Monthly Check In – November 2019 – returning, added focus

It’s been a long time since I’ve regularly posted to this blog. And I’m willing to accept that the era of blogs has been replaced by the current wave of podcasts. But I have an itch to start posting again. I’d held back, because I felt that I could only post articles that dealt with the state of the American playwright or writers, overall, and the weight of trying to write such things was too much when surrounded by a busy life.

Now I’m back. Maybe sometimes I’ll find something that feels useful overall, but I also wanted to start posting monthly updates on what the writing life is really like, not just promo pieces for whatever I’m working on next (though there will be some of that, too). I will certainly continue to do my annual writing by the numbers post. They become more useful as they add up over time.


One other thing–I’m going to write about another part of my writing life that might not feel like my writing life at all–fixing up houses. The motto of my alma mater is “mens et manus” or “mind and hand” and for me, finding a balance of physical work with my mental work has been very important over the years, whether it’s fixing up houses or farming.


This past summer, my wife and I bought a piece of property in Western Massachusetts, in the Florence section of Northampton. It has a Victorian house from the 1870s that we’re renting out and sits on a lovely piece of land bordered by the Mill River. Best of all is an old horse/carriage barn right next to the house. It already has two heated studios in it, and a basement with running water and a working toilet (we’re adding a furnace later this month so we can have four-season water). The barn ties into some big writing-related dreams for me–I’m hoping to fix up the upper floor of the barn to serve as a rehearsal studio suitable for workshopping new plays. Ultimately, I’d like to be able to bring out actors, writers, and directors from Boston and New York, to mingle with local talent, in order to play around with new scripts.


There’s a lot of work that would need to be done before that can happen (and I need to earn some money to pay for it all). I thought it’d be fun to detail some of those projects here along the way.


The basic idea of these monthly check ins is to explore the state of where I’m at in my writing life at this very moment:


Right now, I’m getting a breather after months of being busy producing two series of site-specific plays at Mount Auburn Cemetery (five plays in each series), plus a reading of an eleventh play. I’ve also had various Dramatists Guild events, plus some travels, a workshop in NYC, plus some challenges in my personal life (my dad died at the end of June), and we bought a house and barn. This morning I had enough time on my schedule to actually spend several hours planning for the rest of 2019 and looking over 2020, and also thinking about my overall goals, plans, and desires for my writing. With the rise of Plays in Place in my life, I’ve been thinking a lot about what success looks like for me as a writer, and also where I fit into the literary ecosystem, as a playwright, novelist, and screenwriter. Those thoughts will merit a blog post of their own soon, but for today they definitely kept me busy.


For the rest of 2019, I have time to think and read and catch up, and to plan. Which feels like a luxury, but also a necessity. Over these next two months, I hope to make edits and finalize a couple plays that head readings, workshops, and productions this year, but I never got the time to go back and put the last touches on the scripts.


More to come. At the very least, I will be sure to check in at the start of December, and we’ll see where I’m at.




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Sep 13, Grand Remembrances

Today is Grandparents Day in the United States. Being a Grand is a special honor. I feel very blessed that my wife and I have two grandchildren. We were able to visit them today. Yes, we are still being cautious with the coronavirus, but we also find it very difficult to not see them when they live so close. So today we did drop by to visit Jacob (age 10) and Sophia (age 7) along with their parents. We brought donuts and caught up with them. Our grandchildren are still pretty young and this is a precious time in their lives – and ours!

I wish I had known my grandparents better. We never lived in the same place. Dad was a career Air Force pilot, so we moved around a lot. But we did get to see them once in a while when they would visit us, or we them.

A Plague of Giants

There are five known magical ‘kennings’ or types: air, water, fire, earth, and plants. Each nation specializes in of these kennings, and the magic influences the society. There’s a big pitfall with this diversity of ability and locale–not everyone gets along.

Enter the Hathrim giants, or ‘lavaborn’ whose kenning is fire. Where they live the trees that fuel their fire are long gone, but the giants are definitely not welcome anywhere else. They’re big, they’re violent, and they’re ruthless. When a volcano erupts and they are forced to evacuate, they take the opportunity to relocate. They don’t care that it’s in a place where they aren’t wanted.

