Monday, December 25, 2017

Merry Christmas - 2017

I've been telling Cheri this every year for the last few years...

Christmas Time is magical. When I was a child, it was serious magic. As in: I believed in Santa Claus. not only did I believe that a fat man in a red suit fit rode reinder and dove down chimmneys -- I was a little crapper who wanted to trick Santa and steal his sack of toys. (I have a vague memory of feeling very distrustful of the lyric "He sees you when you're sleeping." How dare he?)

How could anyone fall asleep on Christmas Eve when you are seven years old and convinced that some omniscient Saint of the North Pole is flying around the world, headed to your house?

Eventually, of course, my views changed on the existence of Santa. But even so, Christmas was still magical -- if only for its celebration of consumerism. I got a lot of cool toys on Christmas morning, and toys made me unbelivably happy. My favorites included: A Lester Ventrilloquist Doll, the Guns of Navarone Army Men set, tns of GI Joes and Star Wars action figures, and -- of course -- an Atari 2600. Oh man, that was awesome.

Aside from toys, some of my favorite gifts were gifts of culture. It was Christmas when I recieved the cassett soundtrack to the works of John Williams (E.T. And Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.) Records such as Chipmunk Punk. Books such as Stephen King's IT, which might not seem very Christmassy, but it was one of my favorite presents, nonetheless. And, celebrating Bavarian culture: a huge baby of Gummi Bears. (God Bless you, Costco!)

When I was a kid, Family and Christmas Magic weren't in my mental mathematics. I didn't spend enough time appreciating how wonderful it was to soend time with my grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins -- some of whom I would see only once a year. It wasn't until I became a teenager with a part time job at a movie theater that I understood how family time and Christmas time went hand in hand. I was seventeen the first time I had to work on Christmas. That was the first (but not the last) time I would be away from my Grandparents condo on Christmas morning when everyone else was over there socializing and exchanging gifts. At the time it seemed like a mild bummer. I liked working at the Grand Cinemas, and I was close friends with just about everybody there. But now that my Grandparents are both gone, I regret not spending more Christmasses with Grandma snd Grandpa.

Christmas memories also include recollections of illness. I think I was six years old when I had scarlet fever on Christmas. I remember looking out the window at my brothers and sisters who were outside, tossing a ball back and forth, and flying a remote control airplane. All the while, I was stuck inside, sick and contagious. As an adult, there have been a couple of Christmasses in which I have been way laid by a cold or flu virus. This year, my daughter Mackenzie is the one who is incapacitated by a bug. She is currently napping on this Dec. 25th afternoon. Hopefully she'll feel better when she wakes up. It's no fun being sick on Christmas.

But as I was saying, this tme of year is still magical for many reasons. Mainly, I have spent almost two decades as a parent, so I've been able to reexperience the sense of wonder through the eyes of my children. And I've spent twenty two years as Cheri's husband, trying to impress her with the lighting decorations adorning our house. We love the lights, the music, the festivities. The kinship. The kindness. Oh, and the coldness! The chilly temperatures of Washington state are one of my favorite aspects of the season.

By the time Christmas Day arrives, as it has done so today, I feel a little bit melancholy. Once this days ends, we've got months and months until Christmas time returns.

Saturday, December 16, 2017

I Love Star Wars

Wowee-wow-wow! I just watched The Last Jedi. I've had a dopamine rush all day. I loved the movie so much -- I'm more than a little freaking out about all the things I've seen. I might pass out like an overworked Tauntan. 

Or scream like a Rancor when his meal runs away from him. 

Don't worry, I won't give away any spoilers. In fact, I would like to write about the joys of avoiding as many spoilers as possible, including trailers, promos, and even merchandise that reveal the world of Star Wars before the film is released.

My youngest daughter and I watched The Last Jedi Friday morning, 9:30 a.m. Emily teased me, saying I wasn't a true fan because I didn't go to see the first possible showing on Thursday. I got kind of serious and said something rather pompous: "No one loves Star Wars as much as I do."

Of course, one's love for a fictional world is probably immeasurable. I don't know if there is a scientific way to prove that one fan's joy is more potent than another's. 

