Monday, October 16, 2017

Finding Neverland: the Musical

by Paula Gail Benson

This summer, while I was in Boston for a business meeting, I had the wonderful opportunity to attend the opening night performance for the national tour of Finding Neverland at the Boston Opera House. Based on a successful book and movie, this musical tells the story of how author J.M. Barrie developed the story of Peter Pan after meeting the sons of Sylvia Llewelyn Davies. Although the fictionalized story does not strictly follow the facts found on Wikipedia or in Andrew Birkin’s J.M. Barrie and the Lost Boys: the Real Story Behind Peter Pan or Piers Dudgeon’s Neverland: J.M. Barrie, the DuMauriers, and the Dark Side of Peter Pan (which has been reviewed as being a little too dark and not as factually reliable), the exploration of how an author found his character (and vice versa) is a fascinating view of the creative process.

Diane Paulus
Seeing this particular production had many advantages. The show already played Broadway and some of the company had been affiliated with that production. In particular, Diane Paulus, the Artistic Director of the American Repertory Theatre (ART) at Harvard University, had directed the musical from the time it was being developed at ART through its Broadway run. She also directed this national tour company, and had worked with the creators to incorporate suggestions for improving the plotline and making the story more immediate for the audience. The result was a really captivating performance that allowed the audience’s recollections of the boy who wouldn’t grow up to add another dimension to the story.

Billy Harrigan Tighe
As the musical begins, stoic Scotsman J.M. Barrie, a successful London playwright, is concerned that his plays are all the same and wondering what his next work should be. His American producer, Charles Frohman, urges him not to worry and finish the next show. His wife Mary, a former actress now enjoying life in society due to her relationship with Barrie, also encourages him to continue with the status quo. But, Barrie meets four boys and their widowed mother, Sylvia Llewelyn Davies, in the park. After playing with the boys and relearning the joys of indulging his imagination, he faces triple crises of his wife leaving him for a nobleman, his producer demanding a new play, and Davies’ mother insisting that he cut off his relationship with her family.

Christine Dwyer
From the inner turmoil Barrie experiences, a villain emerges. His first name is James (after Barrie’s own first name and because, as the character informs Barrie, he is his alter ego) and his second name is Hook, for the appendage that takes place of a lost arm as well as the concept necessary to develop a story. As the first act concludes, Barrie’s imagination has taken the games from the park, added a dark presence consumed by the press of a ticking clock inside a crocodile that swallowed the missing arm, and created a pirate adventure that will become the story of Peter Pan. In the finale, Barrie becomes “Stronger” as his mind builds the images of the pirate ship (that the audience sees grow from a park bench) and has Barrie standing on the edge of the plank as the curtain falls.

Karen Murphy
In the second act, Barrie convinces his dubious producer and cast to put on his new work. Gradually, they warm to the project as Barrie discovers that Sylvia is ill. On opening night, Peter Davies is chosen to accompany Barrie to the theatre, but then the whole company returns to the nursery to give a private performance for the Davies family. In the end, Sylvia dies and Barrie with her mother collaborate to raise the boys.

John Davidson
Following the Boston performance, our audience enjoyed an onstage interview with the main actors and director Diane Paulus. Billy Harrigan Tighe, who had worked with Paulus in Pippin on Broadway played J.M. Barrie. Christine Dwyer, who had grown up near Boston, took on the role of Sylvia and was delighted to have so many people she knew coming to see the production. Veteran actress Karen Murphy played Mrs. DuMaurier, the strict matriarch who warms to Barrie’s charm, and well-known actor, singer, and TV personality John Davidson was featured as producer Frohman and alter ego Hook. In characterizing his work with the production, Davidson spoke eloquently about how each performance became a contract between the audience members and cast where all brought their impressions of Peter Pan into the mix.

The musical speaks to writers seeking to create as well as readers who remember a unique literary creation. Here’s the website where you can see if it is coming to a theatre near you: If it is, please go see it. You will thoroughly enjoy it.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Debra's Gone Fishing - Canadian Style - at Bouchercon

Debra's Gone Fishing -- Canadian Style -- at Bouchercon 

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Juliana Aragon Fatula's Writing as a Woman of Color

Autumn is here. 
My view from the River Walk in Canon City, CO

Arkansas River Walk in Autumn

This path along the river is one of my favorite spots to walk my dogs. 

Write what you know. If you don’t know about something read a book, research, ask experts about their field. If you don’t know how to write a murder mystery, and you want to write one, read a few hundred in the genre you like. I’ve read mysteries written by men, women, and to be more specific written by men and women of color since I am a Chicana.

I read books about the Ute Nation. I created fictional characters that were Ute. I read about Utah, specifically Salt Lake City. I visited the city and took photos, wrote notes, and interviewed residents.

I created a transgender character based on a couple of friends who are living in new bodies. I asked a friend to read the character outline I had written and she gave me great feedback. She said I was stereotyping the character. I thought the character was funny. She did not. She was insulted. The problem with the character was that I was not creating a backstory for her. She needed a past in order for me to understand her in the present. I gave her a better job. She became a transgender civil rights attorney. I stopped trying to make her funny and instead made her interesting.

