in Manhattan. “We’d rehearse upstairs and then we’d run downstairs to shoot our scenes. We’d also get exhausted running to and from scenes if the sets were at opposite ends of the studio but the action was supposed to be continuous. Just like a live theatre performance, everyone simply kept going even if something went wrong.” To his knowledge, he never brained anyone with all those brandy glasses he threw.

The two of us enjoy a reminiscence about lightweight tombstones that wobbled and fell over if a character brushed against one during an entrance, copious amounts of dry ice that inexplicably wafted in through interior doorways, and actors who forgot their lines. “We used a teleprompter—which I personally hated—and if something went astray with it during one of Jonathan’s speeches, he’d just amble on saying whatever happened to be scrolling on the screen.”

When he was a teen growing up in the rural environment of Morgantown, Selby had no clue what it was he wanted to do when he grew up. He did, however, enjoy a passion for movies and liked to imagine himself playing Errol Flynn or—on some occasions—even pretend he was a musician. “College wasn’t something that was pushed on me by my parents. In fact, I became the first person on either side of my family to graduate from a university. I saw college as an opportunity to escape and to go somewhere else, although I didn’t know at the time where or what I’d be escaping to.” Nor did he have support among his peers who liked to joke, “Selby will be the first one to flunk out.” Instead he went on to earn several degrees—including a doctorate—just to prove them wrong. “It’s funny, though, that no one ever asks actors if they have a degree. The only thing they want to know is if the person can act.”

It was an instructor named Charles Neel who suggested he take a theatre class. “Theatre definitely saved my life because it gave me a chance to do for real all of the things I’d been acting out in my own imagination.” Once the acting bug bit him, he could never imagine himself doing anything else … and he hasn’t. While a lot of actors say that they got their start acting in the high school play, such wasn’t the case for him. “I tried out for a play and there was a scene where I was supposed to kiss the girl. And so I gave her a kiss and everybody laughed and I decided I’d never do it again.” Famous last words.

He didn’t really know anything about Dark Shadows in his early years in New York until a casting person named Marion Dougherty of Marion Dougherty Associates put him in a cab and told him he was going to an audition. The rest, as they say, is history. In the episodes where the werewolf character was first introduced, however, he didn’t have any lines; he was just a tall, brooding presence with distinctive muttonchops. “And I thought, ‘Oh great. Is this going to be some kind of silent movie gig where I never get to say anything? Why did I say yes to this?’”

So were those muttonchops real? “At the start, they’d glue them on every day and then pull them off after the shoot. This got to be tiring and so I decided to just grow my own.” This, however, brought a new set of problems. Specifically, if you want to run out to a grocery store on the weekend, you can’t just put on a pair of glasses like Clark Kent and no one will know who you are. “I was also doing a lot of theatre and playing characters who obviously weren’t wearing Victorian frock coats and having that much facial hair. Accordingly, I had to keep shaving them off. We later just went back to applying fake ones.”

As the show grew in popularity, it wasn’t just high school students like myself rushing home to see it. He relates with a grin that at his wife’s office in New York at the time, the staff would go into a boardroom and close the door to watch it. “And they weren’t the only ones who did that, either. All over New York, there were plenty of closed board room doors around four in the afternoon!” That he was so easily recognized by fans also created potentially dangerous mob scenes for him. “I remember being told that there was an event I couldn’t go to because of the number of uncontrollable—and unpredictable—people who would be there. And so they got me a car and put me in it and I had to drive myself home.” Golly, where are those Clark Kent glasses when you need a quick switch to anonymity?

Ten years after the end of Dark Shadows, Selby found himself playing another conflicted character—the rakishly handsome, charismatic and conniving Richard Channing on Falcon Crest. “What’s interesting about both series is that the families were headed up by extremely strong matriarchs played by Joan Bennett and Jane Wyman.” Were there to be a reality show where the House of Collins and the House of Channing were pitted against each other, he predicts that the last two left standing from the respective sides would easily be Joan and Jane.

While he continues to have a host of exciting new projects in the works—including Stephen King’s Castle Rock for Hulu—live theatre is a first love we share. “There’s nothing more energizing and personally rewarding than knowing that you’re really reaching people, that you’re giving them something they’ll long remember.”

Given his height and his physique, he’s no stranger to playing Abraham Lincoln. In fact, he originally wrote his novel, Lincoln’s Better Angel, as a stage production. In 2008 he played the role of Abe in James Still’s The Heavens Are Hung In Black at no less than Ford’s Theatre in Washington, D.C. He proceeds to share stories about how the historic theatre was boarded up for years following Lincoln’s assassination. Not only was the structure believed to be bad luck and haunted but any future production about Lincoln himself was met with fear, disdain and even threats. Not unlike, it would seem, the superstition among theatre people about saying aloud the name of “the Scottish play.”

He remembers being onstage and looking up at the presidential box where the tragedy occurred. “I think our current times call for another Lincoln to emerge and guide us. He was certainly a forward thinker in guiding the country through its most troubled times, and a lot of what he had to say still holds true in the 21st century.” He further relates the tidbit that the 16th president had a higher voice than one might expect from someone of his stature. This, thus, required a smidge of adjustment on Selby’s part since the latter’s rich baritone voice is such a trademark of his acting persona.

Along with Lincoln’s Better Angel, he is also the author of In and Out of the Shadows, Promises of Love, My Mother’s Autumn and A Better Place—all of which are available on Amazon. A new screenplay is currently in the works.

So how does his approach to acting compare/contract to his approach to the craft of writing? That one of them requires an external director and the other is an internal director-in-his-head doesn’t phase him at all. “Just like when I was growing up and imagining myself in different play-acting roles, I tend to talk to myself a lot and do the voices of all my characters.”

I tell him that it is yet again something we have in common. As an only child, I entertained myself with a plethora of imaginary friends—all of them coincidentally named after the original Mouseketeers. I’d run around the backyard doing all of their voices, a scenario that caused the neighbors on more than one occasion to ask my parents, “How many children did you say you had?” To which they would reply, “Just the one.”

That it is something we still do as adults in our respective writing careers was a refreshing revelation and perhaps even early foreshadowing that we’d grow up to be actors and authors. With a wink and a grin, he closes our interview with the observation, “I’d say it turned out pretty well then.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

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A Conversation with Jamie Dare

Jamie Dare headshot

As one half of the dynamic duo, Hamlett & Dare, Jamie Dare takes no backseat in her co-writing endeavours. An outstanding writer, she dives right into new projects with gusto, and loves exploring new opportunities to write “outside the box”. Funny, quixotic, and down-to-earth, Jamie takes her writing seriously, and isn’t afraid to tell us a bit about her own insecurities, writing processes, and give us a small, behind-the scenes look at what goes into co-writing a book and comedic play that’s currently in the works. Welcome Jamie!

Interviewer: Debbie A. McClure

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Q: What kind of research do you do when preparing for a new book project?

A: Read, read, Google like a maniac, read. I hadn’t read much chick lit before “While You Were Out” so to familiarize myself with the genre, I blazed through the entire Sophie Kinsella canon. I hadn’t planned on doing this, but after the first book, I couldn’t stop. Ms. Kinsella’s books are like rainbow Skittles. Can’t stop at one.

