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Sexual Harassment

As a straight, white male, I never really expected to find myself victimized by sexual harassment.

So when it happened, you could imagine my surprise. Disbelief, really. Sheer denial even for a while. And those feelings served to compound the problem: making it even harder for me to address an issue that was already difficult to tackle in the first place.

Recognizing unwanted physical contact is an easy thing to do. Confronting the perpetrator is a lot harder. Yet, sadly, verbal warnings are very often not enough to talk sense into someone who’s committing harm. In fact, in many cases (indeed in my own case) it can make things worse. Because calling someone out for being a dick, an asshole, or just generally inappropriate is an affront, and few of us possess the required tact to get around that gracefully. So, the abuser feels cornered, and lashes out.

This unfortunate reality leaves the victim with only one recourse: going through official channels to seek the help of some kind of an authority. In my case this was an employer, since the incident was at work. This could have been a police officer in the subway. Regardless of situation, however, this step is even harder than the previous ones. And that’s because to accomplish it, you have to finally admit to yourself – in your admission to someone else – that you are a victim. And nobody likes to face that, however true it might be.

My heart was racing when I finally found the courage to do it, and that was after 24 hours of talking myself out of it. It was only thanks to a trusted friend, an ally, a confidant, who helped to persuade me to “make it official,” shall we say. Encouraging me to take action, this friend reminded me of what I was too ashamed to admit I already knew was true:

that this was real, it was a problem, it had to stop, and there was only one way to fix it (correctly).

Once my eyes were opened to this realization, I knew I had little choice. And – boy howdy! – was it such an incredible relief to have done it! I felt better instantly – better than I even imagined I would or could have felt.

Emotions are deep and powerful things, yet they remain cryptic to us, and are largely unfathomable. It is not often that we, as humans, have an accurate perception of our own emotions in real time. It takes the passage of time (sometimes a lot of time), and the experience which follows, to reveal the true nature of our own emotions to ourselves. But they are so very important to our personhood – emotions underpin everything we do and are.

And so it is with this writing that I hope to encourage and empower anyone anywhere who is made to feel uncomfortable or powerless by anyone else. Or, just as importantly, to encourage and empower the friend of someone who is made to feel that way, to speak to them from their heart and offer a helping hand when they need it.

You do have the power to stop it. There are ways to help.

And the first step is to talk to someone you trust.

I can’t urge you enough.

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Punishment of Villainy (American Criminal Justice)

The American Criminal Justice system is a deplorable and embarrassing continuation of medieval crime-deterrent philosophy that has never worked particularly well, and the more our world grows and thrives in so very many other ways, the more we are continually reminded of our own abysmal failure to regulate and promote a peaceful society through our judiciary system.

(There is also a clear ethnic disparity going on, however that is for another blog.) 

First of all, the name alone is setting us up for failure:

“Criminal” is a euphemism for “villain.”

When someone is caught doing something wrong, we label them a villain. American villains will bear this mark forever, despite the false promise of “Corrections” (which we’ll get into a bit further down), and it shall be a shadow over them for the rest of their days. If it happened to be a Federal crime, then that person also can’t ever vote again, because as a people, we don’t believe in redemption.

Villains are not the same as regular people, and for that reason we are at ease with the idea that whatever foul thing happens to them is just fine. There is no real sense of proportion of “punishment” accorded to any given “crime,” at least not one that isn’t completely arbitrary. If a villain is apprehended, then they probably deserve to be mistreated during the arrest. And if their ride to jail is bumpy, they probably deserved that too. And if they’re subjected to inhuman abuses and horrors once they get to jail, the more the merrier! And at the end of a years-long sentence, how has all that punishment compounded? Who cares! They’re just villains, right?

The “Justice” part is also fraught.

For “justice” sure sounds nice to hear, but what it means in this case is “revenge.”

Our form of Criminal Justice means “if you commit a crime, you’ll go to jail.” That’s not justice. In fact, I would call that the exact opposite of justice. Actual justice would sound more like this: “Nobody wrongs anybody, and everyone lives in a peaceful accord.” THAT’S fucking justice, and that should be the ultimate goal.

