Monday, November 26, 2007

Fieldwork Showcase This Week

Hello, everyone. This is a Houston resident sort of note.

I have been, once again, facilitating the Fieldwork workshops here in Houston and this week, Wednesday night, is the culminating Showcase of the works-in-progress. The details:

Fieldwork Showcase
Wednesday, November 28
Barnevelder Movement/Arts Complex
2201 Preston Street
(for directions and maps, go to http://barnevelder. org/ and click on "directions"
Admission: $7

Presenting new work are:

dancer/choreographe r Sara Draper, presenting a short study in integrating Middle Eastern and Modern dance, performed to the poetry of Nathalie Handal

choreographer jhon r. stronks, presenting a new dance duet performed by Rhodessa Bell and Jonnesha Hawkins-Mintor

writer and performer Diana Weeks, presenting two pieces, a memoir/monolog "The She-Mob," and a duet comic skit, "Tonette & Tanika, the Tiger Ladies" with Susan Raffle

writer and comic Margo Stutts Toombs, presenting her comic monolog, "Twirling," about her lifelong relationship with her baton.

writer and performer Angel Viator Smith, presenting "Operator," a quick tour through little-known historical moments in Houston

and, of course, yours truly, Neil Ellis Orts, reading the first chapter from a book-in-progress, a "theological memoir" called The Good News Creed.

I hope some of you Houstonians can join us.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Houston Writers Festival a success, now what?

It's four days after the Houston Writers Festival and I still feel like I'm recovering.

First, it was a big success. We had 19 authors represented and everyone sold something---and that's a success in itself, If you've ever done a book signing, you know what I mean. But the traffic and the sales all added up to a success for the management at the Barnes & Noble where it was held. That means there's a good chance that other events to promote local authors are forthcoming.

Let's hear it for local authors, huh?

There was also some networking and a bit of a party atmosphere for some authors. There were several mystery writers present and while most knew each other, I think some were meeting for the first time. This is important to me, as well, as I very much believe in the power of networking and creating these sorts of communities. If anyone experienced the day as a true festival, I'd have to say it was the mystery writers (along with the one science fiction and one romance writer who were seated in the same vicinity).

It's hard for this German Lutheran farmboy to say things like this, but . . . I'm really pleased with how the whole day went. The things to complain about were minor and greatly overshadowed by the good the day brought. I met some wonderful writers and hope to keep them in my circle for future events.

Of course, I'm the sort that can only rest in the afterglow for a few days, if not a few hours. Next week, for example, is the Fieldwork Showcase at Barnevelder. I'm the facilitator and there's much left to be done with this event. With the holiday in between, it may as well be tomorrow, which is a little stress inducing. But it'll be fine, it always is. There'll just be some late nights between now and then.

And after that event, I'm laying low a bit for December. Working retail in December is enough of a project, don't you think? Of course, I'll have my writing and publishing projects to keep me busy at home. I've got a good start on laying out the next book from neoNuma Arts, Jill Alexander Essbaum's Necropolis. I also hope to make some headway on this theological memoir I'm working on (which got a bit derailed in the prep for the writers festival). I'll be reading the first chapter of this memoir at the Fieldwork Showcase, but I had hoped to have all chapters in a first draft by now. I don't. *heavy sigh* Well, like I say, I'm not doing any extra-curricular for December (other than the church choir) and so I'm hoping it will be a productive month, despite the holiday hubbub.

Speaking of holiday hubbub, I'm required to say things like "remember neoNuma Arts for your holiday gift giving." Really, for the friend on your list who likes the TV show Heroes, Able to... (edited by yours truly, Neil Ellis Orts) might be a welcome and unique gift. For your theater friend who reads plays, The Fatal Gift of Beauty and Other Plays by Christopher E. Ellis is a collection that likely will be new to them---none of that, "but I already have that" business. Both are available via your local bookstores or order online at your favorite site-- or or any number of other sites. They're easily found if you type in the title and author name.

More soon. Just finished reading a book I'm anxious to talk about. Just not today.


Saturday, November 03, 2007

Promoting Houston Writers, etc.

Time goes so quickly when you're busy like a bee.

So the main thing I'm trying to promote right now is this Houston Writers Festival I'm sponsoring in conjunction with the Barnes & Noble where I have my day job. Basic information:

Nearly 20 authors appearing throughout the day at 5000 Westheimer. Store hours: 9am-11pm.

Poetry readings, featuring 2008 Texas Poet Laureate Larry D. Thomas (, will take place at 11:30am at Canyon Cafe (in the same shopping center).

Prose readings, featuring Katherine Center (, will take place at 5:30pm, also at Canyon Cafe.

Children's books readings will take place in the store's Children's departement at 2pm.

It's going to be a lot of fun. And a lot tiring. Two weeks from today. I feel like there's much to be done, and yet, there's not much to be done at this point except wait until there's something to be done. You know? I find event planning to be like this. There's a flurry of activity, followed by a lot of waiting, followed by a lot of activity.

Mostly, though, it's going to be a lot of fun.

If you know someone in Houston, be sure to tell them about it. I hope it's the start building a more visible literary community here.

And if you're in Houston, your presence is greatly appreciated. (I'd like to say required, but I hate to sound pushy.)

A full listing of the authors to be present can be found at:


I'm also busy with Fieldwork workshops. It's going especially well this session. There's six of us, so a small group, but it feels very comfortable. People are trying out a lot of different material and everyone seems energized by the feedback sessions---no small trick, for those of you familiar with feedback at workshops!

I've mentioned writing book reviews for OutSmart magazine, here in Houston. I don't have anything in the new, November issue, but I'll be reviewing the new Nureyev biography for the December issue. I'll even get more than 70 words to do it! It's space well spent. The biography is 800 pages---seems like it should get more than 70 words, eh? Not that I'm complaining either way. I'm really enjoying doing these small reviews. It's forcing me to read books I normally wouldn't have noticed.

I did want to say a few more words about the first review I wrote for them, however. The Faith Healer of Olive Avenue by Manuel Munoz is the book I reviewed because I just liked it a lot and thought it should get more exposure. But 70 words doesn't really allow for the depth of this book.

First of all, it's a short story collection, but the stories all take place in one town in southern California, and characters reappear throughout the book. If the book isn't exactly a novel, it's definitely a layered exploration of one community.

And here's the thing about Munoz's writing: He has no heroes, no villains, just people for you to identify with. He manages to get into the skin of the character who could easily be seen as a monster (like the father who pushes his overweight son to suicide or the man who is left to raise a kid his partner adopted but never wanted himself) and makes your heart ache for them. Gay characters, straight characters, men, women---it's as if Munoz has been all of them and proves the old adage: there are no villains, everyone thinks of him/herself as a sympathetic character doing the best they can.

One thing that Munoz does is he manages to pick up on subtleties and makes you notice them. I've learned about myself from reading Munoz stories. One thing he's especially adept at is handling the ambiguities between gay men and straight men. A little gay boy, for example, being taught by his sister, how men greet one another---and how he was doing it wrong. And that sounds like it was a lesson. It's not as if the sister said, "Men do this when they meet each other." But at the end of the incident, the little boy understands his sister had inadvertently told him who he is. It's just masterfully done.

This is Munoz's second short story collection. His first was Zigzagger and I found it only because it was published by Northwestern University Press, where I was working at the time. Both collections are worthy of space on your bookshelf. Gay, straight, male, female, Hispanic or not---Munoz has something to say to us all.

That's all for today. Onward to my lengthy list of things to do . . .