Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Creating Memories

 How I Grew Up

In the spring of 2012, for the first time in nearly twenty years, I didn’t have a summer musical to direct. It seemed odd. But I had some unexpected excitement in my life when my house was burglarized one night with me in it. Fortunately, my burglar alarm worked and woke me up, and I had an immediate response when I called 911. The burglar was caught before he could leave my circle.

Despite that flurry of activity, my summer was otherwise pretty quiet. The following spring I felt a little restless, once again having no show to direct. A friend suggested I write a book, and after some hesitation, I dove in. I’d always wanted to write a book. I had the time. Why not give it a try? Several months and many thousands of words later, I’d completed How I Grew Up. I wanted to see it in print before I died, so I found a Print On Demand company to publish it. Holding it in my hands was immensely satisfying.

One character in the book had a subplot which easily expanded to another novel, so I embarked on Eli’s Heart. More months passed with many more thousand words, and now I had two novels in print. I’d discovered a new passion. I’d also discovered Amazon’s CreateSpace which afforded me the opportunity to truly self-publish at almost no expense, since I had decent computer skills and could format the book myself. Amazing.

Now I was on a roll, and You Are My Song followed within about nine months. Another character from How I Grew Up insisted I tell his story, so I did. And just like that, without my ever planning it, I now have a trilogy on my hands. The books can be read separately, but to make it a true trilogy I knew it would be good to go back to How I Grew Up and make a few revisions to tie the three stories more strongly together.

So back to my first novel; formatting the manuscript to match the dimensions of the second and third books, and then re-reading How I Grew Up as I corrected mistakes I knew were there and made the revisions I had planned.

It’s a compelling story. Melanie Stewart is an eighteen-year-old high school senior whose parents are shot to death by her estranged brother-in-law only days before she plans to audition for her school’s musical, Carousel. While the book is fiction, this actually happened to a close friend of mine in Oak Ridge (Tennessee) High School. How she won the leading role and coped with the horrific tragedy she and her sisters suffered is the story I tell. Her courage and remarkable performance as Julie Jordan had an impact on me all my life – an impact much greater than I understood at the time.

It’s also a pretty darned good book, if I say so myself. I enjoyed reading it again. I wrote it in the first person and tried to recall as much about the real-life Melanie, Anita Barker, as I could. Sadly, she died in I believe 1992 of breast cancer. I have a beautiful photo of Anita, a head shot she had taken in Los Angeles after she went west to try to become a movie star. It sat on my computer as I wrote. It helped me remember how she talked, how she thought (she was very much a dreamer), how she dressed, how she moved. She was a very talented girl.

I didn’t release the book as YA literature. No vampires or otherworldly beings, no magic. But people who read it comment on how inspirational it is, and what a great role model “Melanie” is. So with the re-release – which I expect will happen around November 1 – I will probably make it Young Adult as well as General Fiction.

Much of the book is about the preparation for the production of Carousel, because it’s what kept Anita (and her counterpart Melanie) strong through an awful time in her life. And when I wrote the book, I had just directed a group of twenty-first century teenagers in the show. That seemed a little daunting, but the kids came to love Carousel as much as I did and they put on one heck of a show. They were splendid.

Spending time with them reminded me of my own high school experiences and how immersed in the musical people who are part of the show become. Not just the cast. The tech kids as well; the kids in the orchestra; the stage crew. The show belongs to all of them. Here’s one of my favorite parts of the book, where I write about the experience of waiting for the call to “places” on opening night:

There is no feeling like those few minutes before the first performance begins. I looked around the room and thought how much I loved and appreciated every single person there. And I think everybody felt that way. We had worked so hard, we had done this together, and now we were going to give an audience something that had come to belong to us, to all of us, to each of us. It was a gift we had given ourselves, and now we wanted to give it to them and share all the joy, all the sadness, all the emotion and life of this beautiful show. There had been other productions of Carousel, and there would be many more in years to come, but none would ever be exactly the same as this one.
We were creating memories that would be with us forever.

 Carousel Opening Scene, March 2013
East Stroudsburg High School South
East Stroudsburg, PA

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