Q: What’s the most unusual thing you had to research online for your book?

A: Two words: stargazy pie. In “While You Were Out,” Henny’s mother isn’t known for her culinary prowess. So you can imagine what happens when she tries her hand at this rather unique dish. Someday I will work up the courage to make it myself.

Q: Do you work from an outline, or allow the plot to unfold as you go along?

A: The latter. I know you’re supposed to outline before writing. So I outline, but I never stick to it. I’m most definitely a pantser.

Q: Describe your writing process in five words or less.

A: Procrastinate, panic, write, rewrite, repeat. Were I allowed a sixth word, I’d probably put “procrastinate” in there twice.

Q: Can you tell us a little about the current project you’re working on?

A: Christina and I just wrapped up “Séance and Sensibility,” a comedic take on the Jane Austen classic. In the play, Elinor and Marianne Dashwood navigate Regency-era England’s stuffy social customs with assistance from a crystal ball. And some otherworldly friends, of course. It’s the most fun I’ve ever had writing a script. It’s also our third Austenesque spoof. “Cliffhanger Abbey” and “Hyde and Prejudice” can be found at Heartland Plays (https://heartlandplays.com/).

Q: Have you ever experienced “writer’s block”? If so, how do you overcome it?

A: I haven’t experienced writer’s block, I AM writer’s block. It should be my middle two names.

I have different methods for un-sticking myself. If I find myself staring at “At Rise” or “Chapter 1” for hours on end, I’ll force myself to write something. Anything. Even if it’s terrible. Even if it’s “All work and no play make Jack a dull boy”. (Although, this technique made me want to put an axe through a door, so I’ve sort of stopped using it). The next day the deficiencies are so glaring, I can’t wait to dive in and rewrite.

If I’m stuck in the middle of a chapter or scene and the words aren’t coming, it means I’m out of gas. So I’ll do something else to give my mind a break. Run, walk, bike, line dance. I always fear the words won’t come back, but they do. Usually when I don’t have a pen handy, but that’s beside the point.

Q: What would you say are your strengths and weaknesses as a writer?

A: Strength would be dialogue. I love writing dialogue, which is odd because in real life I can’t stand talking. I’m also a decent first-drafter.

Weaknesses? Where to begin. I’ve given myself bald spots trying to plot out stories. While we’ve all heard that “Good writing is rewriting,” I sometimes overdo this to the point I’m writing and erasing at the same time.

Q: What was your elevator pitch for the While You Were Out book?

A: It’s one thing for Henny Tinker to think her handsome and charismatic new boss, Geoffrey Bond, is way out of her league. The more she reflects on his secret trips and his uncanny ability to acquire never-before-seen artworks, the more she suspects he’s – quite literally – out of her time-zone.

Could it have something to do with the Scottish railway clock in his office that runs perfectly…in reverse? Is it his penchant for period outfits that supposedly coincide with the themed costume parties he attends? Or has Henny simply been watching too many time-travel movies and now sees evidence of its existence everywhere she looks?

Set against the backdrop of modern-day London, While You Were Out is just the right mix of romantic comedy, mystery, and a dash of wicked competition in the world of high-end art acquisitions. My stellar writing partner is the genius behind this pitch, by the way.

WYWO front cover

Q: What was the most difficult scene for you to write in While You Were Out?

A: Honestly? The restaurant scenes! Geoffrey and Henny dine at the finest establishments in London. I don’t eat out unless I have a coupon, so I have no idea what a five-star restaurant would serve. I burned up the Internet researching words like “vacherin” and “fribourgeois”.  To me, these sound like an ailment and its prescription. Henny notes this in the book as well.

Q: Tell us an interesting, fun fact about your book.

A: I had no idea how it would end — until the very end! Christina and I write by dividing up chapters or scenes; she’ll write a couple, then I will, and so on. For “While You Were Out,” she had the final chapters and kept me in the dark about the big reveal. Like Henny, I was left to develop my own theory about Geoffrey’s comings and goings, and his odd disappearances. The finale was even better than I could have ever imagined.

Q: What have you learned about yourself since you began writing?

A: I’ve learned I can stay awake until 3am on a consistent basis. I wouldn’t say I recommend this as a writing schedule, but that’s the way my mind works. It doesn’t matter if I staple myself to a computer from 9am to 5pm. The words that “stick” to the page are the ones that come in the wee hours of the night. I’ve learned to accept it. Embrace who you are, kids.

Q: What is the most difficult and easiest part of co-writing a book with another writer?

A: The easiest part is having another writer as a sounding board. Instant feedback from someone you trust… it doesn’t get much better than that. It’s also invaluable having a co-writer who is adept at story structure. Christina has plotted out entire novels in her sleep, no joke. You know what I do in my sleep? Sleep!

The only difficult part is trying to keep up with Christina’s prolificity. I’m the type who agonizes over every word, so whenever I send off new pages, it’s a big deal. I’ll go make myself a celebratory sandwich or whatever and by the time I’ve finished eating, Christina has sent me her new pages. I have no idea how she does it.

Q: What’s next for you, Jamie?

A: Lots of fun stuff on the horizon! The response to “While You Were Out” has been so overwhelming, we’re planning another chick-lit novel, “Saving Captain Cupid.” We’ve also broken ground on a romantic suspense novel, “Silent Knight.” Watch this space for more details.

And look for a new play, “Last Flight to Ithaca,” from Brooklyn Publishers in August 2017 (https://www.brookpub.com). Christina and I love adding a contemporary spin to the classics, and this comedy finds Ulysses (yes, the Greek hero) stuck in an airport as he tries desperately to get home for the holidays. Talk about an odyssey. Wow, that’s a lot in the pipeline! Time to go clean the house.

 

For more information about Jamie’s work, please visit https://hamlettanddare.wordpress.com/.

 

 

 

Theater for Children by Children

Maru Garcia - headshot

“The theatre,” wrote Stella Adler, “was created to tell people the truth about life and the social situation.” And what better time to be introduced to that remarkable journey than in childhood when imaginations are probably at their most fertile. No one knows that journey better than this week’s guest, Maru Garcia, whose love of the performing arts is matched only by her desire to pass that passion along to the next generation of actors…and playwrights!

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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Q: A “triple threat” label in the performing arts definitely applies to your talents as an actor, a writer and a director. Let’s start with a look at what originally ignited your passion for the stage. For instance, when did you first know that the theatrical world is where you wanted to be?

A: My mother used to take my sister and me to the theater to see different kind of plays, mainly musicals. We started playing at home, singing all the songs of the musicals which we saw over and over again. At 16 I enrolled myself in an acting course and I was hooked. The decision of studying Drama was difficult as I have hip dysplasia which made it impossible for me to dance or do any physical exercise; however, with the encouragement of my dad, I decided to pursue a career in Theater. Once in college, I decided to focus on Directing.

Q: Were you in plays at school?

A:  I was not, I started acting in plays when I was 16 years old with my teacher from the acting course I was taking at night while attending high school.

Q: What’s the first play you remember seeing and what were your impressions of that experience?