(I searched the internet briefly and couldn't find a graph that would quantify feelings of Star Wars love, but I did find a nifty chart that ranks bad feelings.) 

But here's the thing, so many Star Wars fans (so-called) are hyper-critical.  They bash on George Lucas. They hate the prequels. They even hate ewoks. For a movie franchise that warns of the dangers of hatred, there's a lot of hatred in the Star Wars fandom.


But for me, there's only unadulterated love. That's a good word for this situation: unadulterated... Star Wars takes away the adultness of my life. It revamps all the best feelings of childhood, but it doesn't even feel like dusty old nostalgia. In Star Wars, the stories -- the myths --  of my childhood continue to expand, in new and surprising ways.

At its core, Star Wars is about friendship. It's about good people who attempt to diminish evil, sometimes by combat, sometimes by bringing those in darkness. Ever since I was a kid, I felt like I was friends with Luke Skywalker and Han Solo... and so many other characters from Lucas' imagination. Part of it is the storytelling, part of it is the world building -- with its dazzling special effects -- but an enormous part is the performances of the actors. I hear a lot of people complain about the cheesy quality of acting in the Star Wars franchise, but I've always found that the majority of the actors, over the decades, have done an exceptional job of helping me believe in these impossible realms.

Sir Alec Guinness truly led the way in Episode IV. He even earned an Oscar nomination. Ever time I watch the original film, his speeches give me chills. Ah, Obi-Wan Kenobi!

And only the most stone-hearted of critics could resist the charms of Harrison Ford and Carrie Fischer's chemistry in Empire. As for Mark Hamill, he was the conduit for all eight-year-old kids, like me back in the 80s, to imagine that we were the heroes (sometimes scared, sometimes whiny, always naive) of the epic. And don't get me started on the amazing vocal work of Anthony Daniels and the puppetry of Frank Oz.

Now, if you look at the above paragraph, you might think that I'm about to say that the films since Return of the Jedi pale in comparison -- but I think the most amazing aspect of the new trilogy is that they somehow cast people who have equally wonderful chemistry. Daisy Riddle, Adam Driver, John Boyega, Oscar Issac, and many other new members of the franchise are all incredibly charismatic. I want to find out what happens to their characters just as much as I wanted to find out what happens to Luke, Han, Leia, and Vader. 

I could ramble on... in fact, I'm only posting a small portion of my thoughts. I wrote about this way too much last night! But let me just say that one of the reasons why I think I enjoyed The Last Jedi, The Force Awakens and the prequels so much is that I avoided watching trailers, looking up spoilers, and listening to rumors. That way, my expectations were neutral. With each movie, I had no idea what planet we would visit, what characters would pop up. Every Star Wars movie has been a fun ride because I go in blind and I come out with brand new visions.

And I also come out recharged to work on my own stuff... which I'm going to get started on right now! (Unless, of course, Cheri wants to go with me to check out a matinee.) 

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Resolution Check-In: December Edition

Well, here we are, the last few weeks of 2017. It's been a wild ride, filled with mostly blessings. Let me tell you, this year was WAY better than 2016. (Knock on wood!). I hope this year has been a prosperous one for you as well, in all the ways that matter.

This is the penultimate New Years Resolution post for 2017. I'll have one more wrap up at the beginning of January to reflect upon the year overall. So, let's see how things have been going...

1) Take More Photos 

I am definitely taking a lot more photos thanks to my trusty (and a little bit rusty) iPhone. As you can tell, if you follow this blog, the photos are grainy and wracked with poor composition. But I have a good time. And next year's resolution will be about becoming a better photographer. For now, it's more about quantity instead of quality. (Which is why I challenged myself to take at least two a week.)

Here's my Mom! We're trying the new pasta place. 
Mom comes to visit every Halloween and November to celebrate
the girls' birthday. 

And here's one of the birthday girls! Celebrating in her dorm room!

This is during a photo shoot for our upcoming Christmas card. 
(It looks like it's the middle of August, right?)

This is from the Griffith Observatory... a field trip with Emily. 

