Thursday, June 29, 2006

Blogging is Hard; What's a neoNuma? and "Blues in the Rafters" by Jan Carrington

A couple of entries ago, I noted that Art is Hard, Publishing is Hard, and now I'm finding Blogging is Hard. Not really, but I have good intentions of doing a couple of entries a week and here's it's been well over a week . . . I need to get it in gear so I can get through the contents of this book before the release party. (By the way, those of you far away needn't wait for the release party to order a book. It's now available for order, either through me or your favorite bookstore/online bookseller.)

I get asked regularly what "neoNuma" stands for. Well, it's a bit of a story and not very interesting at that, but let's get it out in the open and out of the way, shall we?

I suppose I've always expected, on some level, to have my own company as I remember even back in college playing with my initials (N.E.O.) as a prefix to . . . something. When you have initials like that, you should use them, yes?

Well, three years ago, now, I was finishing up my M.A. in Interdisciplinary Arts at Columbia College Chicago. My thesis project was a comic book (Body of Grace--still amply available, by the way) that I wanted to self-publish. I went back to the neo idea (as I like to say, I was neo before Keanu existed) and started googling names with neo as a prefix.

It is amazing how many neo_______s there are in the world.

neoworks, neowerks, neo productions . . . I don't remember what all I tried, but that gives you some ideas.

Then I remembered that I'd read that many new companies were using made up words for trademark purposes. That's why you have words like "Cingular" or (to make a Lutheran reference) "Thrivent." They aren't real words or else they're misspellings of words and so you know they're associated with a particular product or service.

And so I started babbling. A sort of brainstorming speaking in tongues. neolala neobaba neobula neonuma . . .

neonuma . . .

Pneuma--Greek for breath, wind, spirit.

I liked it. The anal retentive part of me is a bit uncomfortable with the mixing of Latin and Greek, but I'm pretty much over that now.

And so I published Body of Grace under the name neoNuma Arts. Later that year, I produced a dance concert in Chicago, featuring Adler Danztheatre Project of Chicago and the Kathy Dunn Hamrick Dance Company of Austin, Texas under the neoNuma Arts name. When I moved to Houston, I filed my "doing business as" paperwork and started looking around for things to slap this name on. My friend, Misha Penton ( designed a logo for me and here we are. I put neoNuma Arts on one other project, my self-published collection of church newsletter writings, Thirty-Six Echoes, but I consider Able to... to be my first real publication. The other publications were just me practicing on myself before I practiced on someone else.

Anyway, that's the story of neoNuma. Are you stll awake? I hope so (or that you skipped down to the important stuff below).

The third story in Able to... is Jan Carrington's "Blues in the Rafters." I placed this third in part because it continued, somewhat, thematic threads from "Light Readings of Ebony," but also because it lets you know, if you're reading straight through the collection, that I played a little fast and loose with my own rules.

Perhaps I should state the rule I had for myself: I wanted each story to have a clear super-power and I wanted it to fit into the sentence, "this character is able to __________."

"Blues in the Rafters" is basically a ghost story, so I easily enough completed the sentence with "able to communicate with the living," or, depending upon the day, "able to communicate with the dead." Both are correct for this story, but I believe there's something more going on in this story that takes it just a step beyond a typical ghost story.

And it's hard to talk about without giving too much away.

But I'll say this . . . it's a story about legacy, about remembering, about keeping something alive even as we all eventually die. In that sense, the communication across the divide between life and death isn't so much the super-power as is the the ability to pass on the legacy.

So you see, the sentence isn't completed so easily or definitively.

And that almost had me reject this story, but I justified its inclusion because it also does something not many stories of this type accomplish. Jan wrote a story that could very easily have slipped into sentimentality but she avoids it beautifully. The longing in the story isn't cheap emotion. What's more, she manages to work a joyous aspect into the sadness and longing we all feel when separated from a loved one by death.

I think you'll be glad I included this story in the collection.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Big Range Dance; "Light Readings of Ebony" by David J. LeMaster

It's a little past midnight and I just got in from seeing an evening of dance. Most people who know me know I love modern dance and I can be a tough critic. Lately, with most of my finances going toward the publishing venture or the electric bill, I haven't been able to get out to see much, and I have to choose carefully.

But tonight I attended the final night of performances of Houston's Big Range Dance Festival. I didn't make it to any of the other events during the fest, and honestly, I went tonight just to see the work of people I know (who also used my voice in their soundtracks, which was a gas, but also another story).

I had a very good time.

Sara Draper and Elizabeth Gilbert are doing some interesting work in collaboration. Elizabeth was in an auto accident some time ago which has left her in a wheel chair with limited mobility. Between Sara's movement and Elizabeth's poetry, they're exploring the being/doing dichotomy, how doing affects our sense of identity---those sorts of things. They do the work without self-pity or easy sentiment; neither do they avoid the difficulties of becoming wheel chair bound. It's fairly direct and postitive at the same time. The line that sums up the work for me is when Elizabeth says in one of her poems, "difficult is merely different." I could stand to remember that sometimes, myself.

Sara also choreographed a new work called "Breasts X Censored," which was about our culture's simultaneous obsession and shame surrounding women's breasts. To be honest, I wasn't sure what Sara was doing with this, even though I recorded some text for the soundtrack. I don't want to say it's subtle, but it's more nuanced than I was expecting. And funny as hell. All the dancers are women and they're all topless, but they all have black pieces of foam-core board (?) taped to their breasts, like thos black bars you see across photos. That in itself was funnier (ridiculous, really) than I was expecting it to be. That the dancers pretty much just did their choreography without emphasizing the boards made it even funnier. It's hard to talk about the piece because it keeps looking cliched in cold type, but it was really much more clever than I'm making it sound.