The argument I tend to hear in response to this is the ol’: “Well, imagine if someone did [insert heinous act here] to you or someone you love. What would you want then?” Well, probably vengeance like anybody else. But that’s precisely why we have a government-instituted judicial system in the first place: because history has already shown us quite plainly that vigilante justice is very rarely fair or just in any respect. Furthering that truth, we should see that a victim’s initial reaction to a crime perpetrated upon them might well be the last thing we should look to for guidance as to what to do afterward. What should we look to instead? Well, I’m glad you asked….

But to answer that, I have one more issue with nomenclature to address: “Corrections.” Jails and prisons are run by departments of “Corrections,” because it is “correct” to punish wrongdoers, and, once appropriately punished for their crimes, wrongdoers are thereby “corrected.”

Except no, none of that makes any sense at all.

First, a thought on the correctness of correction in the first place:

Jesus Christ and I agree on at least two things; one of them is plenty of wine at parties, but the other is that scorn, wrath, and vengeance all work counter to the purpose of the existence of a peaceful society.

His example was if someone hits you, don’t hit them back, but invite them to hit you again. If someone wants to steal your shirt, don’t fight them, just give it to them. Of course this is difficult in practice – it’s nearly impossible for most people! – but it always was and continues to be the right thing to do.

And it’s not just right because Jesus said it. It’s right because we can prove that it’s right. (Unlike our Criminal Justice system, which is wrong and we can prove that it’s wrong.) If for some reason you require proof of this, the best way to learn about it is to practice it yourself. 

Aside: I find it absolutely stunning that so many think the United States to be a “Christian Nation,” and yet this very basic tenet of Christianity is so willingly tossed out in favor of good ol’ fashioned revenge, mankind’s oldest pastime – now handily administered by the State just like all our other important socialist utilities. 

And now for the notion that corrections “correct” anybody at all:

As I mentioned above, villains are not “corrected,” they are punished. That is a fundamental difference, and it is the root of our problem.

There is certainly nothing at all corrective about locking a person away for years at a time in an abusive environment.

In fact, I would call that destructive – serving the exact opposite purpose of rehabilitation. Just take a look at these harrowing national recidivism rate numbers if you don’t believe me. 

If our present system of laws-and-punishments were any good at dissuading people from wrongdoing, they why do we still have crime? Or, perhaps more fairly-worded: who are we kidding by calling it “Corrections?” 

Imagine what it must be like to be a rational adult, but to make the conscious choice to break a law. I know, you and I have never done such a thing, but take a moment to really think about it. It’s a thought experiment: how could a fully-realized person (legal definition: survived on this Earth for 18 years) ever find themselves in a situation where the choice they made is one which is contrary to our popular laws? Unfathomable, isn’t it?!

That’s because it is!

Rational people do not generally break the law, for, by definition, their faculty of reason can calculate for them the risks associated, and help them come to the best outcome. It’s not been a secret for a long time that people who find themselves chronically incarcerated are suffering from mental illnesses. (And once you’re inside, good luck getting any treatment!) Yet our entire judicial, legal, and penal systems are not designed to deal with the mentally plagued, but rather operate under the almost-completely-incorrect assumption that every poor soul who chances to enter into their cursed domains is a self-possessing, responsible citizen of the world who simply made a conscious choice to join the Dark Side. 

Don’t you think it would take an extraordinary situation for a rational adult to make the choice to break the law? Of course it would! Which is why

every such occasion warrants and deserves the attention of our judicial system to fully understand each individual situation, and to help the person in question (and all other people) to be able to avoid finding themselves in that particular arrangement of circumstances ever again.

The notion that “if we don’t want Crime X to occur, then we’ll just conjure up Punishment Y, and anybody we catch committing X, we’ll give them Y” might help a fringe proportion of the population to not commit crimes, but it does nothing for the vast majority of people who were never going to commit X in the first place, and, furthermore, it does a disservice to all those who were going to commit it regardless of consequence. We’ll just find ourselves constantly doling out Punishment Y for all time, as we have been now for literally thousands of years.

Instead, wouldn’t it be better if we could find all the ways in which people are motivated to commit Crime X, and create nonviolent solutions to prevent them from ever occurring? Isn’t that clearly superior in every way? Isn’t that something worthy of pursuit for the self-described “greatest nation on Earth?”

And none of these thoughts are new; one example is Norway, which has made huge progress on this front, and from whom we stand to learn a great deal, if only we would pay attention.