The same thing occurred with one of my characters that was a possible murder suspect. I realized I hadn’t given her a storyline. I went back to the writing table, sat my ass down, and created one. I made her a soldier during the war in Viet Nam. But then I realized there weren’t many women soldiers in Nam. So, I made her a cook. I made her promiscuous and gave her soldiers to have affairs with. When she returned home she brought with her PTSD from the trauma of war. She used heroin. She changed. She aged. She became hard. I had to think like a murderer to create a great one. Why did she become a killer? Who loved her? Who hated her? What was her childhood like? What kind of evil had she survived to end up a killer?

I’m learning as I create these characters that they need a storyline to make them real, well-rounded, relevant. I write their backstory and study it until I start writing about their present based on what I know about them.

My murder victim, based on a xenophobic, misogynist, billionaire, had a very short part in the beginning of the story because he was murdered. However, he was the main subject of the investigation. He needed a past, too. I created a lifestyle for him that was unrealistic.  I had to make him believable. I had to give him characteristics that would make someone want to murder him. I began talking about him to friends and hashing out why he lived alone in a big mansion.

The protagonist is a character from my imagination, but she is part of me and parts of other women I know who are survivors, strong, successful. But she had to have a fault, a shame. So, I gave her scars and secrets.

Writing a murder mystery can be extremely satisfying. My goal is to tell a great story. My characters are crusaders for justice. They fight for the underserved and marginalized. I have faith that when I’m finished it will not be a good story, it will be a great murder mystery. I’m going to research, read, interview, and write until I’m convinced that the story deserves to be told.

Young women may read my book and decide to become a female investigator, or a civil rights attorney, or an internet technology expert, or a homicide detective. Or they may decide to open a shelter for homeless women and children and to teach them skills and send them out into the world as productive citizens, or a journalist that writes about atrocities that occurred to the Indigenous in this country. I want my characters to be realistic, gay, straight, transgender, Chicana, African-American, Native-American, Asian-American, disabled, mentally ill, cruel, kind, addicted, saviors, healers. Because in my world, those characters exist. I gave a couple of characters’ professional careers, but they grew up in Southern Colorado, so they speak Spanglish even though they are white. Some are sinners, some are saints, some are killers, some are funny, some are straight, but never narrow, no never narrow.  

Wednesday, October 11, 2017


by Bethany Maines

Today I’m discussing the absolutes of art.

Absolute number 1: artists must sell.  So toward that end, please consider purchasing my latest book! It's a five-star, "highly-satisfying, high-speed thriller" that readers are calling "hard to put down."

Shark’s Instinct: Fresh out of prison and fresh out of luck, twenty-something Shark wants back into The Organization. But when Geier, the mob boss with a cruel sense of humor, sends Shark to the suburbs to find out who’s been skimming his take, Shark realizes he’s going to need more than his gun and an attitude to succeed. With the clock ticking, Shark accepts the help of the mysterious teenage fixer, Peregrine Hays, and embarks on a scheme that could line his pockets, land him the girl and cement his reputation with the gang—if he makes it out alive.

$2.99 on sale today! BUY NOW!

Absolute number 2:  Nothing is absolute and artists spend a lot of time thinking about that.

In our current climate of politics, disasters, and protest, I’ve been listening to what a lot of artists are feeling. And by artists I mean everyone from fellow writers and graphic designers, to fine artists and poets. I know from the outside that most people think of the creative set as a homogeneous mass of weirdos. Which, weird, I’ll grant you, but homogeneous is not, in any way, accurate.

Like any family there are fractured in-fights, cultural differences between the “cousins” of fine art and design (or poets and novelists), there are fights over pecking order and definitions and what it all really means. But most artists when pressed will say that although they have their preferences, their set rules that they use, that most of the time, there is no absolute. Don’t ever pair two serif fonts, don’t ever write a novel in the first person, don’t use Papyrus for a logo (ever, no seriously)… Unless it works, in which case, you should absolutely do that. Absolutes in art and artists are few and far behind.

Which is why I think our current political climate is striking artists particularly hard. It’s as though we’ve all been toddling along enjoying the gray areas and we’ve run smack into the thirty percent of our population that only believes in black and white. Not that they live in black and white (because no one can). But they only believe in black and white and they want everyone else to bow before the almighty absolute and give them the peace of mind of being right. Arguing with someone who refuses to see the gray is pointless. Showing art full of color to someone who doesn’t see the subtle shades of the rainbow only makes them turn away. Many of the artist’s I listen to feel despair. They feel like their art has become frivolous when they see the colors being eradicated around them, but they can’t seem to make the leap to protest art. Nine months into a presidency that does not see the value in anyone who isn’t male, straight, or white, I would like to say that all art is protest art. To create joy, beauty, and harmony, to paint with many colors instead of the ones that have been chosen for us is protest art. I encourage my artist friends to follow their passion, take action, make art, refuse to go away or step back. Use every damn crayon in the box.

Selfishness is not living as one wishes to live, it is asking others to live as one wishes to live. —Oscar Wilde

Art is the most intense mode of individualism that the world has known. —Oscar Wilde

Beauty is the only thing that time cannot harm. Philosophies fall away like sand, creeds follow one another, but what is beautiful is a joy for all seasons, a possession for all eternity. —Oscar Wilde


Bethany Maines is the author of the Carrie Mae Mysteries, the Shark Santoyo Crime Series, Wild Waters, Tales from the City of Destiny and An Unseen Current.  You can also view the Carrie Mae YouTube video or catch up with her on Twitter and Facebook.