Wednesday, July 27, 2016

“A Collaborator in Alleys”: A Poem-Review of Eileen Tabios’ The Connoisseur of Alleys

(Rockaway, NY: Marsh Hawk Press, www.marshhawkpress.org, 2016)
To mark the occasion of my tenth review of a poetry collection by the prolific and boundary-stretching poet Eileen Tabios, I knew I wanted to do something special—something that would honor Eileen’s ability to take the reader from a position of relative passivity to one of co-creation.
I made an attempt at this before, ending my review of Tabios’ Sumptuous Sculpture (Marsh Hawk Press, 2002) with a poem crafted from another one of my reviews (Reproductions of the Empty Flagpole, same publisher and year).
This review, however, takes things much further. Since beginning her ongoing work “Murder, Death, and Resurrection (MDR),” Eileen has created new poems and published seven books that use re-constituted lines from a database of 1,146 lines from her previous works. The Connoisseur of Alleys is one such work.
Following suit, the following is a poem formed from 27 lines taken from my 9 previous reviews of Tabios’ work (3 lines pulled from each). Using a combination of I Ching–inspired coin tossing and one of my own random generator algorithms that I use for my experimental prose projects, the lines have been reformed in what I hope will be both a testament to not only the form and substance of Tabios’ poetic tapestry as I have written about it over the years and a testament to Tabios’ ability to inspire and co-create from afar, through the power of her words and fearless pursuit of new forms to deliver them.
“dieci da nove”
I forgot the hooks are finely barbed and grab you in the deepest places. I forgot each line begins with the phrase “I forgot” which was inspired by a Tom Beckett poem that began in the same manner. I forgot the condition of the artist and one’s Identity (geographically, sexually, psychologically) are key subjects in the considerable volume of work Tabios has created. I forgot poets have been either continually revising their poems (e.g., Whitman’s Leaves of Grass) or taking found texts, etc. to create works for a long time now…
I forgot, if poetry, like all writing, is a form of autobiography, then the path to the Truth is lined with thorns and nails and broken glass, at the end of which are myriad locks. I forgot the riches to be mined are as endless as the possibilities emerging from Tabios herself. I forgot ancient wisdom says that once you find the moon, you no longer need the finger that points to it. I forgot that we, the Readers, are the locks into which the various and sundry keys are meant to enter.
I forgot there is always counterpoint, yin and yang, light in dark. I forgot “The Color of a Scratch in Metal” and “The Fairy Child’s Prayer” are so beautiful, one could read them in meditation over and over, losing all sense of time and place and gaining new perspectives as doors are thrown wide. I forgot scores do not necessarily reflect Math aptitude, but a slew of other deficiencies in Communication. I forgot that the age of Empire was not overcome and obliterated, but merely morphed into the age of the Multinationals.
I forgot Tabios is not only a talented wordsmith, and visual artist of language—she truly is an innovator.
I forgot Dostoyevsky and Freud put forth the notion that it is impossible for an autobiography to reveal the Truth because of our penchant for self-delusion and both positive and negative exaggeration. I forgot the rich wordsmithed novels of the Victorian and Edwardian age, when books were thick and wordy because they were expensive and had to last the reader a good long while. I forgot how much I enjoy creating narrative from the nigredo of cultural reference and biographical minutiae. I forgot I’ve always admired Hunter S. Thompson and Sebastian Junger…
I forgot Oscar Wilde said that the future of fiction is to “reveal the innermost workings of [wo]man’s soul”… then the coupling of reviewer and reviewed is an essential mechanism for opening the locks. I forgot the source material is reconstituted in exquisite couplets full of enjoyable word play and just the right amount of sexual zing to bring a nearly constant smile to one’s face. I forgot it is up to the reader to find unity in disparity; to be the catalyst in an alchemical transaction (a hieros gamos) that rises beyond Reality into the etheric realms where the nigredo of our art is born(e).
I forgot many of the poems have no end punctuation, leaving the thought, the situation, the moment unfinished, as they so often are


Thursday, July 21, 2016

A Review of The Unseen Partner: Love and Longing in the Unconscious, by Diane Croft (Interleaf, 2016). ISBN: 978-0-9967771-0-0 (hardcover)