Now listen: I’m sure there exist people in this world who we cannot help, who are hopelessly violent and are entirely unable to fit within the general scheme of human culture no matter what we do. But for those people, I do believe the limitation lies not with them, but rather with us. If there is a failure, it is ours to understand the problem; not theirs for existing as they do. And, since they’re still people, we owe it to them (and to all future peoples) to do our damnedest to try and figure out a way to help them. Maybe we won’t accomplish that in their lifetime, or in ours. But not to try is to become villains ourselves.

We have to change our entire philosophy around from one that seeks out villainy and punishes it, to one that seeks out answers to people’s problems and finds a way to bring the two together.

That is how Criminal Justice should be administered. That is how to combat future crime in any real and meaningful way. That is how you help people who truly need help. And all of this should be the goal of any society with the compunction to call itself even halfway civilized.

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Review: “Distant Seas” by Bud Sparhawk

Author Bud Sparhawk’sDistant Seas” takes a fascinating look at what the ancient art of sailing might look like …if we set sail on Jupiter and Mars.


This novel, published by Fantastic Books, is told in four parts. The first involves what you might call your standard, earth’s-oceans-going sailboat race. It’s intense and eye-opening.

The second introduces us to the strange and entirely frightening prospect of sailing a craft in the tumultuous and unimaginably gargantuan atmosphere of Jupiter, via the narration of a mineral-fisherman. It’s where things start to get really strange.

The third is a race which takes place on/in Jupiter, during which some extremely exciting events take place, and the fourth brings us to yet another vision of the application of extraterrestrial sailing principles: the use of ultra-weak Martian winds to push specialized buggies across the sand.

All through the book, Sparhawk combines the technical nuances of sailing operation with the scientifically-accurate physical traits of three distinct planets (the first being Earth). Marvelously, a sail can propel a craft in each environment, but the unique challenges which arise between them become the main point of interest. It’s still “sailing,” yet the three experiences couldn’t be more different. You’ll have to read yourself to find out exactly how.

Aside from Sparhawk’s impressive technical understanding, his book, “Distant Seas,” handles emotion and tension extremely well.  

The heartbreaking moments are genuinely heartbreaking, because the characters are vividly real and well-developed. And when things get rough, Sparhawk’s suspense ranks among the most thrillingly nail-biting I’ve ever experienced in book form….

Really, sailors are crazy! Who would ever choose to isolate themselves by sailing into the heart of an almost limitless expanse of a place that is nothing but hostile toward human life?

Well, you’ll have to crack it open to find out.

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Review: “Clash of Eagles” by Alan Smale

clash of eaglesIn a fictional universe wherein Rome never fell, an army of steel-clad legionaries sails across the Atlantic ocean in 1218, landing on the North American continent to seek out fabled golden riches. What they find instead is a “Clash of Eagles” – an inspiringly beautiful tale spun by master storyteller, Alan Smale.

While Smale is keen to deliver all the lovely details you’d expect from such an extraordinary setting, he does it in a surprising way. At first I was afraid it was going to devolve into a more primitive version of “Dances with Wolves,” but Smale is quick to defy expectations, and the story he weaves in this book is wholly unique and utterly compelling.

As you begin reading, you will marvel at his attention to detail – especially historical detail. You can hear the lorica segmentata jingling as the Romans march, and you can taste the sour-bitter tang of Cahokian corn beer as it’s drank during the midwinter feast. Sheepishly I admit, also, that this story, amongst its other aims, takes the premise of SPIKE TV’s “Deadliest Warrior” and runs away with it so far into the depths of historical accuracy it’ll make your head spin.

And as for what history cannot tell us, Smale’s imagination takes flight in tremendous fashion….

Smale’s writing is unremittingly character-driven, which is most often seen as an admirable quality in fiction. However, I tend to enjoy a little more visceral tactility than probably does the average reader, so I found the physicality of “Clash of Eagles” a bit underwritten. Every action he describes exists only in relation to a character and their experience, and while that is impressive to read, Smale has convinced me that sometimes a quick note describing which club has swung where might be the more effective storytelling choice. I suppose it depends.

Along those lines, one very cool map is included with the front matter, which depicts “Nova Hesperia” – what the fictional Romans call North America. Yet before the story was done I was wishing more maps had been included. The lay of the land plays a large part in the story (how could it not in a story about Native Americans?), and that sort of thing is hard to visualize with just words.