A: It was “Quiero Vivir” by Alberto Del Rio and it was amazing. I still remember the songs which we sang over and over again using a tape.

Q: Was there/is there a dream role you’d love to play?

A: All roles are amazing for me. I love acting in comedies but I would love to be tested as a dramatic actress. I would love to play the role of Lucy in Sartre’s play “Mors Sans Sepulture”, although I am too old for it. A very deep character with many changes and growth within itself.

Q: Do you have a favorite play and/or favorite playwright?

A: Not really, I love all genres.

Q: So how did you first break in?

A: It was as a shepherdess in a Pastorela. It was so much fun! Although I was exhausted at school for two months straight. I remember going directly to rehearsal after school and then coming home around 10 pm to do homework.

Q: How does your approach to acting (and focusing on the role you’re playing) compare/contrast to being a director (and having to draw forth the best performance from each of your actors)?

A: As I have been a director before, as an actor I am able to concentrate on what works on stage including blocking and being aware of where are my fellow actors both emotionally and physically. On the same token, the experience as an actor helps me understand what my cast members are going through when I direct. As a director I am able to tell if the actors need support considering that each one of them undergoes a different process.

Q: Best cure for stage fright?

A; Breathing…most of the time.

Q: Which would you rather direct – a comedy or a drama?

A: Oh my goodness! Both of them have their appeal. I don’t mind the genre as long as the message is powerful and makes the audience think.

Q: You’ve directed a number of productions in your native language, Spanish. Were these originally written in Spanish or translated from English and what, if any, challenges were present (especially in comedy) in capturing cultural nuances and themes that would resonate with your audiences?

A:  I have directed both types of plays, some of them were in Spanish originally and some of them were translated. Usually the translators are good at capturing the nuances that would relate to the Spanish speaking audience. When directing, it is also important to consider the gestures and movements related to the culture.

Q: Whenever the economy gets wobbly, the first programs that tend to get axed in public schools are always the performing arts. Why is this a dangerous practice and what effect do you see it potentially having on our students?

A: That is an unfortunate reality. The school system is more concentrated in academics without understanding how the arts expand the view of the world. A child that struggles academically could be highly successful in an artistic program which in turn would help that child academically.

Q: What can today’s educators do to counter the negative effects of theater classes being reduced – or even eliminated – to trim expenses?

A:  They can read books that elicit the imagination of the child. Use dynamic approaches to education with a lot of role playing, including puppets.

Q: Every decade or so, pundits will proclaims that “theater is dead.” What’s your response to that?

A: Theater will never be dead. As an artistic experience is very appealing to all audiences, there is nothing that beats the interaction between the live actors and the audience.

Q: This leads us to the exciting reason you’re doing an interview with us – to talk about your newly released book of plays (Theater for Children by Children) that was penned by children ranging in age from kindergarten to fifth grade. How did this fun idea come about?

A: I have always believed children can create wonderful plays. They already have the component of imagination; they just have to be encouraged to sew the story together. That is where the adult comes in. The adult guides the children in creating a story that makes sense. Everything else is their creation: the characters, the basic plot line, the dialogues, even the costumes and the set can be created by them.

Q: Tell us about the process of getting the kids involved in the creation of plots, the development of characters and dialogue, and all the nuts and bolts of just putting a script together that could be performed.

A:  The process starts with improvisations. Depending on the age of the children, improvisation can be very simple or very complex. It’s all a game for them. After the improvisations are done, the teacher (the adult) can determine what the children are interested in. The next part is to work on the dialogue. This can easily be done by the children themselves if they are old enough to write or by the teacher asking questions and writing their answers. After that, the children choose a character.  The adult puts together all the pieces, making sure there is a beginning, middle (conflict) and end. The older the children are, the more complex the plot and the characters are.

Q: Any unanticipated hiccups?

A:  Yes, at the time of the performance, the voices of the children were not loud enough which caused the audience to miss some parts. We also had a number of absent children in some performances.

Q: Any glimmers of future actors, playwrights and directors in the book’s talent pool?

A: Yes, there were many kids that were extremely talented. I hope they can really reach their full artistic potential one day.

Q: Did the children get to perform the plays?

A:  Yes, all the plays were performed. It was amazing to see them on stage.

Q: What was the result?

A:  The productions were very simple but the students felt a huge sense of accomplishment.

Q: Can children of any age go through this process?

A:  Children starting at 5 years old can start the process. I have worked with children 3 to 5 years old but not all of them have the attention span that is needed.

Q: Where can teachers and parents purchase Theater for Children by Children?

A:  It is sold through Amazon.

Q: What’s next on your plate?

A: Regarding writing?  I am writing a book regarding my experiences in dating from the moment I got divorced to the moment I started dating my fiancé. Regarding theater? I continue to audition for different companies. I would also like to find a producer for my “Mediumship show”, hopefully to be shown on T.V.

Q: Anything else you’d like our readers to know?

A:  This was an amazing experience. These children worked really hard in this project, it showed me what children are capable of. I hope I can repeat the experience with different groups of children all over the world.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Final Round: The Journey of a Lifetime

 

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Dave’s facing death. Sol’s truck runs into a tree. Two very different males are thrust together in the same ward with life-changing consequences for both. Such is the premise of Australian debut novelist Ross Barrett’s new book, “Final Round, The Journey of a Lifetime.”

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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Q: There’s no question that your career path has taken a fascinating route – from scientist to playwright to published novelist. Let’s time-travel back, though, to the early years of Ross Barrett. When you were a lad of 10, what did you envision doing as your life’s work in the future?

A: When I was 10, I think I had an aspiration to be an electrician. After that, I thought about being a Bank Manager, and later a teacher. I was always interested in science, but had no idea you could make a career out of it. I was very naïve with regard to the professions, and my family was quite poor, so the initial plan was that I would leave school after completing my Intermediate Certificate at age 15. Two of my teachers came to visit my parents at home and explained to them that it would be a waste of talent if I didn’t stay on and go to university. It was financially very difficult for my parents but they managed to support me for the extra two years of school. Once at university, I had scholarships and bursaries and was self-supporting. I am very grateful to my two teachers, and to my loving and very proud parents.

Q: Were you an avid reader back then or only putting your nose in a book if homework required it?

A: I was a keen reader, but not fanatical. Books were not part of our family life. I borrowed books from the municipal library, which were a mixture of fiction and popular science. My childhood tastes in fiction were Enid Blyton’s Famous Five books, Tarzan and Biggles. All of these are now regarded as politically incorrect. In my early teens I discovered Sherlock Holmes, and was attracted by the logical, i.e. scientific, methodology Holmes applied to the solution of his crimes. I read all of the SH stories many times. Later I based one of my plays on the relationship between SH and his creator, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

Q: What drew you to the field of science and, specifically, what type of science was your calling?

A: One of my early teachers, when I was about ten, gave me a book detailing simple experiments that could be performed at home. I loved working through them, and trying to explain unexpected results. For instance, spin a boiled egg on a smooth flat surface, and you will see it quite suddenly rear up and continue to spin on its point. Why?

