Archive for April 30, 2010

Jigsaw Jones, The Musical: Both Thumbs, Way Up

I want to share a few photos and give my belated reaction to seeing the musical, Jigsaw Jones: The Case of the Class Clown. From left to right in the above photo: Benjamin K. Glaser (Jigsaw Jones), Jill Kurzner (Helen/Athena), Johnny Deem (Ralphie), Claire Duncan (Mila), James Preller, and my two special guests, Elizabeth and Maggie (in fake nose). The stage manager, Trey Johnson, snapped the photo.

First of all, I’m not built for this kind of thing. And lately I’ve come to see myself in this way: I was one of those kids who hated the idea of embarrassing himself in public, caused by a sorry combination of fear, shyness, and overall uptightness. My answer, of course, was to NOT do things — especially if they involved trying anything new. Don’t go off the high dive in the town pool, don’t try out for a school play, don’t dance in public, and on and on. That is partly why, I tell kids, I became a writer. There are no witnesses. You work alone. And you only share what you choose to share (you try to edit out the belly flops and pratfalls).

So I went to this show, put on by ArtsPower, was a degree of dread. What if I hated it? What if no one shows up? It was out of my hands.

I arrived early at the Egg performing arts center in Albany . . .

. . . bringing along a small but crucial sampling of the target audience, my daughter Maggie and her friend Elizabeth. I had arranged to meet the cast before the show, catch a sound check, and settle into our seats.

I immediately liked the cast of four young thespians. They were enthusiastic and energetic, and acted genuinely pleased to meet me. Wait. Come to think of it, they were actors. Highly skilled actors. Maybe they weren’t pleased to meet me after all!

I sat through the show . . . and loved it. From the adaptation, to the stage set, to the songs, to the performances, it was extremely well done. Special appreciation goes to Greg Gunning, who adapted the book and penned the lyrics. Greg and I spoke on the phone, he listened patiently to my comments and (very few) suggestions. Richard DeRosa wrote the music, which was lively and upbeat (I want the soundtrack!). I watched in that theater feeling just so thankful, and happy, and proud of what I’d done, and what they had done to make my little six-thousand word story come to life in a totally different way. There it was up on stage — breathing. Greg streamlined and improved upon the story, expertly trimming down the cast of characters while bringing the book’s main themes into sharper focus, and each actor gave an appealing, fresh-faced, thoroughly professional performance.

For me, it was a quietly stirring, emotional experience. I can’t really explain it except to say that I felt it: Wow, I put this story out into the world; it came from me. And I thought, You know, this is actually good work. It has heart and wit and kindness . . . and I can hum to it!

I recommend this show without reservation.

(Yipes! What is happening with my hair in this photo? Do I really walk around like that?)

I should add that it’s an absolute honor to have my book selected for theatrical interpretation by the folks at ArtsPower. Out of all the books available, they picked mine, the twelth in a series of forty titles. Amazing. Thank you very much, Gary Blackman, executive producer.

If anyone is interested in booking a show, please know that it will be touring through 2011. Here’s the info you need to get started.

Cellphone Novels

My friend, author/illustrator Matt McElligott, tipped me off to this remarkable publishing fact:

In 2007, half of the top ten bestselling novels in Japan were written on cell phones.


Many articles have been written about the phenomenon, and as usual I’m a little late to the party. Here’s a couple of paragraphs from a 2008 New York Times piece, written by Norimitsu Onishi:

TOKYO — Until recently, cellphone novels — composed on phone keypads by young women wielding dexterous thumbs and read by fans on their tiny screens — had been dismissed in Japan as a subgenre unworthy of the country that gave the world its first novel, “The Tale of Genji,” a millennium ago. Then last month, the year-end best-seller tally showed that cellphone novels, republished in book form, have not only infiltrated the mainstream but have come to dominate it.

Of last year’s 10 best-selling novels, five were originally cellphone novels, mostly love stories written in the short sentences characteristic of text messaging but containing little of the plotting or character development found in traditional novels. What is more, the top three spots were occupied by first-time cellphone novelists, touching off debates in the news media and blogosphere.

“Will cellphone novels kill ‘the author’?” a famous literary journal, Bungaku-kai, asked on the cover of its January issue. Fans praised the novels as a new literary genre created and consumed by a generation whose reading habits had consisted mostly of manga, or comic books. Critics said the dominance of cellphone novels, with their poor literary quality, would hasten the decline of Japanese literature.

Whatever their literary talents, cellphone novelists are racking up the kind of sales that most more experienced, traditional novelists can only dream of.

Photo credit: Ko Sasaki for The New York Times

The young woman pictured above, who goes by the name Rin, sold 400,000 copies of a mobile phone novel (a form known as keitai shousetsu in Japan). She wrote it over a six-month period while in high school. Her novel, titled If You, was the 5th bestselling novel in Japan in 2007. Interestingly, Onishi reported that “many cellphone novelists had never written fiction before, and many of their readers had never read novels before, according to publishers.”