Remarkably, Smale’s exposition is the most thrilling I’ve ever read. Yes, that’s right: thrilling exposition. Smale’s expert use of language, paired with the sheer novelty of his material, and ultimately whetted by a genius order-of-discovery all combined to make me devour long sections of background information and thirst for more when I was done. These famously boring parts of most novels shine with gleaming awesomeness in this one. To Mr. Smale I say: well done, sir!

Ultimately, if you’re looking for an enchanting story set in a world that’s at once familiar and totally alien, and that’s equal parts ancient legend and heroic adventure, I can’t recommend “Clash of Eagles” enough.

It is the first book of the Hesperian Trilogy and I shall be waiting with baited breath for the next installments, coming out in 2016 and 2017.


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Review: “A Sword Into Darkness” by Thomas A. Mays

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The novel “A Sword Into Darkness” is, in a word, shamelessly badass.

If you’re looking for a wonderful hard-military-sci-fi adventure tale, then look no further. Author Thomas A. Mays deploys a literary strategy of scientific realism, highly focused characterization, relentless plot pacing, and gorgeous language to spin a tale of fascinating space mystery.

The story concerns a scarred naval veteran who is called upon by an eccentric millionaire to help him build Earth’s first space navy, based upon the shaky evidence of an object on approach from lightyears away. In grueling detail, no astrophysical conundrum is left unaddressed as Mays, who has a pair of physics degrees and is himself a Navy veteran, clearly knows what he’s talking about. I particularly enjoyed the expert-level techno-babble.

Mays’ characters are constructed subtly, so that by the book’s end you’ve come to know (and fall in love with) a slew of deeply human-feeling fictional people.

“A Sword Into Darkness” is fiction at its most sciencey-est…

treating everything realistically, from photon drives to PTSD. And while any reader appreciates understanding how things in the story are supposed to work, at times it comes across a bit didactically.

As someone who is over-critical of endings, I can tell you that this ending is extremely satisfying. It has true surprises, clever twists, and is brilliantly unpredictable right up until the end.

In only a few places did Mays take a writerly shortcut get a point across too abruptly, or did I encounter a redundancy or the like. Ultimately my greatest technical dispute lies with a few bits of awkward dialogue.

Outside petty technical issues, though, I found the whole novel in general tended toward a distinctly “US Navy” perspective. And while overall that’s not a bad thing in and of itself, I found it odd that seemingly no one in the book espoused much of a contrarian point of view. There are tons of disputes which occur within that naval mindset, but not any outside it. For example, there are radio talk-show hosts, civilian politicians, and non-military science personnel who are all unaccountably well-acquainted with naval terminology and strategic military thinking. Overall I feel the book suffered from the lack of counter-perspective. An opposing viewpoint could’ve helped to strengthen the moral argument of the story, while its exclusion left it feeling a little lop-sided, logically.

But compared with what Mays has done well, this is a small point indeed. I highly recommend “A Sword Into Darkness,” and will look eagerly toward what Thomas Mays puts out next.







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Review: Mad Max: Fury Road


For the non-initiated, Mad Max: Fury Road is one big dusty ball of exploding fun, a successfully satisfying summer action flick.

For the die-hard fans of the series: Fury Road is the second-movie sequel that Mad Max 2: Road Warrior really wanted to be.

The absence of Mel Gibson hurt my soul a little bit, but to have him reprise the role at his present age would have relegated most of the ass-kicking to another, younger character (á la Mutt from the 4th Indiana Jones film), and what Fury Road reminds us is that Max is a top-notch bad-ass in his own right. Ultimately I support the casting decision. Tom Hardy brings his own skill set to the role, which does not disappoint – namely that haunting, rumbling, low basso voice of his….

This past week I’ve seen all four Mad Max films in order (I have not seen 2011’s Renegade), and for the first time.

The original is surprisingly well done, despite having the least amount of the gasoline-fueled, desert-wind-whipped action which has come to define the series. What is has instead is an actual heart, an important point to make, and a character-centered plot line. It’s the kind of backstory-explaining film that nowadays they make after a franchise is successful, such as with X-Men Origins – Wolverine. Max doesn’t even become truly “mad” until the very end of the film. What’s more, Max himself does very little of the fighting. A great deal of it is left for the villains terrorizing innocents, the “police” terrorizing the villains, and various women standing up to defend themselves. From the very start, Mad Max was a feminist apology.