I began to read books on science, and had an array of useful equipment that I had gathered together: electric batteries, buzzers, bells, transformers and globes. I was a bit of a pain in the neck, developing booby traps that woke up the household when my sister came home late at night from a date.

At university I studied physics, chemistry, zoology and mathematics. Although I was the top student in Chemistry, I dropped it and majored in physics because I liked the more fundamental questions that physics posed into the nature of the universe.

My research interests have been experimental and theoretical nuclear physics, signal processing, underwater acoustics and sonar.

Q: Do you believe that science is an art or that art is a science? How so?

A: I wasn’t quite sure what this question was getting at, so I Googled it. Most of the hits seemed to imply that art is subjective, and science is objective. I think this is very simplistic. We might like to believe that the results of science are independent of the scientist who carried out the research, but that is often not the case. Scientists are just as prone to ego trips, jealousy of their peers, susceptibility to financial inducements, and other human frailties, as anyone else. These can influence their interpretation of their results, so that they too become subjective.

Q: Like a lot of my peers in high school, science was a class that you either loved (because of the chance to make smelly things blow up) or loathed (because of all of the formulas and tables of elements that had to be memorized). You recently co-authored a book called Physics: The Ultimate Adventure. The title alone suggests a glamorous side to a subject that many of us would otherwise run away from. What inspired this approach and who was the target readership you and your fellow authors had in mind?

A: One of the attractions of science at school was to get hands-on and carry out smelly experiments ourselves. In those days, the school science lab was often full of the highly toxic hydrogen sulphide (rotten egg gas), and the benches awash with Mercury. These days the students are kept at arm’s length from such experiments, to avoid law suits from their parents. Little wonder that science numbers are down.

One of the reasons I dropped chemistry is because I found organic chemistry full of the rote learning of formulas. For me, this was not the case with physics. If you understand the basic principles, the formulas can usually be derived, at least at the level taught in high school.

When we decided to write Physics: the Ultimate Adventure we wanted to present physics in a way that would enable non-specialists to enjoy the mystery and wonders of modern physics, without being submerged in mathematics. We hoped it might encourage students starting out on their careers to consider physics as an option, and those who had already gone down another road to gain a better understanding of the world they live in.

We believe that physics, far from being dry, can be, and should be made, beautiful, inspiring and enjoyable.

Q: In 1987, you began writing scripts for live theatre, a decision that subsequently led to not only seven of them being professionally produced in Adelaide but one of them selected as the best new South Australian play of the year in 1994. Tell us about your approach to the playwriting craft. For instance, is there a formulaic/outline structure that draws from your left-brain expertise as a scientist or do you allow your right-brain creativity to invite the muses in and see what they do?

A: I do not have any formulaic structure that I work from. I tend to have a broad outline of character, plot or theme that is the starting point. I start writing fairly early in the creative process, and it is this act of putting the material on the page that generates further ideas on where to go next. For me, the analytical, or left brain activity comes at the rewriting stage. Characters are then torn apart and extra traits introduced to give them more depth, the dramatic structure is analysed to locate the climaxes and make sure they are in the right place, and the dramatic conflict in every scene is studied to find the characters’ objectives and what is preventing their fulfilment. When all the problems of the script have been identified, I then return to the starting point, and let the muses prepare a second version. This cycle continues until a convergence occurs, and I have what I call my First Draft.

It is a time-consuming process, and probably not practical for a long work, such as War and Peace. However, if I try to plot everything out first, I find myself staring for ages at the blank page.

Q; Do you allow anyone to read your works in progress or does everyone have to wait until you have typed the final page?

A: After I have reached the First Draft stage described in the last question, I let others read it and offer critical comments. To let them read it before this stage would be to waste both their time and mine, because the script has not yet solidified enough. It is very beneficial to get a play script read aloud by good actors. They have much to contribute on characterisation and dialogue.

Q: What did it feel like the first time you heard applause for one of your productions?

A: It was very exciting. Even though not comedies, most of my plays have plenty of humour, and it is always rewarding to hear laughter come at the correct places.

It was a great surprise to me to see the different reactions of different audiences for the same play. This is the charm of live theatre. The audience is a part of the production, and the actors feed off their reactions, as much as the audience responds to the actors. Some audiences can be quite cold, while others respond very warmly to the same show. Psychologists could make a living studying the group dynamics of audiences. One of the best audiences I ever had was when the play went on after a cocktail party, and the audience was half sloshed.

I will always remember a comment I overheard at interval during my first play. I was walking past two young members of the audience who were outside the theatre with a drink. They did not know I was the writer, and as I went past I heard one ask the other: “what do you think of the show?” My ears pricked up because I was interested to discover whether someone thirty years younger than I was would get anything out of the play. His reply was one of my most satisfying moments. “That’s my life being enacted on the stage in there,” he said.

Q: Your first novel, Final Round, was originally conceived as a stage play. What was the inspiration behind the storyline?

A: This play began several years ago when I spent a week in hospital with a Deep Vein Thrombosis. “Look on the bright side,” everybody said to me. “It’ll give you material for a new play.”

When the character in the next bed learned of my condition, he comforted my wife with: “That’s what I’ve got, only worse. They may have to take my leg off.” Another member of the ward had a carotid artery that was 50% blocked. He was given aspirin, sent home and told to come back when it was 75% blocked. The fourth patient, who kept everybody awake at night with a hacking cough that we all thought was chronic bronchitis, was found to have inhaled a pea, which was now lodged deep in his lung.

A hospital ward is a place where people, who would normally power-walk the Nullabor Plain to avoid each other, are thrown together. Scars are opened, muscles flexed, secrets unlocked; all this in an environment where tragedy and death are often not far away. I realised I had the perfect setting for a play to explore the growth of a bond between two very different males who nevertheless shared a dark secret.

Q: What triggered your desire to adapt it to a different medium?

A: In a play, you are bounded in what you can present by the available time (in this case, 60 minutes) and by the limits of the stage. I wanted to explore the motivations and internal thoughts of the characters in more depth than was possible in a Fringe stage play.

Q: What did the adaptation to a novel allow you to do that might have been challenging/problematic in a live performance?

A: I structured the novel so that each chapter was written from a different point of view, cycling through the POVs of the three main characters. In this way the thoughts of the three characters about their life situations, and the others sharing them, are clearer.

The stage play takes place entirely in a hospital ward. Although this is still largely true with the novel, in the latter case there was more freedom in exploring the characters’ back-stories and other events outside the hospital environment.

Q: What would you advise other playwrights who may be thinking of adapting their stories to a different platform?

A: Go for it. If you have a successful play then you already have well-developed characters, realistic dialogue and a plot line with climaxes in the appropriate places. A novel enables you to go into greater depth with the characters, and explore issues that may only have been hinted at in the play. You have the freedom to develop sub-plots and take the action to exotic or surreal locations.

Bear in mind, however, that you must develop language skills that enable you to write clear, grammatical English. A play consists of dialogue and stage directions. The latter are read by nobody, least of all the director. A novel must carry the reader along with the artistry of the writer’s prose. This is a different skill from those possessed by a playwright.