The source and substance of inspiration are as enigmatic and oft-debated as any of life’s deepest mysteries. Artists in all areas of creativity have been known to undertake ritual, engage in the use of various substances, or conceive of the work in terms of some vast, metaphorical battlefield where the artist must pay in pints of etheric, ghostly blood for the Muses to bestow even the smallest gift of good art upon them. Creativity gurus such as Elizabeth Gilbert (Big Magic) and Steven Pressfield (The War of Art) lead the field with their insights and ideas regarding creativity and inspiration and their relationship to the work.
In Unseen Partner, Diane Croft tells her story of the source and substance of inspiration through the lens of automatic writing: ten years ago she had an experience of this phenomenon that produced, over the course of three years, in excess of 700 poetry verses. The experience would happen “about the same time every morning.” Croft, in an endnote, mentions William Butler Yeats and William Blake, and their experiences with creating through this means, and one might also think of Nostradamus and Philip K. Dick (the latter used the I Ching to write The Man in the High Castle). Croft makes no definitive statement as to whether this was the product of her own subconscious or of an external force from another dimension—which makes Unseen Partner about the poems and their meaning (personal and universal), rather than an exercise in trying to prove from whence they came.
Having two people close to me who communicate with their own Unseen Partners through automatic writing, with profound results of precognition and verifiable details (at times years in advance), I agree that the sooner one moves away from debating the source and concentrating on the messages, the better.
Croft’s journey through this process was not easy (she professes she thought the Unseen Partner could “kill” her and also that hidden aspects of herself came through that produced shame), she persisted, and the result is a beautifully rendered book with a selection of the poems, accompanying artwork (obtained through the copyright-free website Wikimedia Commons), and Jungian and other texts used for analysis of the poems.
As writers, we often struggle to gain the necessary distance from our work to analyze and improve it. It becomes precious to us in the blink of an eye. Given this struggle, I found it fascinating that Croft had the insight to know that these poems were coming from a place—whether interior or exterior—distanced enough from her own conscious background in writing that she was able to analyze them as a critic or reader might. When Croft writes “I take this poem to mean” it cues creators to aspire to a new level of objective detachment from their work. Because of this enforced distance between Creator and Creation, the poems in Unseen Partner are like dreams, begging to be born anew through analysis and the act of sharing them with an audience.
Croft does not settle on one name or definition of what a higher source or “god” might be, which allowed her to pull from a wide range of sources for the epigraph that precedes each poem/image dyad and to center on the relationship of the “I” and the “thou.” We hear from the likes of Rumi, Meister Eckert, Carl Jung, and Jungian “disciple and pioneer” Dr. Edward F. Edinger. Considering the condition of Tat Tvam Asi (“Thou art That,” from the Sanskrit), the lines are further blurred, as the vessel (in this case, Croft), the message (the poem), and the messenger (the Unseen Partner) are inextricably linked.
A quick word about the poem/image dyad before exploring some examples from the book. When a poet uses an image for inspiration (or vice versa), this is called Ekphrasis. The example most often used is Keats’s “Ode on a Grecian Urn.” It is impossible to know from the book if Croft is aware of this practice (she says in the introduction that she “felt the need” to find accompanying images), but it is a natural fit, and a testament to the power of following our instincts and inspirations in any creative endeavor.
Although this is far more than a collection of poems, the poems themselves hold merit in and of themselves. Like the works of Rumi or Li Po, they contain a simplicity of format, vivid images, and a gentle, peaceful rhythm:
I am the night covering me
in memories of how I was before
I slipped into this mindfulness. (From “Memory”)

The gods grew tired of waiting
and woke me from a heavy sleep
not by shaking my shoulder
but by breaking my heart. (From “Matters of Heart)