The sequel to that, Mad Max 2: Road Warrior, pushed the throttle hard into “post-apocalyptic dystopian biker-gang-ruled hellscape,” taking the story to a place that was, though arguably foreshadowed, nonetheless a bit of a surprise. The original still had plant life and societal infrastructure – now all of it is gone. But we liked where the story had taken us. It was a gritty, ruthless 80s Sci-Fi action film, and we were all about it. It painted a portrait of Max as a mysterious loner aimlessly wandering the desert, doing anything to survive, yet offering himself sacrificially to basically anyone he encountered who needed help. But for all it had going for it, it was a bit too obviously “the middle film in a series of films.”

The third installment, Beyond Thunderdome, starts off trying to be a bigger budget version of Road Warrior (it was the first film of the series funded by American money). Here’s Max again, aimlessly wandering around, and – oh look! He’s found trouble again. Only now it’s even more ridiculous. And for exactly the first half of the movie, I was with it. Sure, it was ripe with 1985 everything – including a far-fetched plot and hokey characters – but it was still good ol’ Max doing what he does best. Only the director (George Miller, who started the franchise) bowed out for the second half after a close friend of his died, and someone else took over. And the film takes a subsequent nose-dive.

First there’s a foray into a Lord-of-the-Flies-meets-the-Lost-Boys tribe of children who Max inexplicably vows to lead and protect (okay, whatever, I guess that’s kinda what he always does), but then they all end up back in Villain-town for some reason, and of course there’s a silly battle, out of which choo-choos a train from nowhere! All right! A train! This is gonna get good!

…But instead it gets worse. The final showdown is a lack-luster chase, and magically Max finds his old aeronautic buddy at the end of the train tracks, who flies all the children to freedom, leaving Max behind for a really stupid reason. But it’s okay, because Tina Turner – ruthless murderess though she is – decides for no reason just to leave Max alone.

Really, considering how awful the third film is, it’s a surprise anyone ever thought to reboot the whole thing. I’m very glad they did, though. They’ve built a fine film in and of itself, but one which is also loaded with the same cool tropes that started it all: grandma with a shotgun, Max’s trademarks (gimpy leg, leather jacket, double-barreled, sawed-off shotgun, and cool car [the last of the Interceptors!]), sawing through a chain of some sort, high-speed explosions, sheer desperation, inward and outward deformity, the scary politics of sexual dominance, the profound metaphor of human power represented by automotive power, and the struggle within all of us to find our humanity in this indifferent “wasteland” of a world which we are all forced to share.

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Review: “Self-Publishing for Profit” by Chris Kennedy

One thing I’ve noticed these military-types do very little of is mucking around. Independent author Chris Kennedy demonstrates his unflinching desire to seek out the facts and implement effective strategies toward his goals in his incredibly useful self-help book, “Self-Publishing for Profit.”


The first thing I noticed (and appreciated) about this book was its length. At a mere 150 pages, it does not waste a second of your time. Kennedy plows through the varied travails of self-publishing one item at a time, giving only the pertinent details, his tips and experience, and the facts.

For an author (such as myself) only looking for the meat and potatoes of a highly complex industry, Kennedy delivers the stuff you want to know right away, then moves on at a steady clip.

My favorite part of the book is the information itself. Kennedy is a self-taught independent bookseller, and you could learn everything his book has to offer if you just invested a few years struggling to do it, but why bother? In a single sitting (I stretched it into two), Kennedy will give you an easy-to-digest, step-by-step examination of everything you need to do in order to set your book up for financial success.

I highly recommend Chris Kennedy’s book, “Self-Publishing for Profit.”

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RavenCon 2015

Just yesterday, the 10th annual RavenCon (a science-fiction and fantasy convention hosted in Richmond, Virginia) came to a close.

A bittersweet farewell was exchanged between old compatriots and new friends alike, as nothing brings nerds closer together than a fully-scheduled weekend of sharing ideas, commiserating the challenges of creativity, laughing, drinking Klingon blood-wine, and seeking the next great art.


