Grab Your Good

I love mowing my lawn.

For those of you who think I might have a screw loose somewhere (read: most of you) and that I’m simply a masochist who enjoys manually pushing a 50 lb. mechanical object around my surprisingly sizable front and back yards on swelteringly-hot summer days, let me clarify things a bit for you. All that stuff I just mentioned in the previous sentence? Those aspects, I don’t particularly care for so much. What I do like about my personal lawn-mowing experience can be fairly succinctly summed up in one short sentence:

Mowing my lawn is one of the few things in my life that I can control.

I know where my yard starts; I know where my yard ends. I can set the height adjustment on my mower’s wheels so that the length of the cut grass is exactly what I want it to be. I can mow my grass in rows, and I know that when I double-back and mow the next row, the area I’ve already mowed will stay mowed. I can see how much of my lawn that I have left to mow, and when I get to the end and my entire yard has been mowed, I know that I am done with this particular chore for the day.

It’s a small victory, you see, but I feel that it’s a very important one. There is so much in our lives – and I’m confident, most of us have felt this way at least once in the last year alone – that we simply can’t control. From the relatively mundane of flights being delayed to the potentially life-altering impacts of political and legal change, so much that happens in the external world trickles down to happen to us in turn. Even the things that we try hard to regulate (our health, our finances, our relationships) are not guaranteed to be as firmly in our grasp as we’d like them to be; at any moment, these things can be unexpectedly influenced by outside factors and thrown into either minor or major disarray. Continue reading Grab Your Good

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77 Facts that Sound Like Lies but Are Actually True!

So, today is April 1st, a.k.a. April Fool’s Day, a.k.a. The Day the Internet Explodes with Purposely-Fabricated Lies.  I feel like today is the perfect opportunity, then, to instead bombard you with facts that are 100% positively true, but they sound so ridiculous that some people might not believe ’em anyways.  But I DO promise, all of this stuff below factually checks out and is the honest-to-goodness truth!  Culled from the ever-popular BuzzFeed, here are some tidbits that might just blow your mind: Continue reading 77 Facts that Sound Like Lies but Are Actually True!

5 Songs with Deeper Meaning

With the ever-present and all-encompassing nature of tools like radio stations and online streaming services, listeners have unprecedented access to any and all types of music they could possibly desire.  When planning a wedding, private party, corporate gathering, or any other kind of social event, having a variety of music is key.  But, along with the sound of the songs, there is another important aspect that is often overlooked: the content of the music, specifically what the lyrics of the songs might be saying to the listeners.

Some songs are easy to understand, but lots of music features lyrics that are sung so quickly or take such a back-seat to the overall sound of the song that most folks miss the “real meaning” of the experience entirely.  For every obviously-apparent song like David Allen Coe’s “Take This Job and Shove It” (which I do not recommend playing at corporate functions, for the record), there are a slew of songs whose true meanings aren’t so readily apparent.  In addition to questions about lyrics, many popular songs have back-stories about the how/where/why the songs were written that may not be entirely accurate (but the stories sound good and help to sell copies).  Take, for example, Eric Clapton’s classic ballad “Layla;” while it seems readily apparent that the song was written about a lady in Clapton’s life, it was actually inspired by a classic Persian poem from the 12th Century that Clapton thought would make a good story in song.  I’m sure the mysterious-girl/heartbroken-singer angle sold many more records, though.

In my years of DJ work and music management, I’ve discovered lots of interesting tidbits about many songs that might just surprise you (or at least give you some nuggets of trivia for the next time you’re out at the bar with your friends).  I’ve listed five well-known examples below, and as you’re planning your big event, I recommend that you take the time with songs you might not be familiar with and explore their lyrics and/or back-story in a little greater detail.  By utilizing sites like Lyrics.com and other online resources (as well as consulting directly with your friendly neighborhood DJ), you’ll be able to avoid potential blunders: since approximately 94% of Taylor Swift songs are about break-ups, maybe her songs are not the best picks for your Must-Play list at your wedding, am I right? Continue reading 5 Songs with Deeper Meaning

The Phenomenon of Show Choir

Long before there were any “Gleeks,” there existed a special breed of teenager I call the Show Choir Nerd.

glee2The TV show Glee, for those unfamiliar, is a fictional series all about show choir, or at least something that represents the Hollywood-embellished version of show choir.  Glee has been nominated for numerous awards and received high praise from both critics and fans (who prefer to be called the aforementioned “Gleeks”), and is still going strong in its fifth season on the Fox network.  Five years is nice and all, but hey TV executives – try keeping the show choir passion going for 40 years, and then we’ll talk about what it really takes to embody the show choir experience.