Q: In writing for both the stage and the page, are there recurring or underlying themes that readers should pay attention to?

A: My writing has dealt with historical subjects (Billy Hughes and How We Beat the Favourite), science themes (Footsteps, Love in the Chook House, Double Blind) and more general explorations of the human condition (Suns of Home, Final Round, Rainbows Singing). My writing is about the themes that interest me.

In both my career as a scientist and in my writing, I have ranged over a fairly wide area. Probably more success comes to those who restrict themselves, e.g. the specialist who knows more than anybody in the world about the third digit on the African elephant’s left front foot, or the writer churning out the fifteenth book in a crime series. However, that is not what I enjoy doing.

Q: Authors oftentimes inject aspects of their own personalities into their characters. Would you say this is true of your own work?

A: Partially. I would say that there are parts of me in most of my characters.

If you are writing about a murderer, that doesn’t mean you have to be one. However, you need to be able to construct a believable murderer if your play or novel is to be successful. This might entail imagining what you would be capable of if some of your moral inhibitions were switched off. Character actors face the same situation when playing villains. Some decline to play child abusers because they are unhappy with the dark places in their minds that their research for the role takes them to.

I would say my characters are based on research, combined with exploring and exaggerating the parts of my own personality that are relevant to the character.

Q: Which comes first for you – the characters or the plot? Why does your chosen method best suit your writing style?

A: This depends on the play or novel. My plays, Billy Hughes and How We Beat the Favourite are the stories of two real characters, a former Australian Prime Minister and a poet/horseman. In these cases, the characters obviously came first. My play Sherlock Holmes and ‘The Coming of the Fairies’ asked the question: how could such an irrational person as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who believed in spiritualism and fairies at the bottom of the garden, have created the most coolly rational character in fiction? The characters were already there, and I had to develop the plot. In the novel I am working on now, Double Blind, the plot came before the characters, as it was based on a fiction analogue of a real situation.

Q: When and where do you get your best writing done?

A: I write in my study at home in Adelaide, or at a beach house we have in Marion Bay on the Yorke Peninsula of South Australia. When I was working as a scientist, I wrote in the evenings after dinner. Now that I am retired, I write in the morning.

I try to write as a habit, and to produce a minimum number of words each day. This is not realistic when writing about science, as there is quite a bit of reference checking and research to be done with each paragraph.

Q: Do you self-edit as you go along or wait until the end?

A: Before beginning my day’s writing, I tend to read several of the last pages that I wrote at the previous sitting. I polish the prose while doing this. I treat it as a warm-up, in the same way that actors warm up before a performance. It enables me to get into the state of mind that I was in when I left off last time.

One thing that I do not do is listen to the critic on my shoulder who is whispering into my ear that what I have just written is rubbish. I know from past experience that although it may be rubbish at the moment, by the time it has been subjected to endless rewrites, it will at least be of an acceptable standard.

Q: What governed the decision to self-publish Final Round?

A: I was one of a group of writers who had submitted their novels to a small U.K. publisher, had their books accepted, and been offered quite generous contracts. However, the publisher became sick and when he recovered from an illness lasting over a year, he had lost interest in the fiction side of his company.

Rather than go through the whole hassle again, we all decided to self-publish, and provide each other with any tips that we picked up along the way.

My experience with Physics: the Ultimate Adventure was quite different. In this case, we submitted two sample chapters and a summary of the other chapters sequentially to three publishers. We received replies within a few weeks. In two cases, they said they liked the proposal but it was not the type of book they published, and they did not believe their readership would be interested. They were basically text book publishers. The third was more dismissive, but also replied quickly.

The fourth publisher we submitted the proposal to was Springer. I received their email reply 48 hours after the editor returned to her office from a week-long holiday break. The mail started off in a very positive vein. I skip read down the screen, looking for the paragraph beginning with “however”. There wasn’t one. They were going to publish it.

Q: What have you learned from the self-publishing experience that you’d like to share with fellow writers?

A: Self-publishing is a doddle and costs nothing. The resultant Print-on-Demand paperbacks and ebooks are of good trade quality. However, the marketing of the books takes time and effort. This is something that I, and the other group of writers I mentioned above, are working at.

Q: What would readers be the most surprised to learn about you?

A: Possibly that I have played seven 1st grade rugby matches, and have had my photo published in the local newspaper more often as a rugby player than as a scientist or writer. Admittedly, this was half a century ago.

Q: Coffee or tea?

A: Both. I like a cappuccino in the morning, but prefer tea as a thirst quencher during the day. These days, however, I have to cut down on caffeine.

Q: Cake or cookies?

A: Cookies (we call them biscuits). However, they do tend to put on the weight.

Q: Early riser or night owl?

A: Certainly not an early riser.

Q: If Hollywood came calling to make a movie out of Final Round, who would be in your dream cast?

A: Geoffrey Rush for the older character. Rush was a member of the Adelaide State Theatre Company when we moved to Adelaide years ago. This was before he won his Oscar, his Emmy and his Tony. I saw him in many stage plays at the time, and thought he was brilliant. I saw him again last year playing King Lear in Sydney. Same verdict.

For the younger man, I would suggest Russell Crowe, but he would have to take off a few years.

Q: What are you working on now?

A: Double Blind, which is my second novel, also based on a play script.

It is set in a science research institute. Linh, a Research Fellow at the Verdelho Institute in Melbourne, becomes worried that her supervisor has more than just objective scientific reasons in wishing to see a pharmaceutical discredited. She finds herself unwittingly caught up in a major scandal, and the steps she takes to extricate herself have consequences for her career, and for everybody else at the Verdelho Institute.

As you can imagine, my academic background came in useful here.

Q: Where do you hope to go with your writing from here?

A: My two Italian co-authors and I are planning a second book, exploring the limits of physics. Our first book raised a number of questions, and issues, that deserve further discussion. For instance, the two major 20th century theories in physics, Relativity and Quantum Mechanics, are mutually contradictory. They can’t both be right. Also, there are about two hundred arbitrary fundamental constants in physics, and if the value of one of these were changed by a few percent, our universe would be so different, life as we know it would not be possible. We thought we could write something interesting on these, and similar, topics.

Q: With hindsight, what have been the most rewarding aspects of your professional life?

A: For a scientist it is exciting to be able to look at your work and say “I have just learned something that nobody else on the planet knows.” This is the ultimate adventure. It is exciting to look at Google Scholar and see that scientific work I published in 1990 is still being cited today, and used in fields, e.g. traffic control and the analysis of music, far-removed from where I ever imagined it being applied.

However, another reward is the variety of people I have met, and the places I have visited. To live in a non-English speaking country (Germany) for two and a half years, learn German, and appreciate the different perspective that an experience like that brings to one’s outlook, is broadening.

At my recent birthday party, among the guests were physicists, engineers, business managers, company executives, writers, actors, directors, musicians, teachers, and university professors. They were the friends I have made in the various phases my career has passed through. They are all very different people. I hope none of them recognises themselves on the stage, or in one of my novels.

Q: Where can readers learn more about you and your work?

A: I have a web site at www.rfbarrett.com

Readers can read more about my work there, and contact me through there if they wish. I will be glad to answer any of their questions.

