14 November 2015

Will the Real James Murray Please Stand Up?

One of the fun-frustrating elements of approaching a new work of fiction is coming up with appropriate names for the characters. I had just finished plotting out “Murder at Eastern Columbia” when the name of the main character dropped into my lap, so to speak.

At that time, “Eastern Columbia” was to be a stand-alone novel, not the first in a five-part series that it became. I had to choose a good name for the lead male character, not realizing that name would come to represent the entire series.

I’ve written a lot about Hollywood over the years, mostly historic Hollywood. Combine that with a soft spot I have for the underdog and then fast forward to the day when my spouse, Matt, was watching the commentary for a film we had just seen called “Heroes For Sale” (1933). As I walked out of my office into the living room, the commentator mentioned that the bit part of a blind soldier was played by the actor who was once famous for being the star of “The Crowd” (1928) and was, when this later movie was made, down and out and forgotten by Hollywood.

Needing a name for my lead character, I selected that name and James Murray, of The James Murray Mysteries, was born. The name is the only similarity -- my character is a writer, not an actor; a small, sincere homage to the man who first bore the name who died broken and unknown. He was only 35 years old.

15 October 2015

One Night in 1976

I’m currently reading the massive biography “Fosse” by Sam Wasson. I love Bob Fosse’s work yet know so little about him as a person. I just read the chapter where Fosse’s “Chicago” was trounced at the 1976 Tony Awards by “A Chorus Line” and realized that that single award ceremony encapsulated so much about the kind of theater I love.

I remember sitting and watching the award ceremony on my portable black-and-white television, my cassette recorder running to capture every single moment of what I knew would be an “A Chorus Line” sweep: the musical’s dramatic opening number, Donna McKechnie’s stunning win and moving acceptance speech, and presenter after presenter opening an envelope and repeating the same three words: “A Chorus Line.”

Interspersed between those moments were excerpts from the three other musicals nominated that season: “Bubbling Brown Sugar,” Stephen Sondheim’s “Pacific Overtures” and Fosse’s “Chicago” (only “Pacific Overtures” won any awards). I watched a dance number from “Chicago” and thought, “this is dumb.” During the excerpt from “Pacific Overtures” I remember thinking “this is dumb.” (I was only 16 and for me it was “A Chorus Line” or nothing.)

Years went by. I learned more about theater. I realized how wrong I was that night -- not about “A Chorus Line,” but about theater history in general and those other two shows specifically.

Of course, I had heard of Fosse and I had heard of Sondheim but I didn’t know much about them. Through years of reading, seeing shows, and listening to scores, I learned more about these men who, along with Bennett, changed the face of modern theater in many ways. For example, Fosse’s unique dancing style (“Steam Heat” in 1954’s “The Pajama Game”), Sondheim and the first concept musical (1970, “Company”) and Bennett for taking attention away from stars and shining a light on dancers in “A Chorus Line.”

I find it interesting that all three were active on Broadway roughly the same time: Fosse began as a dancer in 1950 (“Dance Me a Song”); Sondheim’s first credit came in 1956 (“Girls of Summer”); and Bennett began as a dancer in 1961 (“Subways are for Sleeping”). Over many years, as these three men moved up in their careers -- Fosse and Bennett to choreographer/director, and Sondheim to full-fledged lyricist/composer -- their work affected the course of theater: Bennett’s last Broadway musical credit was in 1982 (“Dreamgirls”); Fosse’s last Broadway show was in 1986 (“Big Deal”); and Sondheim is still active on Broadway -- although mostly with revivals of previous successes.

I can only imagine what theater in America would look like today without the tremendous influence of these three men.

Note: Although Fosse and Sondheim went home with no awards that night in 1976, they were certainly not neglected by the Tony voters. Over their careers, Fosse won a total of nine Tony Awards, Sondheim won eight and Bennett won seven.

Note: McKechnie is one of the rare people to work on Broadway with all three men. She was in the cast of “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying” (her first Broadway show) in 1961 with dances choreographed by Fosse (who received a “musical staging” credit); she worked with Bennett in “Promises, Promises” (1968), “Company” (1970), and, of course, “A Chorus Line” (1975); and with Sondheim in “Company.”

05 September 2015

Audio Book Anyone?

Great news! My book, “Sarah & Gerald” a novel of Paris in the 1920s, is now available as an audio book on Audible.com! Woot! Woot! It’s my first audio book and I’m pretty excited.

“Sarah & Gerald” takes place in the years after the great war, when life was golden and happy for those who had survived it. An entire generation of young men died so others could sit on a beach and splash in the water and have sandwiches on the sand. It was a perfect time for American expatriates -- like Sarah and Gerald -- to be in Paris: everything had worked out so well for them. They had money, they had friends, they had three golden children and they had each other. And everyone was so young. Gerald was a painter and his bold new painting would shock the French art world; but the consequences of his artistic success would soon bring tragedy to Sarah and their family. Despite doing everything right, things would soon start going very wrong.

Audible.com gave me some free coupons that I can share with anyone who wants to give it a listen. Just reply in the "comment" section below with your email address and I'll send you the information.

I'll be honest and say that part of this giveaway is to generate reviews and publicity for it. If you've not already given "Sarah & Gerald" a review on Amazon, this offer is for you. (And, if you have already given it a review on Amazon, thank you. I will still be happy to send you a coupon for a free audio copy if you want.) I am also hoping for some reviews on the Audible.com website (link below).

You can read more about the novel and listen to an excerpt here.

12 August 2015

Thank You, Brad

It all started with a friend named Brad.

Matt and I had this really good friend named Brad. He was an actor. He was a new father. He was a weird and funny guy. Then, one day, we got an email from his wife that he was dead. They were on vacation and he dropped dead of sudden cardiac arrest. He was only 49.

I had just turned 52 that year and had been having my own heart problems for a couple years. Put all that together and Brad’s completely unexpected death hit us all hard. Hard. Hard. Hard.

It was horrible, but it turned out to be the catalyst that got me to quit my day job and hunker down and return to my long-form writing (novels) that I had been putting off until “the right time.” Who knew when that would happen? Who knew if I would be the next to drop dead from heart issues? I didn’t and I wasn’t going to wait to find out.

So now, nearly four years since his death, I have Brad to thank for getting me off my butt. I had open-heart surgery, Matt and I celebrated our twentieth year together and I just published my eleventh (!) book.

Because of what he did for me, I dedicated my novel “Blackmail at Wrigley Field” to him. I decided it was time to thank him publicly.

Smooth sailing, Major Matt Mason. Second star to the right.