Why 40 years?  Even though it may seem like a random number, 40 years ago, at a little catholic high school in Fort Wayne, Indiana, the first show choir competition in the nation (most likely the world) was held.  How do I know this little bit of trivia?  Well, I wasn’t there…but my Dad was.  As a founding member of the Bishop Luers H.S. Minstrels, he was there when the choir’s director, Father Fred Link, had the revelation: why not get choirs together to perform in front of judges and fans?  The feedback the judges give would help the groups get better and enhance the experience for all involved.  So, on a chilly Saturday in February of the 1973-1974 school year, seven swing choirs (as they were known at the time), invited to the competition by Father Link, performed on a tarp-covered gymnasium floor at Bishop Luers, in front of a grandstand full of raucous fans.  The show choir Invitational was officially born.

And, in case you were curious, that night the Marion, IN, 26th Street Singers became the first show choir Grand Champions ever, and they would return to successfully defend that title the following year before the Carmel, IN Ambassadors went on a four-year Grand Champion run from 1977-1980.

ShowChoir3I currently serve as half of the Masters of Ceremonies duo for the Bishop Luers Midwest Show Choir Invitational, alongside the amazing Mr. Larry Bowers, who is marking his incredibly-impressive 38th consecutive year as Invitational MC this year.  The competition takes place this coming weekend, and every year at the Invitational I am reminded first-hand how much hard work, time, and effort goes into every facet of show choir, most prominently from the immensely talented and dedicated students that participate in the choir, band, and technical crews.  As a four-year member of the Bishop Luers Minstrels myself from 1992-1996, I know first-hand the long hours of rehearsal, fund-raising, travel, performance, and anxiety that comes standard with being a show choir member.  I also know it’s an enormously rewarding experience, one that I will truly treasure and remember for the rest of my life.

So to all you show choir members out there that are reading this, whether you’re a singer/dancer, handle an instrument or the equipment, and are a current or alumni member: THANK YOU and CONGRATULATIONS.  Thank you for your hard work and dedication to keep this amazing culture alive and well, and congratulations on all of your successes, whether they come in the form of trophies or simply the satisfaction of knowing that you stood tall and performed to the best of your abilities.  NO ONE can take any of this away from you, and NO ONE except other show choir members will truly understand the feelings of pride and accomplishment you can carry with you.  No matter how much of a “Gleek” they are.

ShowChoir2So stand tall and be proud, Show Choir Nerds.  Wear the title as openly as so many wear the title of being a “Gleek.”  Like I said above, the difference between a “Gleek” and a Show Choir Nerd is an important one: “Gleeks” watch the amazing-ness that is the show choir experience onscreen.  Show Choir Nerds get to live it.

It’s good to be a Nerd.

 

 

Photo Credits (from top)

The Sedalia News-Journal (sedalianewsjournal.com)

The Fox Network (Fox.com)

The Findlay First Edition (findlayfirstedition.org)

The Homewood Star (thehomewoodstar.com)

 

Theater Review: “Debbie Does Dallas: The Musical”

Dare to be different, I always say.

I love to actively seek out and experience the unique, the quirky, the off-the-beaten-path type of stuff, especially in the world of fine arts and entertainment.  While radio is attempting to shove what they want to be the “next big thing” down the public’s throat, I scour music sites like eMusic, CDBaby, and (to a lesser extent) iTunes, trying to find artists and bands that I actually want to listen to based on my own personal preferences, not what someone else is telling me to do.  I can use wonderful independent or wider-ranging film services like Vimeo or Netflix Instant to find lesser-known movies and hidden gems that aren’t afforded the luxury of national marketing campaigns.  Amazing authors working with a smaller press or self-publishing their work are just a few clicks away from discovery on sites like Smashwords, Goodreads, and of course Amazon.  Finding that singular, largely-unknown and under-rated slice of goodness really makes me feel like I’m privy to something special, something that I can confidently tell others about and proudly say “’I found this first…I found this on my own.”

That’s my feeling in a nutshell about “Debbie Does Dallas,” the stage-musical version of the kitsch-tastic 1970s pseudo-porn movie of the same name.  The iteration I had the pleasure to witness is currently running on stage here in Indianapolis, at Theater on the Square on Mass Ave.  The fine folks at TOTS are no strangers to pushing the envelopes with their shows, as I having at one time performed in a TOTS production while being on stage in nothing but a dance belt, a well-placed marijuana leaf, and a smile, can directly attest to.  “Debbie” tells a familiar tale: a young, bright-eyed and innocent youth goes on a voyage of self-discovery and personal change while trying to follow a dream.