Q: Anything else you’d like to add?

A: I think that about covers it.

A Chat with Ann Royal (aka Anna) Nicholas

Ann Royal

In the world of show business, a person who can sing, dance and act is often referred to as a “triple threat”. But what do you get when you mix equal parts of writing, acting, horseback riding, mediating, book publishing, cocktail blogging and an unabashed stash of wicked wit, creativity and compassion? The delightful result is Ann Royal (aka Anna) Nicholas – a woman with so many talents to her credit that I don’t know if even a “centuple threat” label would quite cover everything. Nevertheless, it’s an honorary title we’re happy to bestow on this week’s spotlight guest.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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Q: At what age did you first realize you were a wildly creative being?

A:  At about the age of ten. Something compelled me to create a pair of large crewelwork lips on the derriere of my jeans. I took some heat for it, but I wore those jeans until the lips fell off.

Q: Who (or what) encouraged you to explore every possible avenue of expression?

A: I did a lot wild things in my youth—jumping off the 2nd story of our house so I could ride my bike to the nearest bar that would accept fake I.D.s and that sort of thing. I wonder now how many of those early escapades, including the artistic pursuits—e.g., the “plays” I used to direct in which my younger brothers and sister would star—naked—were spawned by a need for approval and attention from my parents who divorced when I was young. None of us got a lot of attention but I did some rather antic things to try and earn it.

Q: Writing is one of many venues in which you excel. Do you believe that great writers are born or that they must be nurtured to become great?

A: I think anyone, ANYone, can become a better writer through practice, reading and self-discipline; tedious and unremarkable a claim as that is. There’s certainly no pill for it. I also think there are few writers whom all of us believe are truly great. That said, I think most of our “greatest” artists—whether they be singers, dancers, composers, actors, writers—seem to just have something extra.

Q: If you were hosting a posh dinner party to which some of the authors whose work you most admire were invited, who would be on that guest list and which two would you like on either side of you?

A: I’d want an animated conversation so even if I admired an author’s work, I would want to know they’d contribute to a lively evening. On that basis, and without benefit of knowing their verbal skills, I’d prepare a round table for five and invite Kurt Vonnegut because he was so funny and smart and political. I’d seat Jane Austen next to him, because they’d have fun comparing notes on social commentary in fiction. Joan Didion would need to be there because she writes to find out how she feels about things (a reason I write) and I could ask her what she’s discovered. I’d also want JK Rowling next to me because she has done the most amazing job of creating a literary empire and the rest of us could benefit from hearing how she did it. But I don’t know whom I’d choose to sit next to. In fact I think I’d need to switch seats with every course served.

Q: You’ve published the first two books in The Muffia series, a series which you describe as Sex and the City Meets Jane Austen. How did this premise come about and who is your intended audience for it?

A: I am a member of The Muffia—not the group calling itself The Muffia, which represents militant mothers in the UK, women who attack other mothers for poor parenting skills in grocery stores. Nor am I part of the group of lesbian sex workers who absconded with the name. My Muffia is a real-life, Los Angeles-based women’s book club that’s been in existence since 2001. We came together after 9/11, when a lot of us needed our friends. All of us work or have worked, some are mothers, and all of us love to read, have adventures and tell stories.  When one Muff had a torrid affair with a Mossad agent, I could no longer keep myself from writing us down in a book. My readers would feel perfectly at home in my book club, and their husbands, who are curious about what goes on at “book club,” might find The Muffia illuminating.

Q: Which is more challenging for you – to write a stand-alone title in which all (or most) questions are tidily wrapped up or to write a series with sustaining characters that are constantly posing new questions?

A: As a viewer/reader, I don’t like things tied up perfectly because life is never tied up perfectly; unless you’ve successfully gotten through all the steps necessary for a dental implant. But I think in a series, each book has to achieve some sort of finality, otherwise when does it end? I don’t know that either one is more difficult. The genre and story dictate.

Q; Plotter or pantser? And why does your choice best accommodate the way you approach a new project?

A: A little of each. I have a general idea for a story and I put together a rough outline. With each of the Muffia books, there’s a light mystery involved and mysteries need some plotting. If you have a dead body on the first page, and the body belongs to someone important to one of the characters in your book, your reader needs to find out who that person was, how he died and how your living characters deal with it. And you need to have clues appear at critical intervals to heighten or lessen tension because there are always those nagging questions. Literary fiction also needs a plot but it may not need to be quite so driving as in a mystery. Having an outline, with whatever I write—plays included– keeps me headed in a direction even if I take detours. On those days when inspiration isn’t getting me into a chair to write, having a map gets me going.

Q: Like many authors today you’ve sought to maintain more control over your intellectual property by launching Bournos, your own self-publishing imprint. What governed that decision and what has proven to be the biggest challenge in wearing multiple hats?

A: Wearing multiple hats was not my first choice. There was a time I imagined myself typing away in a bathtub (the image of Clifton Webb in Laura comes to mind). My publisher, who was waiting anxiously for my manuscript, would then turn it into a bestseller. Such are the dreams of the unpublished. Like a romance novel whose hero rescues the damsel, or the Calgon slogan “Take me away….” But no, that’s not the way it works these days. When the small publishing house that said it would publish my series not only selected a cover I didn’t like but did less to promote it than I was, I thought I could do a better job myself and wouldn’t owe them anything. It seemed like the best move, even if it took me away from writing. And therein is the biggest challenge, having my attention taken from what I want to do, in order to deal with the business part of selling books.

Q: Is Bournos strictly a platform for your own work or do you publish stories by others?

A; It’s set up to publish the work of others as well, should I ever read a manuscript I feel I can become a champion of. I’ve laid the groundwork in terms of staffing and outsourcing of some tasks, to accommodate other people’s books.

Q: What do you advise fellow authors thinking of going the self-publishing route?

A: First, make sure your book is ready. Beta test it with trusted friends and relations who will tell you the truth. Find editor(s) to polish it. You may need a content editor and/or a copy editor and there’s lots of help online to find these people. Go to writers’ conferences and sit in on the sessions related to self-publishing. You’ll meet other authors, editors and publishers who can give you recommendations. When your book is ready (or concurrently with the editing process), find out what is happening in self-publishing at that very moment. It’s a constantly changing landscape of cover design, formatting, Kindle unlimited vs. other outlets, book blogs, etc., and it can be overwhelming. If you can afford to hire an author’s assistant to help you through it, they are out there too. But get recommendations. As with most people one contracts with, the best people are often the busiest, so make sure you talk timelines.

Q: What are some of the things you’re currently doing to promote your work?

A:  The main thing is to keep writing. Without new content coming out regularly, a writer can die in this marketplace. You can’t really keep saying “Buy my book” when you haven’t written anything new since 1997. These days a writer can’t promote just a book, she needs to promote herself and build a following. It’s what they call branding and it takes time and energy to do. Like a lot of people—women particularly—I don’t enjoy promoting myself, even if I’m great at promoting others. But I’ve become comfortable with tweeting about writing, theatre, horses, cocktails, wine and other things that interest me and the characters in The Muffia.