At times, they operate like koans, posing contemplative questions:
“Who is this three of thee and me” (From “Holy Ghost”)
Those familiar with the Rule of Three or Gurdjieff’s Law of Three will see that this notion of the new third emerging from two opposites in balance is reflective of Croft and the Unseen Partner collaborating on this book. Croft chose the following quote, from the Tao Te Ching, to precede the analysis section for this poem: “The one engenders the two, the two engenders the three and the three engenders all things.”
As the book progresses, those familiar with archetypes and how they operate will find abundant treasure here. From notions of the Hero’s Journey to the presence of that powerful Trickster totem animal, Crow, the poems are aspects and reflections of numerous world cultures and mythologies, many of which the author discovered as she was writing the commentary for the book. This, again, is a refreshing reversal of the writer’s usual way of working: gathering research and either using it as a starting point or infusing the writing with pieces and parts of the detail.
In the Epilogue, Croft writes, “My own myth—drawn from a universal database of archetypal imagery—is fashioned from my personal complexes.” This is a profound statement to which I think Joseph Campbell and Carl Jung would readily agree. I quote it for two reasons: First, because I believe that this is the well from which all art springs and second, because of the following quote, from the Acknowledgments:  “a book consultant, meaning to be helpful, posed this question: So. You have no credentials in this field, no standing, no platform, no colleagues … and you want to publish a book on archetypal psychology? (emphasis in original). 
I feel fortunate that Croft was not dissuaded by this question, but pursued with increased fervor her 15-year quest to bring this collection to others. After all, what are credentials, standing, platforms, and colleagues when a person’s personal complexes and veiled Muses conspire with the universal database of archetypal imagery?
They are the cold, neutral ash from which the dynamic phoenix of creation takes flight.



Friday, March 18, 2016

A Review of In the Oneness of Time: The Education of a Diviner, by William Douglas Horden

A Review of In the Oneness of Time: The Education of a Diviner, by William Douglas Horden (Burdett, NY: Larson Publicans, 2015). ISBN: 978-1-936012-76-3 (paperback)
By Joey Madia
It is said that, when you are “following your bliss,” as Joseph Campbell would say, or walking the Good Red Road of Native American spirituality, the teachings you most need in the moment will find you. Six and a half years ago, this maxim was made manifest in a book co-authored by William Douglas Horden titled The Toltec I-Ching (also from Larson Publications). When it arrived in the mail with a request for review, I was in the midst of opening an arts education center that would house the social justice theatre company of which I am the founding artistic director. As with any big endeavor, there were endless meetings with political and community leaders, business groups, educators, potential donors, and prospective teachers and it seemed that everyone had a different idea of what the arts education center should be, including its interior design, programmatic content, and even hours of operation.
Looking for answers deep within, in order to honor (and protect) the mission of the theatre company and our other arts programs, I found The Toltec I-Ching to be an invaluable aid.
A great deal has happened with my arts mission since that time, including closing the center and leaving the state where it was founded, and changing the name of the theatre company, all in part to honor the messages gleaned from The Toltec I-Ching. In recent months, I have begun to lay the foundations in our current home to create new material for the company, hire administrative staff and passionate creatives, and set up classes and auditions. Not long after the process was begun, I received for review Horden’s newest book, In the Oneness of Time. It has proven to be just the guide I needed to find clarity and strength for this new journey.
Perhaps, upon reflection, it is more accurate to say this stage of a continuing journey, because this book is unlike any other I have read. It consists of two parts: the first is called Teachings and the second provides Commentary on the Teachings. The interesting thing is that the Teachings are each titled by year, but they are not sequential. At times they are grouped by loose themes, such as geography or stories about specific flora and fauna, although, with each turn of the page, I found my default need to analyze and categorize (to “make sense of”) the structure slipping away, and I increasingly took each Teaching as it came, as its own opportunity for engagement, contemplation, and meditation.
Horden’s Teachings vary widely in their content and also in their style (some report the facts, while others are a poetic prose that recalled to me William Blake), although all share a surface simplicity that belies their true depth, leaving the reader to explore as deeply as he or she will. I chose not to read the accompanying Commentary for each Teaching, instead reading all of the Teachings and then the Commentary section. This allowed me to do the good work of engagement, contemplation, and meditation “on my own” and then, when I felt it was helpful, revisit the Teachings after reading the Commentary for each.
I encourage you to explore the book however your intuition guides you. I plan on re-reading it yearly, taking a different approach each time. As I change, so shall the methods I use to glean the treasures of the Teachings and Commentary.
Although In the Oneness of Time covers many topics, its “spine” or “through-line” as a writer might say, is the bridging of the two Realities: the tonal (“ordinary consensual reality”) and the nagual (“the non-ordinary reality of shamans and mystics”). The methods of moving between them, and of entering the In-Between World, are the most resonant aspect of the book at this point in my focus and learning, and the Teachings reflect the exquisite balance I mentioned earlier that Horden’s writing styles maintain between these two realities. These dual perspectives consistently at work in our lives demonstrate the value of widening the overlap between the tonal and nagual, for this sweet spot of the In-Between World is the creation-space for Meaning and Healing—of ourselves, our immediate community, and our world.
Another aspect of the book that has high resonance for me (and why I think it is prominently compared to Carlos Castaneda’s books about the brujo Don Juan Matus) is the wisdom Horden’s teacher passes down about the nature of teaching and learning. Teaching takes time to be absorbed, before the student can go off and become a teacher him- or herself. Rushing the process creates a great deal of mis-learning that then translates into misunderstandings as opinion masquerading as wisdom is (inaccurately) passed on. This is akin to the idea of the 10,000 hours that one must put in to achieve mastery in any area; when Horden’s teacher, Master Khigh, says that he took a vow to wait thirty years before teaching, it reminded me of what the actor Eli Wallach said about learning the Sanford Meisner technique: it takes 25 years. Perhaps that is the time it takes for the ego to recede sufficiently to not mar the process.
Alongside such powerful books on the nature of living and dying such as Neil Donald Walsch’s Home with God: In a Life That Never Ends and Elaine Mansfield’s Leaning into Love: A Spiritual Journey through Grief, In the Oneness of Time provides comfort and clarity on the nature of the soul and its experiences on Earth and elsewhere. Horden’s experiences with life after death are highlights of the book.
For those interested in this material in a multi-media format, either when deciding whether or not the book is for them, or as value-added after/while reading the book, visit https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Fgd432XGX0w
In this age of divisiveness, Horden’s message of Communication and Communion is a blessing; it will no doubt illuminate many a reader’s path.