This is a shot from the back of the house for Holipalooza, 
a Christmas fundraiser at the Canyon Theatre Guild.

And here's some of the Christmas lights on Main Street. 

Doggie selfie!

ACHIEVEMENT: 92% Complete

2) Write / Sell a New Picture Book

I've seen the artwork for my new picture book Papa Bear's Page Fright, which is headed to bookstores on May 1st, 2018. You can pre-order on Amazon!


3) Generate New Idea for Next Big Project (Complete 25%)

I was able to accomplish this one during the tail end of summer vacation. 


4) Work on a Creative Project with My Daughters

Hey -- good news, I'm actually making progress on this one! Emily, Cheri, and I are participating in an improv/comedy fundraiser for a wonderful family who has had an incredibly tough year.

If all goes well, this Friday the show will be a smashing success, we'll raise money for a worthy cause, and then this goal will be accomplished.


5) Show My Appreciation More Often / Strengthen Relationships and Communication

Yep. I finally finished this one last month. 


6) Lose Ten Pounds

Still at an average of 165 pounds, so still good in this category too. 


That's it for now. I'll check back in at the beginning of 2018 for the final results, and a brand new batch of resolutions!

Saturday, December 2, 2017

December is Here!

Wow -- I haven't posted since Nov. 24th, and it seems like there's a lot that's been going on. Sorry I've ignored the Blog for a whole week. A big part of it was because I was getting through school work (both for my own classes, not to mention proofreading essays and transporting daughters to and from college campuses).

So, let's catch up, shall we?

The big thing going on right now is HOLIDAY HAMS...

This is an Improv-Christmas-Comedy Show to benefit a local Santa Clarita family, the Roberts. (I'll tell you more about them in an upcoming blog post.) A bunch of theater-friends have come together to help out, and hopefully make some people laugh.

We have met twice so far, and the rehearsals are rough around the edges... but very fun!

If you live southern California and you'd like to attend, it's happening Friday, Dec. 8th... starting at 8pm. You can get tickets here! 

This was the third to last week of school (until Xmas break), and this is the time of year where the students really shine because they are presenting their research topics to the rest of the class. I've got an impressive group of students this semester -- and best of all I have yet to find a plagiarized essay. That hasn't happened in all my 16 years of teaching!

Well, that's all for now. Type to you soon.

Friday, November 24, 2017

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Sahara Nights & Christine Shaefer

Somewhere, in the middle of Indiana, in a town called Greenfield (a place I have never been but hope to visit someday), kids are getting ready to perform one of my plays, a comic twist on the tale Scheherazade called SAHARA NIGHTS. Also somewhere in that town, there is a woman named Christine C. Shaefer. Here she is in all her glory:

She is one of the world's bravest heroes: a children's theater director.

That used to be my kind of gig back in the 1990s.... when I was young! That was back when I had the energy to shout (AKA project) at the top of my lungs, keep the attention of over fifty children for hours upon hours, work out the blocking, create a set with zero budget, figure out costumes and props (AKA visit lots of thrift stores), and play diplomat to dozens of parents who were convinced that little Suzy should have more lines.  It was exhausting! So, now I only write these plays.

But Christine is still living the dream. How she maintains this level of energy without resorting to performance-enhancing drugs, I'll never know. I do know that I am exceedingly grateful to her, and not just because she often chooses my shows. Although, let me humble-brag about that for a moment...

Christine's theater KIDS PLAY INC has performed so many of my shows that I've lost count. And they've not only done some of my popular shows, such as CSI: NEVERLAND...

They've also chosen some of my most obscure comedies, including my tribute to film critics Sikel and Ebert...

So, yes, I'm grateful that she and her cast and crew continue to perform my silly little plays. But mainly, I am just thankful that there are people like her who are still using the stage to bring stories to life and to guide children as they experience their first adventures in the Theatre.

These photos from their most recent production, SAHARA NIGHTS, show the amazing talents of the KidsPlay Team...

Here's their humble rehearsal / performance space. (They deserve a huge amphitheater as far as I'm concerned.) Yet even with this minimal space (which I believe they have named "the Dungeon") they can still pull off great production value!

