Sunday, August 31, 2014


By Leigh Stevenson
In the academic world, the arts are habitually lumped together in a rather generic category labeled 'Creative Endeavors.' As opposed to serious subjects like science and math, schools often consider music, art, drama, and writing as random or fill-in classes. If one of the arts is your life’s pursuit, this makes pursuing it rather difficult. Still the artists persist. I recently saw a play called The Velvet Weapon which is based on a revolution in which art, in this case a play, helped to end Soviet rule and create the Czech Republic. Pretty powerful stuff these random artistic pursuits.

Recently I had the opportunity to see and participate as acting and writing merged in the form of the dramatic reading of the play, Bermuda by SCWW Columbia ll’s Laura Valtorta. Over the years, I’ve had the chance to act in several plays written by playwrights from Shakespeare to O’Neill, Wilde, Beth Henley, and Tom Topor. Never before was the playwright present. Being a writer myself, I can’t imagine the restraint it took to watch one’s creation in the hands of other people. Laura watched with grace as others took what was in her head and translated onto paper and speak lines she wrote. I would imagine this was something akin to giving birth. It takes courage to trust a director who may or may not share your vision. Think also of the grit it took to observe actors who not only may not share your vision but who may interpret the lines you created in a in a totally different way than you intended. I think it’s no mistake that writers rarely direct their own work unless it’s on film.

Bermuda, a funny, offbeat comedy takes a humorous swipe at the abuse of governmental benefits but has no intentional revolution in mind. What Laura Valtorta has given us is a chance to laugh and perhaps see ourselves or someone we know in her characters. In Laura’s case she has managed to balance a full time career as an attorney with writing. What a lovely balance of talent, restraint and grit. What a shame it would have been if art and academics had not met.

Sometimes laughter is the best medicine and better than a revolution.

Sunday, August 24, 2014


By Kimberly Johnson

Fahgeddaboutit if you eavesdropped on Tony Soprano’s plot to whack a rival mobster.
Ain’t nothing goin’ on now but the rent, ah; a whole lotta bills and my money’s spent, And that’s on my bad foot, whoa uh if you finger-snapped to James Brown’s “Get On The Good Foot” during the Oldies hour on the radio.

I like the way people talk. I like figuring out where a person’s from by listening to a distinct dialect and a home grown speech pattern. I received an earful when I viewed Jersey Boys and Get On Up on the silver screen. These are definitely dialogue-driven biopics. Watching Frankie and the Boys duke it out reminded me of Tony Soprano and the gang.

Back to Tony for a moment. His nasal-sounding, high pitched tone made all that killing, crying and whining in therapy sessions worth it. I found out that there are over five New York-New Jersey-Connecticut accents that are recognizable—go figure.

As for James Brown. His raspy intonations and funky inflections gracefully piloted the movie. South Carolina is nationally known for its Gullah dialect, but the Godfather of Soul put the Savannah River area—Beech Island—Low Country cadence on the map.

Here’s my two cents: Dialogue, whether, it’s in a script or song, links you to the overall project.  The scriptwriters lassoed the ebb and flow of these distinctive speaking styles to enhance the movie-going experience.

According to an industry insider, dialogue is when a writer invites a reader to listen to a conversation between his characters. Dialect is when a writer opens the window and lets you hear the uniqueness of his characters. I believe the scriptwriters for Jersey Boys and Get On Up capture that sentiment. Maybe a blend for an Oscar winning performance?

And, yes, I’m talking to you.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

How Well Do You Know Your Muse

By Len Lawson

If you meander around any writing circles long enough, eventually you will hear the buzz word muse. What is it exactly? By its original use, the muses were the nine daughters of the Greek god Zeus. Each possessed a power of the arts of music, dance, writing, etc. Used as an action the word muse simply means to meditate on something.

However, in today's culture, a muse is considered to be some object or external source that inspires an artist of any genre. For example, a beautiful flower may be the muse to inspire a poem. Typically, the muse is a significant other hence many love songs and poems. Pulitzer Prize- and Nobel Prize-winning novelist Toni Morrison argues that the muse is ironically a figment of the imagination and that it cannot be the scapegoat for a writer's ability.

I offer my own definition of muse as I see it to this debate. One person or object should not have power over a writer determining whether he can write at a particular moment or not. If a woman is my muse, then if the woman is taken away, where will my writing ability go? Should I have to run out and find another woman to be inspired? If it is not a woman, then will another object suffice like a sunset or the moon? How can the muse simply change with the passing of the day?

The muse can best be described as an outward expression manifested from the creativity and given talent that lies within. When I see a sunset, it may cause my creative ability to be stimulated to the point where I can articulate and interpret into language what I visualize. Alternatively, a memory may spark my creativity to give a voice to the past that had not previously been allowed to speak. The muse takes on many forms, but it is based in my gift as a writer.

I challenge you not to look for landscapes or lovers for inspiration but to look within yourselves to discover someone within you that you may not have previously known. When you do discover the muse, it is like meeting a life-long friend for the first time, a friend that you will want to be with every moment because of the revelation and motivation she brings.