The only difference between “Debbie” and Shakespeare, really, is that Debbie’s dream is to be a Dallas Cowboys cheerleader, the “’personal change”’ she and her fellow high-school cheerleaders go through is more related to hormones than anything else, and their voyage of self-discovery is just that, in the most literal and physical sense.

With tongue planted firmly in cheek, both the show and the cast are clearly having a great time letting loose in front of the audience.  The content itself is intrinsically cheesy and entertaining – the story is firmly entrenched in the free-wheelin’ 1970s and there’s no getting around it – but it’s the surprisingly nuanced performances by the cast that really bring the show’s irresistible charm to life.  Performing live comedy, especially the goofy, out-of-your-natural-element kind, is incredibly hard to do, and the actors and actresses in “Debbie” all shine in their own ways, playing to their characters’ singular quirks.

In the title role of Debbie, Emily Bohannon exudes the perfect balance of innocence and a growing understanding of sexuality and how the world revolves around it.  She’s cute as a button, unequivocally likable, and effortlessly carries the weight of most of the show’s musical numbers (it seems the show’s creators focused what little musical numbers there were primarily on the lead character, although the second act does feature some fun tunes for the entire cast to perform).  Maria Meschi plays Lisa, Debbie’s “frenemy” co-cheerleader; she does a fantastic job of playing a subtly evil high school girl, and she also gets the chance to show her vocal prowess in a second-act solo.  As Roberta, Linda Heiden absolutely nails the classic ditzy-cheerleader persona from top to bottom, and Andrea Heiden and Betsy Norton round out the cheerleading squad with excellent play off of each other as blissfully-unaware almost-lesbians.

My, what a large…loofah you have.

There are guys in the show, too.  Zachary Joyce portrays Rick, Debbie’s boyfriend and star high school quarterback; Joyce plays the role to spot-on perfection, presenting (physically and mentally) as the typical ‘70s porn-star leading man, replete with awesome moustache and an odd indifference to getting into sexytime situations with both guys and girls.  Ryan Dunn and Rich Tunnell both play double-duty as H.S. football players and a variety of other male-adult characters, with Dunn earning a special mention for playing a host of random but always-entertaining personas.  Rounding out the cast is Carl Cooper, who seems right at home in the finest of retro clothing as he also plays multiple roles of the Dallas Cowboys’ owner, a seemingly-innocent candle-store owner, and a not-so-innocent older man who first turns the girls on to the fact that “Teen Services” can mean a lot more than a simple innuendo.

The true mastery of the cast’s performance lies not in the “main” moments of dialogue and music, but in the small moments of comedy and “subtle” acting in between their words and when the primary attention of the audience is supposed to be directed to a different part of the stage.  Bohannon, Dunn, Joyce, and Linda Heiden particularly excel in this area, and it is this attention to detail and dedication to “acting through the end of the scene” that helps create a totally enjoyable experience for this show.

Choreographed with chintzy aplomb by Erin Cohenour (special mention to the tap-dancing glory of the song “The Dildo Rag”) and directed with a zealous embrace of all things tacky by Andrew Ranck, “Debbie Does Dallas” is a show that should certainly make you laugh and – pardon the innuendo – make you want to come again and again.  If porn mustaches were a rating system, this would be a 5-‘stacher for sure.  Yes, it’s an adult-themed show, but with this knowledge beforehand, you can obviously make your own choice to either relax and have fun with it, or simply pass on seeing it if you’re that concerned about what the ladies at the Bridge Club might think.  Personally, I highly recommend the first option, and then tell the card-playing ladies to lighten up and enjoy life a little bit.

Tickets, performance information, and more can be found on the Theater on the Square website.

The End of Ma(y)berry

Hello everyone! I’m out of town at a friend’s wedding this weekend, so I’m going to “phone it in” a little bit in regards to my blog posting this week (ironic, since I’m actually writing this ON my phone!).

So, here is an excerpt from the beginning of the guest review on The GORE Score from NY Times best-selling author Jonathan Maberry. To read the full review, skate on over to http://www.thegorescore.com Enjoy!

Guest Review by Jonathan Maberry

Hello all!

I’m delighted to be a guest reviewer here on the G.O.R.E. Score.  And thanks to Tony Schaab for the weirdness that is MAY-Berry Month here on the site.  There are some disturbed individuals associated with this site—staff and readers; but luckily various forms of treatment are available.
 