Colorful costumes!

Carpets that fly! (With your imagination.) 

And did someone say BEATLES? 

So, thank you from the bottom of this playwright's heart! I hope that the cast and crew create enough memories and that your theater days inspire the next generation of Christine Schaefers.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Busy, Tired, and a Little Bit Sick

My family has been grappling with a cold. For a long time I avoided catching it. But then I accidentally drank from Emily's water glass, and two days later I've got a sore throat

It was rough the first day (Monday). I seriously contemplated calling in sick, but I didn't want to let my students down! (Yes, I know in reality they would be overjoyed to have the day off, but in my imagnation they are gathered around a notice on the door, wailing in sorrow over my well being, praying for a speedy recovery.)

Today it's just a minor cold, and hopefully it will be completely gone before the weekend.

Last weekend was my eldest daughter's 19th birthday. We visited her on campus, delivering bags and bags of presents (as well as her boyfriend, which I am guessing was her favorite present of all.)

We also watched the UC Irvine theater department's production of CHESS. I spent much of my teen years listening to both the British and American cast albums; it was a blast to finally witness the story on stage. It's an odd musical, to be sure, but beautiful nonetheless.

As far as my writing projects, things are slow. I'm not hearing thing back regarding the Kitten Book. I recently added rhymes to my Dragon Book, which may or may not please my agent. I've got some drama ideas in the works, but nothing solid yet.

Most days I guess I feel that I am not living up to my potential as an artist, but I try to take solace in the fact that I'm doing the best I can as a husband and a father. For the most part, that chases the angst away.


Friday, November 10, 2017

Free Time on Friday???

It's been weeks since I've had spare time! I've been buried under those essays for so long my brain is more than a bit fried. So that's why today has felt so good. No school. No papers to grade. Just hanging out with family.

Speaking of family, my Mom is in town!

Here we are in a selfie taken by my crappy iPhone 4 camera.

The funny thing is, I haven't been doing very much with my free time. I should be jumping into a new novel, since it's NaNoWriMo. (A writerly tradition in which I have yet to partake.)

I did do one creative thing today. I wrote Draft #12 of my Dragon Picture Book. This time it rhymes... which is probably not a good thing. We'll see what my agent thinks. I have a feeling the Draft #13 is forthcoming.

What else did I do today? My mom bought me some older video games (that were dirt cheap at Game Stop), and so I played a few innings of this baseball game...

I created my own character. His name is Wade the Bade. But the announcers call me Big Daddy. Yeah, I'm pretty much an overnight sports icon. 

So, when I haven't been revising dragons, playing electronic baseball, or walking the dogs, I have spent some of my day preparing for my work week. Checking emails, preparing lesson plans, drafting a report for an upcoming meeting. What the hell is wrong with me???

Thursday, November 9, 2017

To Life!

I am really late to this wedding party. My daughter showed this to me on YouTube today. It's from Lin Manuel Miranda's reception in which he (and all of their friends and family) surprise his new bride, Vanessa. (Recognize that name from In the Heights?)

Emily and I agree -- Lin-Manuel is the most brilliantly adorable goofball on Broadway.


Friday, November 3, 2017

Resolution Check-In: November Edition

I must say, I made excellent progress during the last thirty days -- at least in one area. I just might be able to fulfill all of my New Year's Resolutions. Here's how things have been going...

1) Take More Photos (At Least Two a Week)

Lots of snapshots this month. More and more, I am realizing that this iPhone camera pales in comparison to the smart-phone cameras owned by everyone else around me. But who cares, I'm having fun and recording memories. Here are a few of my favorites.

This is Mackenzie's entrance to her dorm. 

We've been visiting her as much as we can!

We're also getting a lot of quality time with our youngest. She just turned 16!!!

One of our neighbors made this unholy gathering of pumpkins and skeletons.

I call this one: "Sun Setting on Bike Rack."

We had a great time signing books at Mrs. Figs' Bookworm.

Guess who dressed up as a dead gangster?
(Notice the cement shoes?)