Thursday, March 17, 2016

A Review of Terror’s Identity, by Sarah Maury Swan

(published through Sable Books, 2015). ISBN: 978-0-9968036-3-2 (paperback)


Young audiences (YA) is a hot market. From Maze Runner to Hunger Games, Mortal Instruments to Divergent, stories that can hold interest, empower the reader, and provide a satisfying ending or intense cliffhanger are not only guaranteed to sell (and often secure a film deal) but they serve a much more important purpose: in the age of cyber-tech and video gaming (often the same thing), they keep traditional book-based storytelling alive.
Terror’s Identity, by Sarah Maury Swan, delivers the best of YA in all the right ways. From the very first page, the story of a sixteen-year-old boy’s navigation of a no-less-than life-threatening situation for him and his family kept me engaged and eager to find out what would happen next. The characters, both teenagers and adults, are believable in both their actions and dialogue, and the story itself is told with insistent pace and an elegant simplicity while the plot is rich, complex, and full of interesting clues and misdirection.
The main character, Aidan, is your typical high school kid—struggling to find his place, awkward with girls, into his pets and hot and cold with his family and keen to know about life. His father, however, works for an anti-terrorism unit—a situation that necessitates the family leaving their home in the middle of the night as the book opens as their house burns to the ground and their former life with it.
Have you ever been the new kid at school? Not an easy thing under the best of circumstances. Having started my first day of freshman year in a brand new town 2 hours from where I had grown up after a series of events that, although less dramatic than Aidan’s, were easily as traumatic, I immediately felt for him and his sister Maya as they tried to make the best of their thorny situation. Saying goodbye to the family pets, their father, and their names/identities all in the course of an action-packed night, Aidan (now Brent) and Maya (now Angie) struggle to fit in among queries about where they’ve come from by students and teachers, neither of which are always kind about it.
I particularly appreciated the trouble Aidan/Brent had keeping it all straight. From computer log-ins to lies about his father being dead to mistakes about the little details we don’t think about under normal circumstances, he finds himself almost outing the truth of his situation numerous times. This makes sense, given that teenagers are, by nature, curious about new people who come into their lives and there is nothing that takes more energy and focus than being consistent in your secrets and lies.
Another strength of Terror’s Identity is that Swan has approached Terrorism (a word that has always been a battleground of definition among scholars) with all the complexity that it deserves, which serves the story by keeping the reader guessing about who the true terrorists are—what should be safe harbors often are not and those we are conditioned to distrust turn out to be more like us than we know—and also sends a much needed message to young readers that nothing should be taken at face value when it comes to terrorism, whether it be religious, economic, or political. I also appreciated that the terrorists were so full of their own self-righteousness that they made plenty of mistakes along the way.
Structurally, the book has everything one would expect for the target audience and genre—short chapters that are briskly paced; a mid-point complication that sets up an even brisker pace toward the climax; and an accessibility of language and syntax. There are effective emotional moments and the books dwells on relationships without becoming saccharine.
I recommend this book for early teen to mid-teen reading groups in libraries and classrooms. According to the acknowledgments, the first eight chapters were critiqued by a class of students during the development process, which shows the author’s commitment to being authentic as possible without being a modern-world teenager herself.