This was my first RavenCon, and I was given the opportunity to share my thoughts on Cinematic Book Trailers in a special presentation of my own devising. In addition, I had the honor of speaking on six panels, and the privilege of moderating two of them.

I picked up a healthy number of new reads (including the Big Book of Swashbuckling Adventure by Lawrence Ellsworth [see picture below]), as well as a few unique gifts. I have a wealth of business cards and contact information that will take me at least a full day to properly digest, but will provide a lifetime of enjoyment thereafter – predominantly by severely upgrading the coolness of my Facebook and Twitter feeds.

Lawrence Ellsworth and myself

Lawrence Ellsworth and myself


One thing I didn’t learn is that you should go to bed at a decent time if you plan to be up and active for 16 hours the next day.

Getting a personal sketch from 4-time Hugo-winning cartoonist, ...!

Getting a personal sketch from 4-time Hugo award-winning cartoonist, Alexis Gilliland!


The finished sketch.


But, just like at the end of every writer’s conference I have attended, somewhere beneath my beaten, ragged, and sleep-deprived exterior, there flickers the flame of an artistic ambition reignited – an enlivened, enriched, and thirsting desire to read and write more (and better!) than ever before.

I would also like to mention my endorsement of the DC17 bid for the 2017 WorldCon in Washington, DC. The team putting it together has proven themselves competent and dedicated, and I would love to see what they could do with the opportunity to host it. (You can vote here.)

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The Reading: Testing Out a Script

When Carol Mertz-Eischeid of Bishop Garrigan Schools, in Iowa, first asked me about writing a play for them, I knew right away that that would entail a certain number of steps. The two most important (and the two most difficult) were: 1) write a script, and 2) produce a reading.


That’s right. Calligraphed, hand-bound scripts. Like a boss.









Writing a script is the obvious part. And, for the purposes of this post, we’ll leave it alone for now.

Producing a reading is the trick, though.


The cast at Ripley Grier Studios in New York City for our first proper read-through (one actor per part). Nathan Fremuth substituted for Anna Michaels as “Grandma.”










Purpose of a Reading

The advice to any writer is as old as writing itself: “Read it out loud.” This editorial strategy is surprisingly effective for the simple reason that language is first and foremost a spoken enterprise.

The speech center of the human brain is one of the few anatomical differences between our species and every other – including chimps, dolphins, cats, whales and bonobos. We have so much in common with all the various types of life on this planet, yet NONE of them can speak. They are physically missing the part of the brain that handles that.

(It’s the author’s personal theory that this alone is primarily responsible for our domination of the Earth.)

Even in humans, if that part is not accessed in time, it will shut down, and a person will become forever unable to learn a human language. At all.

Writing, on the other hand, is an entirely artificial construction which human beings painstakingly manufactured, collectively, over the course of millennia to suit their spoken language. That’s why it’s no trouble at all for a baby to learn Mandarin, but fully-grown adults are in a life-or-death struggle between theretheir, and they’re.

Speech your brain handles; we could say it’s “natural.” Writing is unnatural – it’s purely man-made, and therefore really, really convoluted (just like your iTunes service agreement!).

After a writer has spent hours pouring over a project, unless they’re unrealistically lucky, some of that “writerly” convolution will have crept into what they’ve done. When they read over it, it appears perfectly fine. But only when it’s read aloud does the subtle truth come out.

If you think about it, you’ll notice a very big difference between what we write and what we say.

“What is up?”



That’s what makes writing good dialogue such a challenge. Because you’re really dealing with two separate languages with distinct rules and conventions. (German, in fact, has confronted this reality so well that written German has totally different rules from spoken German.)

Speaking the words out loud forces you to deal with those differences. And the edits you make afterward reconcile them so that what you get in the end will sound more like something real people would actually say. That means audiences hearing it for the first time will be able to understand it without effort, which is of course crucial.

Producing a Reading


Sean Coughlin et al









Now comes the hard part. For a play, you need actors to read as characters. Ideally, you have an individual actor on each part. You’ll also need an extra voice just to read stage directions to make it clear what physical business is going on. You, the author, should just sit quietly and listen.