Instead of reviewing a single book (as I was invited and, dare I say, expected to do), I decided to provide my MUST HAVE list for best horror reading and viewing. These are the horror works I feel have great enduring merit and laid the groundwork for the best of today’s creepy storytelling.  It’s not a complete list by any stretch, but for me, all of these are 10/10.  There isn’t a weak one in the bunch.

Top Things to Consider when Picking a Publisher

Hi folks!  I thought I’d share a little bit about some things I’ve learned in my few years of being an author having multiple books and short stories published.  There are a lot of different kinds and types of publishers out there, and not all of them strike a good balance between wanting both their company and their authors to be professionally and financially successful.  Especially with smaller or independent publishers, it can be a daunting task separating the “knights in shining armor” from the plain old shysters.  I’ve had my dealings with both kinds, and I’d like to share with you a few insights and things to look for that I’ve discovered along the way.  Any feedback you may care to share is welcomed via the comments section below!

Top Things to Consider when Picking a Publisher

  1. What do their other books look like?  Take a moment to look around the publisher’s website (WARNING: if a publisher doesn’t have a dedicated website for their company, they are missing out on a key way to sell the books they publish) or search their books on Amazon.  Do the covers of the publishers’ other books look like a cover you would want on your book?  Most companies use only one or a small handful of cover artists, so the odds are good that (if you decided to publish with this company) the cover for your book will have a similar design or theme as the already-for-sale books.  It’s true what they say: “you can’t judge a book by its cover,” but in an increasingly populated marketplace, a shoddy cover is a surefire way to make potential buyers pass you right by without even bothering to discover what your book is about.
  2. How are their other books doing in sales?  This is not always a perfect indicator, but if you hop on Amazon and see that all the books from this publisher are languishing at the 2-million-ranking mark or higher, odds are good that not a lot of promotion for these books (and, in turn, yours when it comes out) is going on.  On the flip side, if you see good sales numbers, the company could definitely be doing some excellent marketing to go along with a solid book.  Of course, an author can many times go out and whip up a sales storm, so make sure to take those numbers with a grain of salt; go out and pick up a copy of a magazine that is specific to the genre you are writing in (for example, if your book is horror, than go grab a Fangoria or Rue Morgue) and see if the company has any ads out there.  Of course, the easiest way to get direct book sales numbers – if you have the gumption – is to simply ask the publisher directly for this information.
  3. Does the publisher have a publicly-noted good/bad reputation?  Visit an online forum or author’s club, or once again hit up Amazon and take a look at the conversation threads attached to any of the publisher’s book’s pages.  The website Preditors & Editors is a great resource to find honest information from other authors as well.  Good publishers will have people singing their praises; bad publishers will have people with many horror stories to tell you.  Both kinds may be slightly embellished, but you can usually take any trends you find out there as a pretty solid indicator of the truth.
  4. What are the terms of the deal they are offering?  This seems simple enough, but in reality there is actually quite a bit to consider here.  In addition to how much money per book you will make (and NEVER take an agreement that asks you for money up-front!), be sure to find out how many free copies of your book you will get sent to you upon release, and what kind of a discount you can have if you order extra copies of your book.  Be sure to note the length of time you will receive royalties and how long the book remains “exclusive” with the publisher.  Most publishers will offer you royalties from book sales for a set amount of time (3, 5, or 10 years, as some standard examples) but will ask to keep the book in their library “for as long as there is public demand for the title” (i.e., forever).  After your royalty period ends, I strongly encourage you to ensure the contract states that the exclusive rights also end, allowing you to sell the book on your own or publish it with another company, even if a version stays with the original publisher – you should always be able to get paid for your book!
  5. Are they professional in their communication with you?  This one seems like a no-brainer, but you’d be surprised at the kind of things a publisher may say to you in your e-mail or phone call communication.  Good manners, mutual respect, and excitement about your work are key – also of great importance, that a publisher is well-spoken and knows correct grammar and spelling!  I used to work with a publisher who wrote the most haphazard e-mails you’d ever see: line breaks at the wrong place, misspellings so plentiful I’d sometimes be confused as to what was being said, and not a single capital letter to be found.  If a person who runs a “professional” company can’t even be bothered to present as professional to you, how do you think he/she treats the products (i.e., your book)?  Also of note: be wary of someone who constantly badmouths other authors/publishers/companies.  If he/she speaks so unprofessionally and poorly about people he/she doesn’t work with, how do you know he/she doesn’t say the same about you to others?

Hopefully these pieces of information will be helpful to you as you go on your search for the “right” publisher.  There are many out there, so take your time and don’t necessarily feel the need to jump on the first offer you get simply because it’s there.  You know the value of your work – make sure you get your fair slice of the pie!

Author by day, DJ by night, pop culture nerd in between