Thursday, March 10, 2016

A Review of The Jack of Souls, by Stephen C. Merlino

 (Tortoise Rampant, 2014). ISBN: 978-0-9862674-1-3

Fantasy writing is in many ways akin to a Jackson Pollock painting—at first glance, it seems like a simple enough art form to execute. Swirl a stick, drip some paint, and let dry. Or, in the case of Fantasy, create some countries (include some islands) engaged in political intrigue; brew some cultural misunderstanding; have some opposing armies; throw in a few dragons and/or magic, a little bit of romance, just a dash of sex and rough language, and publish.
Here’s the problem with these ideas. Have you ever tried to replicate a Jackson Pollock? It’s not at all easy. It’s the same with Fantasy.
Just as Jackson Pollock combined uniquely individual instinct, symbolism, and technique to create canvases rich in meaning, a successful Fantasy novel takes the well-worn tropes of the genre and reconstitutes them through the (hopefully unique and powerful) vision and voice of the genre. Tolkien, Martin, Rowling—perhaps the Triad that will forever be the Standard by which all future Fantasy is judged—all created distinctive works within the confines of the genre.
Stephen C. Merlino’s The Jack of Souls fares well against the Standards of the Fantasy world. His set-ups, characters, and stakes combine to create a rich tapestry of details and plot points that keep the reader turning the pages, chapter after chapter. While starting with stock characters, such as the book’s (anti-)hero, Harric—a young vagabond with a mix of street skills and attitude—he quickly takes them to new places through a universe that mixes black magic, chivalry, and political maneuvering in ways similar to Game of Thrones, but with far different emphases.
Each chapter opens with a quote from a song or book that exists within the world (the Arkendian Isles) Merlino has created with such obvious love and care. This device anchors the action in a much larger, older environment of factional histories without bogging down the plot with Biblical lists of families and war chronicles—a strategy that makes Merlino’s book far more readable than any of Martin’s.
Another area where Merlino succeeds at least as well or even better than the Standards is in his use of magic, which is deeply integrated in the cultures he’s created and rarely used as a Deus ex Machina to get the author out of otherwise inescapable scenarios. This magic-to-Machina ratio is a sure tipoff as to the ability of a modern author to deliver something new and compelling to the reader of Fantasy, and Merlino comes out on the winning end of the equation.
Closely related to the magic is the darkness of many of the characters, including a priest. Pulling from such tropes as vampires, wraiths, and gargoyles, Merlino adds his own dark originals to create a tapestry of evil that goes deep instead of over the top—a device that allows his heroes to be plenty flawed and non-heroic at times, since, by comparison with the forces amassing against them, they are still the group we’d like to see win.
In the final analysis, it is clear that Merlino has practiced his craft and honed it to a fine point. The prose is exquisite and the plotting well-crafted and devoid of filler.

Book One of the Unseen Moon Series, The Jack of Souls is a winner of the 2014 PNWA and SWA Awards for Fantasy. There are two planned sequels:  The Knave of Souls and  The Prince of Souls.