In the case of “A Fifth Magic,” I first assembled a small team to read through the script in a circle. We didn’t have enough bodies for all the parts, so we read cyclically – actors read one line at a time going clockwise, so that each time a person read, they were a new character. This was great fun, and looked like this:

2015 Feb 26 A Fifth Magic Table Read

First ever read-through









Though this was not given to a proper audience, this was still a reading. And it served to knock a lot of the kinks out of awkward phrasing and uncovered several typos. It also gave me my first glimpse into how the show might be received by people outside myself. But it didn’t help us discover impossible costume changes, prop redundancies, ineffective blocking, or sight-gag problems. For that type of analysis, you have to go a step further.

To get a really close look at all the details involved in an entire play, you have to recreate as many of those details as possible. In my case, a full-scale production was unfeasible, however it would have offered the best trial, as inevitably every issue that could come up would come up, and we’d have found ways to address them.

The next best thing is a staged reading.

2015 March staged reading with props IMG_2972

Ryan Shaefer and Deven Kolluri









Some plays don’t use any props. Some don’t care how the actors are dressed. Some plays need super-specific set pieces, or special effects. Plays are endlessly different in their technical requirements. This particular show is rather prop-heavy and highly visually oriented. As a result, to get any sense of how all those props would actually function together, I had to put objects into the hands of the actors to see how they worked. And to know if my sight-gags and visual jokes were going to be funny at all, we had to actually see them. (Spoiler alert: they’re hilarious!)

I wrote into this show a few magical illusions that need specialized props. There’s a “Magic Blanket” and a “Magic Tophat” that we had to actually construct. There was originally a magically levitating book prop that was eventually cut from the show.

2015 march levitating book prop constuction  lee eisenberger IMG_0167

Lee Eisenberger building a prop












Here’s the book in action!

Pretty cool, huh?

I cut it for one ultimate reason, but there were several others. The real reason was that there was a sweeter/better way to handle what the levitating book was trying to do within the story. The best secondary reason was that it was really, really technically demanding to perform. You needed perfect lighting, specific stage dressing, multiple people well-coordinated to work together, and a decent amount of construction to even have a prayer of having it come out right, and even then it wasn’t particularly robust. We didn’t have nearly enough rehearsal time available to make that work, and we didn’t have enough control over the theatre’s lights.

But the show is better off without it, and all those reasons above are partly why.

2015 march me directing IMG_2944

Kevin Kelleher (me) directing









This coming Monday night will be the final test. I get to sit back in a darkened theatre and watch all my collected thoughts be transferred into the bodies and minds of 16 incredibly talented people. At that point I will be entirely removed from the process, and what I witness will therefore offer me the most information possible. I’ll get a picture of what happens when real people go running wild with nothing more than words I wrote down in a certain order.

And that, folks, is what it’s all about.

2015 march dress rehearsal cast photo IMG_3170

The beautiful cast!










– Photography by Laura McBride –

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Reading a New Play!

Come attend the free, public reading of my latest theatrical concoction:

“A Fifth Magic”

on Monday, March 30th

7:30pm at Theatre 80

in the East Village of New York City.

“A Fifth Magic” is sort of like Harry Potter meets Book of Mormon…. It’s highly comedic and family friendly. I’ve also managed to pin down some seriously talented actors for this one-night only gig, so you do not want to miss it!

In faraway Iowa, way back in 2011, a little school called Bishop Garrigan made itself the first entity ever to independently produce a work written by yours truly. That show was called The Madrigal Dinner, and I had the pleasure of being able to attend. Those students rocked it!

Not long afterward, Carol Mertz-Eischeid, Bishop Garrigan’s theatrical liaison, asked about my writing another show for them. Well, folks, I have since written that show and later this month I will be giving a staged reading of it.

Readings are hugely helpful to the playwrighting process, as they are the next best thing to a full-on production. I get to hear audience reactions, see what a whole cast of performers does with their roles, and test out every aspect of the script I wrote to see if it translates to the stage in the ways I had hoped.

I ask you to join us on Monday night, the 30th, at 7:30pm to share in the fun. I’ll be looking to hear what people think, and following the reading there will be live Irish folk music at the adjoining bar, the William Barnacle Tavern.



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  • wise words

    JESTER: His Majesty's son, Prince Artemis and Lady Fallowmore!

    PRINCE: Please, just call me Artemis. I don't need that title.

    JESTER: All right...the "Artemis" formerly known as "Prince," and Lady Fallowmore!

    -Kevin Kelleher, "The Madrigal Dinner"

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