Toni Valle Leago also premiered a piece tonight that was more serious in tone, but also addressed some body issues from a woman's point of view. Toni is a choreographer whose work I generally enjoy and this was no exception. Her sense of humor is strong and her more dramatic moments pack punch because of the humor. I don't know what to say about it tonight, except that I'm looking forward to the evening-length work she's creating.

Both Toni and Sara were recently awarded a DiverseWorks Houston Artist residency. You'll like see more about them here in the future.

Three other companies/artists danced tonight, and I enjoyed what I saw there, too, but it's coming on 1am and I need to head to bed, soon. Ask me to talk more about this night of dance if you're interested. I'm always ready to talk about dance.
In my ongoing discussion of the stories in the forthcoming Able to... I turn my attention to David J. LeMaster's "Light Readings of Ebony."

David has two stories in this collection and they are both the darkest of the book. This is the lighter of the two. Make of that what you will (or wait until I tell you about "The Mesmerizer" in a couple of weeks).

"Light Readings of Ebony" tells the story of a man, Joel, who goes to a bar for quick hook-up and find that and so much more. A fortune teller in the corner of the bar draws him in and soon he finds he's part of some grand design that only she, Ebony, can foresee. Ebony wears symbols of most of the world's religions. Joel is an avowed agnostic. At the core of this story---which is probably what appeals to me most---is that it's about belief. I don't really want to say faith, because there's a subtle difference between the two. But Ebony believes Joel is more important than he currently appears and is willing to act on that belief. Joel claims neither belief nor disbelief, but that in between stance keeps him a place of inaction.

As for the extraordinary ability of this story, it belongs to Ebony who, we learn, can resurrect dead creatures. This, of course, plays into both characters' belief and unbelief. Interesting questions are asked here, and David doesn't really answer them so much as shows us one possibility of what a certain sort of belief can lead to.

I know most people (myself included) don't read anthologies straight through, starting with page one and continuing through each story to the end. If you're like me, you'll go to the story that is the proper length to fill the time you have at a give time, or you look at the contents page and see what title strikes you or some other criteria dictates the order in which you read.

But I placed this story second because it is a good contrast to the first story, "Gates of Eden." "Gates of Eden," while not all sweetness and light, does have an airier feel to it. It is, after all, a story about a young woman who speaks flowers. I wanted to follow that story with something that let the rare, sequential reader know that this is a collection of stories with a range of stories, that there is a journey through the book of lightness and heaviness, of different textures, if you will.
That's all for this very early morning. More soon . . .


Monday, June 12, 2006

publishing is hard, pre-ordering, "Gates of Eden" by Becky Haigler

When I was in grad school, working on my master of art in interdisciplinary arts degree, I would sometimes hit a wall and whine, "Art is hard."

Well, I'm here to tell you, publishing is hard, too.

But strangely exciting and gratifying.

Last week, I sent off the CDs containing the files for Able to.... Wednesday night, I was up very late working on it, getting it on the disks, etc. Went to the day job on 3 hours of sleep. Thursday night, I crashed early, but slept only about 4 hours and then couldn't get back to sleep because my mind was racing about this project---sort of a separation anxiety, I think. I think I'll be catching up on sleep for a while.

But, yeah, I'm very excited about this book. It's nearly all I think about.

Except when I find myself doodling a costume for a performance piece I want to work on next . . .

Art is hard. Publishing is hard. And I don't quite know how to take a vacation.
I sent out an e-mail a couple of weeks ago to about pre-ordering Able to.... And I actually got a pre-order! Woo hoo!! And today I got an inquiry about another. So I thought I should mention on my blog that, well---Able to... is available for pre-order. There, I said it. The retail price is $15.95, but the pre-order price from neoNuma Arts is $13.00, postpaid. Send check or money order to neoNuma Arts; P.O. Box 460248; Houston, TX 77056 or e-mail me at for instructions on how to order with a credit/debit card.
The first sentence of the first story in Able to... goes like this:

"Flowers didn't actually fall from Evita's lips--not at first, and not all the time. "

"Gates of Eden" was the first story I received after I put out a call for stories with super-powered characters. I opened the envelope outside the post office and read that first line and was enchanted immediately. I had no idea what kind of super-powers would be coming to me. I was even a little worried about what I might get. That first line surprised and delighted me. I would never have thought of a super-power like that! Flowers falling from a girl's lips! By the time I finished the story, I knew I also had the first story I wanted to use in this anthology.

Becky Haigler, the author of "Gates of Eden," wrote a story that has a distinct voice, it seems to me. It's charming. Just the notion of the power charms me. But it's not just charming. Becky tells the story episodically, taking Evita from pre-school to the end of her first year in college. As Evita grows, we see her charm--and her power--change subtly as she learns to compliment people (for flowers only fall from her lips when she gives compliments) to her own ends.

There is a fairy tale quality to the telling. Evita is the daughter of a wealthy family with a house full of servants, so she is privileged and something of a princess, just as her older brother, Cesar, is a bit of a prince. But like so many fairy tales, there is a dark side to the charm. Watching Evita grow and seeing her flowers change . . . well, I don't want to give away to much here. I do, after all, want you to buy the book and read it for yourself!

But I do want to say--there's a reason for why I picked this story for the first in the anthology, and it's not because it was the first story submitted. It's because it lets you know up front that this isn't a collection about superheroes, it isn't a collection of adventure stories, it isn't a collection that panders to any of the conventions of superhero lore (not that there's anything wrong with that!).

It was exactly the sort of thing I was looking for.
In the next blog entry, I'll talk about David J. LeMaster's "Light Readings of Ebony" as I work my way through the book's contents before it's released to the world.