Monday, February 8, 2016

“Of Dreams and Dogs and Jazz”: A Review of The Plays of Jon Lipsky, Volume Two

 edited by Bill Barclay and Jonah Lipsky (Hanover, NH: Smith and Kraus, 2014). ISBN: 978-1-57525-893-5


If the plays in Volume One of this collection are like a sprout bursting through the soil from a carefully cultivated seed, the four plays in Volume Two are the unfolding of a complex, beautiful patch of flowers, quite unlike each other, or any other, yet recognizable all the same.
I consider it a privilege to have the opportunity to share my thoughts on what is now the third book containing the works and ideas of Jon Lipsky. His Dreaming Together: Explore Your Dreams by Acting Them Out (Larson Publications), has had a considerable impact on my theatre education and play-making career, and two of the four plays in Volume Two are directly related to Lipsky’s ground-breaking dreamwork.
The Introduction to this volume, written by Bill Barclay, provides answers to the questions of how Lipsky worked and why these four plays were chosen for this volume. I encourage you to read the introduction a few times before embarking on the journey of the first play, and to return to it before reading each of the others. The following quote sums up the editors’ intent and what this review will explore: “We hope through reading these plays and their introductions that Jon’s unique methods will inspire the artistically inclined reader to engage in similar voyages of their own. Whose story needs to be performed?” (24).
I have certainly been (re)inspired reading these two volumes of plays, and, in answer to the question posed, we ALL need our stories, if not performed, then told, which is the subject of my latest book in the field of theatre education and storytelling, and this is the lens through which I want to discuss the four plays in the volume, starting with Dreaming with an AIDS Patient, based on a book by Robert Bosnak, a world-renowned Jungian psychoanalyst and practitioner of dreamwork (I have had the pleasure to communicate with Dr. Bosnak on several occasions on the benefits of dreamwork in storytelling). Finding the universal in the ultra-personal has been a focus of my work for over a decade, and this play demonstrates its full effect. In the play, both Robert and his patient, Christopher, are played by the same actor, a decision that is out of the box and wholly apt, given the theory that all of our dream characters are aspects of ourselves. This play is full of unabashed truths about the depth of human feeling and having two actors play the main parts would have, I believe, created an unnatural boundary that would have prevented the seamless intertwining of doctor and patient that brings forth the vibrant resonance that the latent story holds. True to form, Lipsky creates a world where image and word are as seamless and re-enforcing in tandem as the play’s subjects. Humanity shines above all in this play; having developed and directed a play a few years ago with an HIV-positive actor, I have a personal sense of what is at work in Dreaming with an AIDS Patient, although any playwright, director, or actor will easily intuit the same after reading the script.
The next play in the collection is Call of the Wild (“A musical adaption of Jack London’s novels, Call of the Wild and White Fang”; written 1997; revised 2011). This is perhaps the most potent example of the derived work at which Lipsky excelled. According to the Foreword by Bill Barclay, the play began as a “class project at Boston University … devising a visceral adaptation.” Visceral, it is. Lipsky and his collaborators have captured the atmosphere, violence, and dark beauty of the lives of humans and dogs in London’s enduring novels. Like the plays in Volume One, Call of the Wild uses an ensemble of actors playing numerous roles, minimal props and costumes, and a tapestry of songs and sounds. The audience is “‘fresh meat’ just arrived to seek their fortunes.” The transformation of actors from dogs to humans is outlined in the ensemble notes and is very much a performance within the performance. If space allowed, I would examine the nuances of the language in the play (e.g., dog/God) and the way sound is used as a character, and the way repetition is used in the lyrics to build width and depth in the playing space that contains the actors, musicians, and audience, but I can only say, if you love theatre, read this play. And then read it again. It is, perhaps, the most purely powerful play in the collection.
Twice in my career I have had the opportunity to develop and direct the life stories of two individuals who portrayed themselves in the debut performances (and I am now writing a screenplay about a third). This is a unique form of storytelling with as many challenges as there are rewards. Coming Up for Air: An AutoJAZZography, conceived and performed by musician Stan Strickland and written by Jon Lipsky, is such a piece. In the introduction, Strickland notes that it was a three year process of conversation and note-taking on the beach on Martha’s Vineyard that brought the play to fruition. Anyone in the fields of storytelling and oral history will find a gold mine of technique and artistic choice-making awaiting them here. Strickland’s experiences and voice—as a person, as a musician—are so unique (the title refers to a near death experience he had in the waters off Hawaii), the ways that Lipsky worked with the text and structure to make them universal provide a roadmap for fellow travelers committed to bringing new stories (and perspectives!) to the world through theatre. Strickland and Lipsky collaborated to show us that everyone has their own rhythm and music—and finding and manifesting them for public performance holds a magic that the modern theatre often lacks.
The last play in this collection, The Wild Place, takes me back to the start of my journey through the processes and plays of Jon Lipsky. In Dreaming Together, he provided the roadmap for creating a work such as this one, which is based on a dream series by Susan Thompson (who was the co-author). Reinforcing a common theme among his collaborators, Thompson, in the Foreword, writes: “[Jon] encouraged performers to find stories within themselves” (301). Similar to the other dream plays in the collection, The Wild Place is deeply personal, taking as its source material dreams from a time when Thompson was “nursing her first child and pregnant with her second child” (Script Notes, 309). It is a moment in time, as the most moving stories are—constructed as a one-woman show with a supporting ensemble. Structurally similar while markedly different in their content and tone, Dreaming with an AIDS Patient and The Wild Place make a strong case for Lipsky’s methods of play creation. And his philosophy that the dreams are presented but not interpreted is one with which I agree. Especially when trying to make the uniquely personal wholly universal.
And that, to me, is what Jon Lipsky did best. Kudos to the editors of the two volumes for making his work available to storytellers throughout the world.