Q: When you’re not writing or acting, you’re using your law degree as a mediator. Has wordsmithing enabled you to be a better mediator and/or has your legal background influenced your craft as an author?

A: I completely believe we are made up of our corporeal selves and the totality of our experiences, so they feed each other. The narrator of book one in the Muffia series is based on me insofar as she’s an ex-lawyer and underemployed mediator. The contradiction with mediating and writing is that mediation involves reducing conflict, whereas dramatic writing requires it. So when I write, I have to be vigilant not to step in and mediate my characters’ conflicts!

Q: As if your plate weren’t already overflowing, you also manage to squeeze in some horseback riding. Tell us about it.

A: There is no other thing I do that takes me out of my head like being with horses. They don’t let you multi-task, which is a joy, given that the rest of my life requires it. Horses are big, potentially dangerous, and you have to be ready for the unexpected─thinking about plot development when you’re riding isn’t wise. A snake might slither onto the trail causing your horse to rear and dump you before bolting back to the barn. I own a Thoroughbred rescue named Will—aka Wilbur, William, Guillermo and various other endearments. I have been working with him for three years, and yes, I have fallen off in the course of training him to be an Event horse. He and I have recently had a bit of success after overcoming many obstacles involving Will’s sensitive nature, early abuse and health issues. He’s my four-legged partner.

Q: You recently appeared onstage opposite David Selby. For those of us who swooned over his dreamy looks as Quentin, the conflicted werewolf, in Dark Shadows or his turn as Richard Channing, Jane Wyman’s dashing adversary in Falcon Crest, did you ever watch either show? (Just curious.)

A: I was not an aficionado of either show but David is still very handsome. He’s also very kind and a complete professional who is conscientious about his work. And one thing you may not know about David, he is also a published author.

Q: Speaking of things theatrical, you also pen plays. Which do you prefer – writing lines of dialogue that will be read silently or those that will be spoken by actors?

A: That’s a hard one. A writer of novels doesn’t often get to hear how a reader makes sense of the words on the pages she writes, while it’s the actor’s job to do so. I just want people receiving the words to understand and be moved by the character speaking them, even if it’s only in one’s head.

Q: Dream role you’d love to play?

A: It’s changed over time, of course. I did once want to play Juliet. Now I’d most like to originate a role in a fabulous new play, like Jayne Houdyshell in the Tony-nominated The Humans by Stephen Karam. Or Sigourney Weaver’s turn in Durang’s Vanya, Sonya, Masha and Spike.

Q: Many of the best writers I’ve ever known actually got their start treading the boards. What influence did your own acting experience have insofar as developing characters, planning structure and creating conversations amongst personalities in a book?

A: A trained actor needs to understand her character’s motivations. The question of “Why am I saying this now?” comes up a lot in rehearsals. This is a question that needs to be in the mind of the author of novels, too.

Q: Do you ever get writer’s block and, if so, how do you get over it?

A: I write notes to myself constantly and I also record voice memos telling myself what to do. Like having an outline, as mentioned above, giving my brain a job on a given project gives me that opening I need to sit down and begin writing. It’s like giving myself a writing prompt and usually when I do that, I’m off and running. I have, however, read notes I’ve awakened to write in the middle of the night only to find they make no sense for the project I’m working on, nor for anything else. The other day I found a note-to-self that said, “Make Tamra a bat” and I have no idea what that’s about.

Q: What would our readers be the most surprised to learn about you?

A: I eat donuts, my skin is too big for my frame, I don’t write every day, I feel guilty about not showing up for more fundraisers, I take naps, I sometimes have to drag myself to public functions, I like sentimental films, I still have a Cinderella complex and dream of galloping off on a white horse even if I know that’s ridiculous.

Q: What is the oldest, weirdest or most nostalgic item in your closet?

A: I will not part with a Pucci dress that my mother wore in the late 1960s. It still fits me and I absolutely love it. I hope my son has a girlfriend one day whom I can give it to.

Q: What are you currently working on?

A: Too much! I’m writing the third book in The Muffia series entitled Muff Stuff , writing a new play about nosy neighbors and editing a couple of other plays. Unrepresented playwrights usually must submit their own work to fellowships and workshops, so that requires writing too. This year it’s been worth it as two of my plays have been finalists at Sundance, Lila Acheson, Centenary Stages and Playwrights Center.

Q: Where can readers learn more about you?

A: My website, I guess, which is annanicholas.com and if you’re on Facebook I am facebook.com/theannanicholas and facebook.com/annroyalnicholas. I’m on Twitter, Pinterest and Instagram @aroyaln and I blog (where I regularly post cocktails) at themuffia.us.

Q: Anything else you’d like to add?

A: Ten percent of Muffia profits are given to charitable organizations benefitting women and girls. We have contributed to Girls Inc., Step Up and we (the real life Muffia) are always looking to help more.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Conversation with Rodney Vance

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Author and film producer/director Rodney Vance connects with readers and film viewers at the heart. He taps into those places that touch us deeply and weaves stories that resonate with our core values. Rodney has worked hard to build a career that includes being a head writer on two multi-award winning television series, Lifestyle Magazine and The Evidence, a screen and playwright, children’s book author, and has produced more than thirty stage plays and events. Rodney’s list of impressive accomplishments doesn’t end there though. He’s also the Writer/Director of Singular Entertainment, a film production company based out of Riverside, California, and the Chair of the Department of Film and Television at La Sierra University in California. What a pleasure it’s been getting to know this talented man and his remarkable work. Welcome Rodney.

Interviewed by Debbie A. McClure

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Q         Although not currently in print, I have to ask you what it was about De’Monte Love’s story that lead you to write the book?

A         I wanted to do something to raise money for the victims of Hurricane Katrina. The original idea was to create a small, cheaply printed paperback that could be placed on grocery store counters. People who made a donation could have a copy of the book. When a friend of mine pointed out the story of De’Monte Love in the LA Times it was just the perfect story. I tried to find him and couldn’t. I ended up hiring a detective to find his family so I could call them and get permission to tell his story. My neighbour at the time, Martino Dorce, agreed to do the pictures. He’s one of the top Haitian artists and he did an amazing job.

VanceThen we started looking for someone to publish our little book and distribute it to the grocery stores and wherever else people might see it. Visikid Books picked it up and they had the idea to do a beautiful hard copy edition of the book as part of their series ‘Heroes All Around’. They would donate a specific amount of money for each book sold. It seemed like this might give a longer ‘shelf life’ as it were to De’Monte’s wonderful story and raise more money for specific charities actively involved in Katrina-related work. So that’s what we decided to do.

Q         What is the message you hoped to convey with this story?

A         De’Monte Love is the real name of a boy who was six years old at the time of Hurricane Katrina. De’Monte and six younger kids and their parents had to wait on the roof of their apartment building after the storm because the streets were flooded. A helicopter came and took the kids and promised to come back for the parents but in the confusion they didn’t come back and the kids were on their own until, ultimately, the authorities managed to connect the kids to their parents, who had been transported to Houston by then. Can you imagine the anguish of those parents? De’Monte kept the little band together until they were rescued. Already at that young age he understood the need to take care of those less capable than himself. Even though he was only six years old he did what he could to Love the other kids. And by doing what he could, he did enough.