She does not have to be a goddess though to be appreciated. The muse can be weak or strong depending on how we nurture her. We can do this by reading and writing daily so that she can process our intake into something gorgeous that we did not expect to bring forth. If she languishes, then we will wonder where our inspiration will come from and we may seek it externally in other people or objects instead of allowing her to meet us at the point of our nurturing. I invite you to invest in your muse today so that she can yield many incredible returns for a lifetime of aesthetic fulfillment. 

Sunday, August 10, 2014


By Marion Aldridge

At some point in my life, I discovered I was a better writer than I was a preacher. Writing is an extension of, if not an improvement on, what I did in my preaching days. My goal is to communicate some truth that can make life better for people who are paying attention.

Getting published has always been my goal. There are other reasons to write. Some people write to pass family stories to their children and grandchildren. I organize my thoughts when I write, which can be helpful even if those thoughts are never published.

But, make no mistake about it: I want other people to read what I write.

Writing is a gift. The ability to be published is an entirely different skill.

Here are two related strategies that will help an author move from having a good idea to being published:

1. There aren’t many markets that publish old ideas; so successful writers need a unique angle.

That means authors need to compose something that hasn’t already been written. We learned when writing our first term papers that you couldn’t write about a Big Topic such as “The Civil War.” You needed to narrow the focus: “Humor in the Letters of Civil War Soldiers” or “Comparing the Value of Confederate Money in 1864 and 1964.”

A writer needs a slant, a perspective not yet considered. South Carolina Wildlife recently accepted an article I titled, “Just Short of the Wild Side.” My premise is that I like to be alive at the conclusion of my travel adventures. So I make hour-long hikes to South Carolina waterfalls with my grandson rather than attempt to climb Mt. Everest. It’s not a complex idea, but apparently, in this era of kayaking over dangerous rapids and trekking through deserts, nobody had scripted a short article with this obvious angle.

2. Fill a niche.

Thousands of books have been written about families. Hundreds about twins. My friend Shelly Rivoli discovered her niche, and writes a successful blog as well as books on the theme, “Travel with Baby.”

My first two books were worship guides. As a young minister, I had purchased the standard worship manuals with wedding and funeral services in them. However, none gave a clue regarding why we do what we do when we gather for worship. And no one talked about the more peculiar worship occasions: Homecoming, Graduate Recognition and Labor Day weekend. Even seminary didn’t help much. I created two books that cover everything from Easter to Independence Day to ordinations to weddings and funerals. I simply added a brief four or five page explanation at the beginning of each chapter, answering such important questions as 1) What does the Bible say? 2) What are our Christian traditions? and 3) What are the practical considerations? The first volume, The Pastor’s Guidebook: A Manual for Worship, was published 30 years ago and has sold well over 25,000 copies. It’s still selling and I’m still getting checks, and it was easy to write. Not Great Literature. But it met a need. By the way, the Bible has nothing to say about Mother’s Day.

So, fellow authors, create with an eye toward publication. There are a lot of good writers, but if nobody ever reads what you have to say, you’ve fallen short of success.

Sunday, August 3, 2014


By Laura P. Valtorta

Last week I was editing the English subtitles for a new Indian screenwriter named Amit Mehra, from Mumbai. His narrative short, entitled “Ekanth,” about a prominent Indian businessman who suddenly disappears, kept me and my husband enthralled. We loved the music and the picture of middle-class life in India. I met Amit online on a website – Stage32 – for filmmakers.
If I hadn’t begun making films, there’s no way I would have met Amit or discovered that Indian households employ a lot of servants. That you have to bribe the police over there. That Indians have some hot a cappella humming-singing that makes a great movie score.

Art bridges continents as well as mindsets. Two days ago, in New York City, I met the owner of Olive Tree TV – the Roku channel that will broadcast my feature-length documentary, White Rock Boxing. Olive Tree is looking for films that illustrate “life-changing events.” They support a charity called “World Vision.” I may see the world differently than the Olive Tree people, but we both appreciate boxing and what it can do for children.

If you have a Roku box, please sign up for the Olive Tree TV channel. It’s free, and you can watch White Rock Boxing there!

For the past several weeks, I’ve been reading the full set of autobiographies by the marvelous Maya Angelou. Her writing did not come to my attention until she died recently. Maya spends a lot of pages bemoaning the relationship between dark-skinned and light-skinned people in the United States. This soon becomes tedious. But Maya and I are alike. When it comes to reading habits, ambition, natural hairstyle, and spirit, Maya and I are identical. Right around page 650, she starts funding a stage play. We have the same questions. The same problems. Her writing shows me we want the same things.

My stage play – Bermuda – will be performed by New Life Productions as a dramatic table read at the Richland County Public Library – Parklane branch - on August 9, 2014 at 3 p.m. See you there!

Through art we build bridges and discover we all share the same planet.