Tuesday, January 19, 2016

“A More than Satisfying Sequel”: A Review of The Journal of Vincent du Maurier II, by K. P. Ambroziak

 (Published by the author, 2015). ISBN: 9781514788370


Sequels, as ubiquitous as they have become in novels, film, and in television (through spin-offs and multiple seasons), are difficult to do well. As evidenced by the critically panned second season of True Detective and the multitude of sophomore albums by bands who come out of the gates with a strong first album, much of the difficulty with a follow-up project has to do with the long gestation period that a first work undergoes. In some cases, it is the culmination of decades of thought and trial and error, which elicits a deep passion and commitment from the artist that translates to the audience. Another reason is the simple fact that sequels are often about the economics of a follow-up rather than the truth about whether or not the main character has sufficient untold story left for a sequel. Often times, the initial Act 3 change in the Hero’s Journey is so profound that further examination of the main character’s life is bound to be a letdown; to feel forced, leading to logic holes and absurd situations.
            I do not know the specifics of Ambroziak’s journey with the character of Vincent du Maurier—how long he gestated before being born into the first novel, or if the first and second books were developed concurrently—but it is no matter, because Ambroziak has made some very smart choices in her approach to the sequel. Although these choices bring to mind Anne Rice’s far-ranging vampire series, there is also a great deal that is unique.
            First and foremost, Ambroziak splits the narrative between Du Maurier and his most recent vampiric conversion, Evelina, whom he professes to love. Creating two such distinct voices is an impressive feat, and makes the sequel a very new experience. The narrative also begins near the end of the story, which adds mystery to the plot as it unfolds. Switching between the two narrators also gives us clues and insights from both perspectives, further richening the mix.
            This book is also different from its predecessor through its locales: while the first book took place as they traveled to different locations, book II takes place primarily on a ship. The use of a single, confined space creates an enhanced tension as Vincent and Evelina fight for survival and to unravel the mysteries before them.
            What remains amid all of the differences is a tight, well-paced narrative, an interesting array of characters (from a millennium-old Aztec warrior to a foul-talking human sea captain), and rich tapestries of history, language, and cultural reference. It is in this area that Ambroziak reminds me most of Anne Rice, although her characters are far less melancholy, while still being complex and emotional, struggling with their lost human form (and in many cases, humanity) and learning to make the most of the physiological and other improvements of their vampiric body.
Another area             where Ambroziak expands upon the tropes of the vampire genre is the characterization of the willing human donors who provide the blood supply for the vampires. Their motivations are examined to a greater degree than usual and I hope that in future installments of this series we get to hear the point of view of one of them.
Ambroziak also has a writing style that produces rich images such as these: “pull the frequencies into one lone buzz, like the synchronized hum of hornets in a hive, until the vampires’ growls and jeers, egging on the two warriors in the ring, faded, and all I heard was the drone of the sizzling air” (40).
At the very end of the book there is a reveal that opens new mysteries and cues for the reader the probability of another book in this engaging series. I for one was pleased to see that the adventures may very well continue.