ACHIEVEMENT: 83% Complete

2) Write / Sell a New Picture Book

My new picture book Papa Bear's Page Fright will be in bookstores on May 1st, 2018. You can pre-order on Amazon!


3) Generate New Idea for Next Big Project (Complete 25%)

Tackled this one during the summer. I'd still like to go for bonus points and get to work on something brand new and epic... but currently buried beneath essays. 


4) Work on a Creative Project with My Daughters

Does college count as a creative project? NO? Too bad.... Then I'm still stuck on this one. Perhaps this will finally become a priority in the last two months? 

Achievement Pending. 

5) Show My Appreciation More Often / Strengthen Relationships and Communication

Huzzah! I actually worked on this one... and made an enormous amount of progress. I think I had been holding myself back because I told myself that I should be making incredibly profound connections with hundreds of friends and family members. When I gave myself permission to just reach out (mostly online) and be friendly and supportive, I managed get out of my shell and start having fun being more social. I'm pulling a George W. and saying Mission Accomplished. 


6) Los Ten Pounds

Still keeping it off. I've been exercising in the morning. The scale reads anywhere from 162 to 165. However, Halloween was two days ago... so hopefully I haven't gone higher!


Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Word Count Wednesday - November 1st

I got nothing this week. Zip. Zilch. Nada.

I do have a huge amount of papers to grade, so that will be occupying my time for the next 7 to 14 days, depending on how industrious I am.

What Am I Working On?

Today I got feedback regarding my latest picture book project (the dragon one). So this week I'll do my best to tinker with it yet again -- and perhaps complete an eleventh draft.

How Do I feel About the Project?

I feel blah. It's that time of year when I need to focus on teaching students and grading essays. When we get closer to Thanksgiving I will hopefully return to creative stuff.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Happy Halloween - 2017

This is our favorite holiday around the Bradford home, in no small part due to the fact that my daughter Emily was born on October 31st, sixteen years ago!

It's also a delightful time of year because our whole neighborhood really gets into the Halloween spirit. Here's a photo of my dog Lizzie checking out the decorations (and probably thinking that humans are nuts.)

Friday, October 27, 2017

Happy Friday!

We'll be spending our evening binge-watching a little Netflix show known as STRANGER THINGS!

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Word Count Wednesday - October 25th 2017

Welcome back to Word-Count Wednesday my writerly friends!

What Have I Been Working On? 

Not very much. I tinkered with the dragon picture book a little bit more, and then I sent the newest revision to my agent. (Keep your fingers crossed. This was Revision #10 and I have a feeling I might scrap the whole project instead of crawling towards Draft #11).

I have also been drawing cartoon versions of my Dungeons and Dragons group. I might be making a little YouTube video, just for fun -- but also to get my illustration chops back.

Word Count: 0

How Do I Feel About the Process?

As I mentioned in the previous blog post, I have accepted the fact that I don't have the time or energy to create as much art as I would like... at least not during the nine months of the year when I teach. But I will always try to get a little bit done, no matter how busy I get.

Here's a little sample of the D&D cartoon...

What Am I Reading? 

I am still in the early chapters of John Dies at the End. Also, I just started listening to a new audio-book in the car: Lisey's Story... Yes, I am continuing my journal through ALL of Stephen King's books -- and I am loving it! 

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

No Time for Art?

I teach four days a week. That means I have three day weekends. (Woo-hoo!) But because I am an English teacher, that also means that I will have lots of papers to grade. (Boo!)

In addition to my busy professional life, I have a busy family life. (Hooray!) My eldest is away at college, and we are at home cheering her on and doing our best to support her in whatever ways we can muster. My second born is taking community college courses -- and Cheri and I are her cheerleaders, up close and personal. Then we've got the usual assortments of chores, yard work, and bills to pay. All that grown-up stuff. And then there's quality time. Fortunately for us, our family life is a lot of fun and emotionally fulfilling. (Huzzah!) But it does mean that I am left with very little time to work on my creative projects. (Boo!)

Of course, there are times in which I could be working on the great American novel and instead I watch Netflix or read a book. (I'm still reading John Dies at the End -- can't wait to see what happens at the end.) And sometimes I work on projects that may or may not be creative -- such as this blog.