Q         In many of your works I note an underlying theme of human connectivity, our responsibilities to each other, and this planet we call home. Has this been a pre-planned vision for your work thus far, and if so, why?

A         I can’t honestly say that my work is as thought through as the word pre-planned implies. However, whenever I sit down to write I always take the time to really think through why ‘I’ want to write this particular story. How do I connect to it? When I know the answer I write it down on a piece of paper and put it in a drawer. Later, when I’m really stuck or feel like I’ve lost my way somehow with the story, I pull out that piece of paper and read what I wrote. Usually I discover that the writing problem I’m having is really just a problem of getting off track somehow and losing my own connection to the story. The human connectivity and connection to our planet results from the personal connection, rather than from a deliberate attempt to connect more broadly.

Q         Clearly, entertainment is in your blood. What excites, draws, and holds you to this eclectic, creative pursuit?

A         I wrote my first play when I was in third grade. I published my first story in a national magazine when I was in seventh grade. I won my first national playwriting competition when I was a Junior in High School. Storytelling has always been the primary way I deal with the vexing issues of the reality I perceive. It’s a socially acceptable way to explore all the light and darkness in my own psyche in a manner that is more than casual. Let’s make that simpler. Stories make us human. Not only are they a way for us to define ourselves, but they define all of the communities around us. We are part of a family because of the stories of how mom and dad met or what we did when we were little or that time we swallowed a nickel. These stories bind us together as a family even more than blood. Ask any child adopted at a young age. It’s not fundamentally blood that makes you family, its stories. The same is true for our town or city. Los Angeles is the City of Angels, the City of Dreams, and some of those Angels are dark and some of those Dreams are Nightmares. We are Hollywood and Aerospace and Watts and Pasadena and a concrete River also called Los Angeles. New York has different stories and is a different place. Every place has its own stories. It amazes me sometimes when people show a little or no interest in the stories of their own home town. Our nation is also built on stories: the Civil War, George Washington, a City on a Hill, Vietnam… And our religions too, it’s all stories. Stories tell us who we are. Stories make us human. What possible work could there be that’s more interesting than being a Storyteller?

Q         What would you say has been the most difficult lesson of life for you to learn, and why?

A         Life is short. Only so many stories can be told. I need to focus on telling the stories that I tell instead of taking time to tell stories that other people want told. Although Storytellers must make money – and should be well paid considering the value of their service to their society – the core reason to tell a story is the connection I spoke of earlier. Money can’t be the primary reason to tell a story.

Q         Who has been your greatest mentor in life or business, and why?

A         So many mentors have been supportive at crucial times. My parents were there first. I had a High School English teacher named Miss French who introduced me to the world of plays by taking me to see The Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams. In college I studied theology under brilliant minds of professors like Fritz Guy and Richard Rice who taught me how to think. Davey Marlin Jones, a theatre critic for the CBS affiliate in Washington DC, introduced me more fully than anyone to the craft of storytelling. He taught me the language and gave me a voice. Sometimes the necessary mentor appears as an obstacle and a source of pain. They can teach you a lot.

Q         When writing, do you maintain a daily writing schedule? If so, what does that look like for you?

A         I have repeatedly tried to maintain a daily writing schedule because I believe in the concept. I’ve never been able to make it work. The thing that must be done ‘right now’ always intrudes. For me the trick is not the specific schedule but the commitment to write or create. Like eating or connecting to another person, you may not always do it at the same time every day. But you don’t live long unless you do it regularly.

Q         In addition to being a children’s book author, you are also a screenwriter and playwright, the President and Director/Writer for Singular Entertainment Production Company, and a Professor at La Sierra University’s Film and Television Department. How do you manage to find a balance in life, or do you?

A         Every day of life is a gift. You can let that gift dominate you or you can receive it and choose what you will do and what you won’t do. Watching sunrises and sunsets are important. The daily display the universe puts on is truly astonishing and all you have to do is look up and watch it. They are reminders that we are not important because of what we do. We can scurry around all the time and, in the grand scheme of things, it doesn’t really matter all that much. Yes, we have to earn money for food and shelter. Yes, we need human companionship. These are necessary things. But it’s easy to spend a lot of time doing things that we think are important, but really aren’t. Is what I’m doing at this moment in time more important than watching the sunset?

Q         You’ve achieved and touched on so many exciting, interesting things in your life so far. What haven’t you done that you’d like to?

A         I want to do what probably most everybody wants to do. I want to travel the world with someone I love and meet interesting people, write stories, and direct films that other people want to watch. I also want to lie in a hammock beneath a palm tree on the beach and doze the day away.

Q         What advice would you give to those just starting out in the world of writing and/or entertainment?

A         If you don’t like it, it’s not good.

Q         When you write, do you work from a complete outline, or do you allow creativity to take the wheel and lead you where it may?

A         Both.

Q         As we approach the ten year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina that devastated so much of the southern United States in August 2005, what lessons, if any, do you think the world took away from that experience, and why?

A         I don’t think we learned anything at all.

Q         What’s next for you, Rodney?

A         ‘The Butterfly, The Harp and The Timepiece’, a ten-minute film starring Academy Award winner Melissa Leo, gets its World Premiere on Opening Night at the Los Angeles International Short Film Festival on September 3rd. I’m very excited about this little film that intertwines three stories around a magic shop where, no matter who you are, you get what you need (like the Rolling Stones song says!). The writer envisioned a film with very little dialogue – but that didn’t feel like a silent film. We have less than a hundred words spoken in the film, but we do use a brilliant new song composed specifically for the film by Grammy winner Alex Geringas and Australian Pop Star Toby Rand. The song becomes more than a platform for the emotions. It becomes a narrative device, an essential component to the telling of the story. Pictures, words, and music – like Opera! ‘Napa Valley Dreams’, a giant screen film that includes the final on-camera interview and keyboard performance of Ray Manzarek of The Doors, looks like it will find a long-term home as a destination film at The Empress Theatre in downtown Vallejo, the Gateway to the Napa Valley, on or around April 1. I’ve signed on to direct a new short film about Erwin Cossentine, a college president who fights very hard to keep his Japanese-American students out of the concentration camps during World War II. It also looks like I’m going to get to direct a feature I wrote the screenplay for about a Conscientious Objector who served as a Medic in Vietnam until the local North Vietnamese Colonel killed the love of his life and he decided to train as a sniper instead. Now there’s a story with complications!

Acuity Press has expressed an interest in publishing my children’s book ‘Pale Male and Wendy’, the story of a six-year-old girl whose great love for long words is exceeded only by her love for Pale Male and Lola, the red-tailed hawks of Central Park. It will come out in Fall 2016. In addition, I’ve just finished a new children’s book, a folktale about the origins of Jazz called ‘Jazz Boy’. I also love my job teaching film and television production at La Sierra University, but right now it’s time to step outside and watch the sun set.

You can find more information and connect with Rodney here:

Twitter: @RodVance

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Singular-Entertainment/506571409479086

Web:  www.SingularEntertainment.com