I’d bet this has applications for reluctant readers, though what the implications are I can’t begin to imagine.

Duncan Riley, writing for TechCrunch, opined in December of 2007:

I can’t see anyone in Western nations waking up tomorrow and seeing mobile phone composed novels on the top seller lists, but usually Japan is years ahead on many tech fronts; mobile phone data services were available and popular in Japan years ago as the rest of us are only now catching up. Perhaps the NY Times best seller list in 2012 might consist of keitai shousetsu, stranger things have happened.

Entenmann’s & Dad: Part 2, from memory to realistic fiction

In a previous post, I wrote about memories of my father, specifically the kinds of food he used to buy when grocery shopping.

Scroll down or click here to backtrack to it.

I’ll wait.

Now let’s see how that family memory — from memory to memoir to creative fiction — played out in Jigsaw Jones #28: The Case of the Food Fight.

Note: Growing up, we always had to help our father bring in the packages. It was one of the few rules I can remember. This scene, from chapter 1, picks up at that point. The Jones boys, Daniel, Nick, and Jigsaw, hauling in the shopping bags. I’ll let Jigsaw pull the thread from here . . .

My mom buys healthy things, food that is good for us. If that sounds boring, you should try eating it. But sometimes my dad shops. He buys stuff that my mother would never touch.

Dad, you see, has a sweet tooth.

A big one.

We might not have liked carrying the heavy bags, but we liked checking out all the tasty treats.

“Wow,” Nick said. “This cereal is totally awesome. It’s mini chocolate chip cookies . . .”

“. . . that are frosted with sugar!” Daniel exclaimed.

“And they come with rainbow-colored marshmallows!” I cheered.

“Hey, look at this,” Daniel gushed. “A whole bag of Snickers bars!”

“That stuff’s expensive,” my father said. “So take it easy, boys. Prices are going through the roof.”

“Sure, Dad, whatever,” Nick said. “Now let’s chow down on some of this junk food before Mom gets back from her trip.”


Entenmann’s & Dad: Part 1, from memory to realistic fiction

Though sudden, it didn’t feel traumatic when my father died a few years back. He was in his 80’s and, well, it seemed about right. He went the way he wanted to go, puttering around in the yard. Then gone. I had the honor of giving the eulogy.

I find that I miss him more than I expected. Or, no, that’s not quite it. I find that I miss him more, now, and that’s not what I expected. I figured that the pain, or loss, would lesson over time. I’d get used to it. Dad’s gone. Okay.

And it is okay — but I keep thinking about him, remembering things, expressions he used, his odd habits. The memories have gotten sharper, more frequent. I do what I can to keep them coming. And I cling to them.

Growing up, my mother did not drive. Unusual, yes, but I simply saw her as a rare lady who did not drive a car. The roads were safer, I was sure. So my father always did the grocery shopping. And he did it with flair; he had a sweet tooth and made poor nutritional choices, week after week, year after year. Soda, peanut butter cups, sugary cereals!

Because of that, I can’t wheel past a supermarket display of Entenmann’s breakfast cakes without thinking of him. Dad was a sucker for Entenmann’s. I guess I inherited my father’s sweet tooth.

I submit to you: the raspberry danish . . .

. . . as constructed by the friendly folks at Entenmann’s.

These days, my wife Lisa is all about local produce, organic this, free range that, healthy choices, blah blah blah. I get it. She’s smart, she’s good to us, she’s doing the right thing.

Infrequently, I do the shopping. The way these things work, of course, is that I’ve become my father. I’m dad pushing the cart. I eye that Entenmann’s display and ask myself, WWDD? What Would Dad Do? So I toss that raspberry danish into the cart and roll on, pleased, full of good cheer. It drives Lisa a little crazy, how I undermine her best efforts. The kids don’t seem to mind. Mostly, it’s just a dance we do. When dad goes shopping, everybody knows he’s going to come home with a couple of things mom would never buy. It’s not really about Lisa, or me, or even the kids. It’s about my father, and keeping some things — even the silly stuff that seems to have no meaning at all — alive in our hearts and our kitchens and even our books.

And honestly, the danish is delicious.


Music Video Weekend: Tracey Thorn, “Oh, the Divorces!”

“Who’s next? Who’s next? Always the ones that you least expect.”

Today I’m not going to try to illuminate, educate, or pontificate.

Which, come to think of it, leaves my cupboard bare.

No, folks, we’re here to hear an amazing NEW song — What, James? it wasn’t written in the 60’s? — and a beautiful performance by Tracey Thorn. You likely know her from Everything But the Girl.

I’m doing you are favor. Sit back and listen . . .

You need to a flashplayer enabled browser to view this YouTube video

“I examine my heart, see how it stands.”

The song is available on iTunes for 99 cents. Cheap!