If I was Anthony Trollop I would wake up two hours before going to work (which would be 3am for me) and spend those minutes typing away on a big lengthy novel. I don't have the stomach for that at this point. For now, I like working on smaller things: picture books and plays. I do wish I could plug away at a novel, but I want more free time... I don't want to steal little moments away throughout the day. I want a big huge chunk of free time. The kind I get during summer vacation.

So, for now, there is very little time for art... but I'm making little stories, a little bit at a time. And that's worth a dozen woo-hoos, several hoorays, and one big huzzah.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Word Count Wednesday - October 18th, 2017

That's right -- Word Count Wednesdays are back!

Next semester I will be teaching creative writing again, so I want to get back in the habit of staying motivated and keeping track of my progress, or lack thereof.

What Have I Been Working On?

I've been tinkering with a couple of picture book manuscripts. (The dragon one, and an older nonfiction one about toys.) Also, while going through my morning routine of waking up, brushing my teeth, and taking a shower, I think I figured out what direction to take a novel that i haven't worked on in over six months. hopefully something is unlocked there.

Word Count: 500

How Do I feel About the Process? 

I am in a self-forgiving mood these days... My daughter has been away at college for nearly a month. I've got papers to grade, classes to teach, and family life to attend to... I am hoping that when winter arrives I will become passionate about a new project and the pages will flow. But for now, I am enjoying tinkering and fine-tuning existing drafts.

What am I Reading? 

Lots of stuff this semester! I finished the following...

And I'm in the middle of these two...

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Hello? Who's There?

Halt! Who goes there?

Hey everybody... Thanks for reading another blog post.

I say "everybody," but I actually have no idea who reads these posts. I get stats -- but that doesn't tell me who you are. You get to be anonymous.

Unless of course, you'd now like to reveal yourselves...

I've noticed that an average post generates about 30 - 50 viewers. Every so often I create something that's a bit more popular (usually because I include a link on my Facebook page). One of my goals this season is to try to generate more interest in my books & develop a stronger following. I'd love to start by making my blog much more entertaining, rather than me rambling on about my fledgling writing career, and all the anxieties therein.

You could help by letting me know who's already reading these blog posts. If you'd like to leave a comment please let me know what you like about the blog... what you'd like to see more of... and what new things you'd like to read about.

Friday, October 6, 2017

Resolution Check-In: October Edition

It's getting very near the end, folks! As you may or may not know, this is the monthly blog post in which I revisit my New Year's Resolutions to see how we're doing. So let's get to it!

1) Take More Photos (at least two a week)

Lots of good snapshots throughout the month of September, including a photographic essay on the fact that there is far too much pumpkin stuff being sold at Trader Joes!

That's a lot of pumpkin foods. And as much as I love decorating Jack O' Lanterns, I have no interest in eating anything remotely pumpkin flavored. But I digress! The point is, I've been taking photos and therefore this resolution is coming along nicely. 

Achievement: 75% Complete

2) Write / Sell a New Picture Book

The picture book Papa Bear's Page Fright will be in bookstores in 2018. Now, I'm trying to go above and beyond to see if I can sell a second one before the year ends. My dragon book is being revised... and my kitten book is being read by editors as we speak!


3) Generate Idea for Next Big Project

Yep. Got this done over the summer. 


4) Work on Creative Project with My Daughters

Still not a lot going on with this one. Maybe we'll end up doing something at the last minute?   One issue that's now holding this resolution back: Mackenzie has gone away to college!!!

Em has been thinking of making a music video showing off her ukulele skills, so maybe that'll happen and I'll help her film it. 


5) Show my appreciation more often / Strengthen relationships and communication. 

The more I think about this one, the harder it is for me to quantify... but I've been more active in the last two months than I have during the first half of 2017. 

I'm trying to touch base with a wider range of friends / acquaintances both online and in person. 

I could still do a lot better, and hope to reach out much more during this oncoming holiday season. 

ACHIEVEMENT: 24% Complete

6) Lost ten pounds. 

Yep, still right at 164 pounds... which is 11 pounds lighter than I was back in January.