I first read Kevin Hearne’s Iron Druid books and loved them (also the quirky The Tales of Pell), so was curious about this new venture, starting with A PLAGUE OF GIANTS. Think Avatar: The Last Airbender meets Jim Butcher’s Codex Alera series. Elemental magic, a variety of races, different lands. And it’s all thrown at you from page one.

But this story is told a little differently. It starts at the end of the war, after a difficult victory, and a bard with earth kenning uses his magic to re-tell the story of the war to a city of refugees. And it’s this movement back and forth in time and between key players in this war that we get a singularly grand view of the war as a whole. Hearne uses this method to great effect.

There are so many interesting characters in this book that I can’t cover them all here. Often in books like this such a large cast of ‘main’ character can make the storytelling suffer, especially since they don’t have a lot of interaction with each other for the first 3/4 of the book–but it doesn’t suffer, thankfully. And the characterization is good enough, despite these short bursts, that by the end we understand these people and care about what happens to them.

If there were a main character it would be Dervan, a historian who is assigned to record (also spy on?) the bard’s stories. He finds himself caught up in machinations he feels unfit to survive. Fintan is the bard from another country, who at first is rather mysterious and his true personality is hidden by the stories he tells; it takes a while to understand him. Gorin Mogen is the leader of the Hathrim giants who decide to find a new land to settle. He’s hard to like, but as far as villains go, you understand his motivations and he can be even a little convincing. There’s Abhi, the son of hunters, who decides hunting isn’t the life for him–and unexpectedly finds himself on a quest for the sixth kenning. And Gondel Vedd, a scholar of linguistics who finds himself tasked with finding a way to communicate with a race of giants never seen before (definitely not Hathrim) and stumbles onto a mystery no one could have guessed: there may be a seventh kenning.

There are other characters, but what makes them all interesting is that they’re regular people (well, maybe not Gorin Mogen or the viceroy–he’s a piece of work) who become heroes in their own little ways, whether it’s the teenage girl who isn’t afraid to share vital information, to the scholars who suddenly find how crucial their minds are to the survival of a nation, to the humble public servants who find bravery when they need it most. This is a story of loss, love, redemption, courage, unity, and overcoming despair to not give up. All very human experiences by simple people who do extraordinary things.

Hearne’s worldbuilding is engaging. He doesn’t bottle feed you, at first it feels like drinking from a hydrant, but then you settle in and pick up things along the way. Then he shows you stuff with a punch to the gut. This is no fluffy world with simple magic without price. All the magic has a price, and more often than not it leads you straight to death’s door. For most people just the seeking of the magic will kill you. I particularly enjoyed the scenes with Ahbi and his discovery of the sixth kenning and everything associated with it. But giants? I mean, really? It isn’t bad enough fighting people who can control fire that you have to add that they’re twice the size of normal people? For Hearne if it’s war, the stakes are pretty high, and it gets ugly.

The benefit of the storytelling style is that the book, despite its length, moves along steadily (Hearne is no novice, here). The bits of story lead you along without annoying cliffhangers (mostly), and I never got bored with the switch between characters. It was easy to move between them, and they were recognizable enough that I got lost or confused. The end of the novel felt a little abrupt, but I guess that has more to do with I was ready for the story to continue, despite the exiting climax.

If you’re looking for epic fantasy with fun storytelling and clever worldbuilding, check out A PLAGUE OF GIANTS.

The post A Plague of Giants appeared first on Elitist Book Reviews.

The Artwork Of Gary Choo

Gary Choo is a concept artist/illustrator based in Singapore. I’ve know Gary for a good many years ( 17, actually ), working together in animation studios in Singapore like Silicon Illusions and Lucasfilm. Gary currently runs an art team at Mighty Bear Games, but when time allows he also draws covers for Marvel comics, and they’re amazing –

The Art Of Gary Choo
The Art Of Gary Choo
The Art Of Gary Choo
The Art Of Gary Choo
The Art Of Gary Choo

To see more of Gary’s work or to engage him for freelance work, head down to his ArtStation.

The post The Art Of Gary Choo appeared first on Halcyon Realms – Art Book Reviews – Anime, Manga, Film, Photography.

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