Monday, July 27, 2015

The Devil in the White City

Before my recent visit to Chicago, a friend told me to be sure to read Erik Larson's The Devil in the White City: A Saga of Magic and Murder at the Fair that Changed America. I put the book on hold at my local library, but that hold has yet to be filled. However, after reading about the book to prepare for this post, I just might have to order the Kindle version!

While in Chicago, one of the places we visited was the Museum of Science and Industry. It's housed in the former Palace of Fine Arts from the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition, which was part of "The White City."

According to Wikipedia, "The World's Columbian Exposition (the official shortened name for the World's Fair: Columbian Exposition, also known as The Chicago World's Fair) was a World's Fair held in Chicago in 1893 to celebrate the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus's arrival in the New World in 1492. The iconic centerpiece of the Fair, the large water pool, represented the long voyage Columbus took to the New World. Chicago bested New York City;Washington, D.C.; and St. Louis for the honor of hosting the fair." 

Before we planned our trip, I'd known a few things about the Chicago World's Fair. However, I'd never heard about the existence of a serial killer there! That story is told in Larson's The Devil in the White City. Wikipedia says,"The book is set in Chicago, circa 1893, intertwining the true tales of Daniel H. Burnham, the architect behind the 1893 World's Fair, and Dr. H. H. Holmes, the serial killer who lured his victims to their deaths in his elaborately constructed 'Murder Castle.'"

Morbid and fascinating! Did you know about Dr. H.H. Holmes, the serial killer at the Chicago World's Fair? Thanks for visiting and have a great week!

Monday, July 20, 2015

Taking a Summer Break

I was actually on vacation last week in beautiful Chicago, but now the fun is over and I'm behind on everything in real life! Time to get caught up. Will see you next week!

Monday, July 13, 2015

Effa Manley: Another White Woman Passing as Black

With all the talk of Caitlen Jenner in the news, everyone is familiar with the term trans-gender. Now, with the recent story of Rachel Dolezal, should a new term be created for what she did? In other words, if someone chooses to racially pass, should they be considered trans-racial? If you're unfamiliar with the term "passing," here's a definition from Wikipedia:

Racial passing refers to a person classified as a member of one racial group attempting to be accepted as a member of a different racial group. The term was used especially in the U.S. to describe a person of mixed-race heritage assimilating into the white majority during times when legal and social conventions...classified the person as a minority, subject to racial segregation and discrimination.

Back in the days of segregation, lots of mixed race individuals of black and white ancestry chose to pass as white for social and economic reasons.  Effa Manley, however, was a white woman who chose to pass as black!  Her biological parents were white, but she was raised by her white mother, and her step-father who was African-American.

I'd never heard of Effa Manley, but here's some of her story from Negro Leagues Legacy.  See the link for the complete article "The First Lady of Black Baseball," by Aimee Crawford.

Effa Manley was ahead of her time.

In the 1930s and '40s, women were often viewed as second-class citizens, and blacks were accorded few rights. According to the established rules of society, neither were considered qualified to contend at baseball's highest level. But Effa Manley had little use for those rules -- or for establishment, for that matter.
Like greats Jackie Robinson and Larry Doby, she was a pioneer in breaking down baseball's racial barriers. Unlike those two, Manley faced the additional obstacle of gender bias.
Aggressive and progressive, glamorous and magnanimous, Manley overcame each to make her mark as one  of the most fascinating and significant figures in Negro League history.  
"She was unique and effervescent and knowledgeable," says Monte Irvin, the Hall of Famer who played shortstop and outfield for the Newark Eagles, the Negro League team Manley co-owned with her husband, Abe. "She ran the whole business end of the team."

A born entrepreneur, Manley was the only female in the history of Negro Leagues.  Effa and Abe ran the Eagles, a Negro National League team, from 1935-48. And her considerable influence extended beyond baseball as well; she was also active in the black civil rights movement.
Manley was born March 27, 1900. Her birth, like much of her life, was controversial. Within the black community, Manley rarely discussed her heritage, and most people assumed she was a light-skinned black. But Manley claimed in an interview in 1973 that she was white. 

Her mother, Bertha Ford Brooks, was white, of German and Asian-Indian descent. Effa explained that Bertha, who earned a  living as a seamstress, became pregnant by her white employer, John M. Bishop, a wealthy Philadelphian. Manley's black stepfather, Benjamin Brooks, sued Bishop and received a settlement of $10,000 before he and Bertha divorced. Bertha remarried, and Effa was raised in a household with a black step-father and black half-siblings, and so chose to live as a black person.

Effa Manley was a fascinating individual, and the first person I'd ever heard of to "pass as black!" Had you ever heard of her, or perhaps someone else who chose to pass as something other than white?

Thanks for visiting and have a great week!

Monday, July 6, 2015

An Interview with Author Donna Figueroa

Donna Figueroa
I am pleased to have a very special guest today! Donna Figueroa is an actor who has worked on stage and on the big and small screens.  Her credits include several television commercials and voice-overs for animation, commercials and industrial projects.  She is also a producer and performer at Story Salon, Los Angeles's longest running storytelling venue. Please help me welcome Donna, as she tells us about her debut novel, Fall Again Beginnings, now available at Amazon!

Thank you, Donna, for joining me today. I read Fall Again Beginnings and thoroughly enjoyed the story! So, first of all, tell us a little about it. 
Fall Again: Beginnings is the first installment of a four part contemporary romantic series that follows the lives and careers of two working actors over two decades. In Beginnings, readers will meet actors Marc & Lauren and their closest friends in the optimistic New York City of the 1980’s. Unfortunately, Marc and Lauren meet at the wrong time in their lives while they are both building careers and Marc has a serious girlfriend. Decorum dictates that their relationship remain in the boundaries of a platonic friendship, a task that over time will become increasingly difficult. Despite their best efforts, Marc & Lauren fall in love.

What inspired you to write it?  
In the Fall Again Series I wanted to explore several themes; meeting the right person at the wrong time, the power of a first love, friendships, and the randomness of luck, timing and situations that can shape a life and career.

As a hopeless romantic, I’ve often looked at events in my life and have marveled at how I’ve come to be where I am today. It amazes me that minor events can completely change the course of a life.

Fall Again: Beginnings
For example, as I was about to graduate from Emerson College in Boston MA, I was waiting to hear if I had been hired as an actor for the coming season of The Boston Shakespeare Company. My two auditions had gone extremely well and I was hopeful. I was told I’d hear if I’d made the company by the end of the week.  On Friday night I was devastated when I’d heard nothing. However, two days later I was offered a job in a theater company in Chicago and was on a plane to the Midwest the first thing Wednesday morning and in my first rehearsal Thursday morning! On Thursday night I received a call from a friend back in Boston congratulating me; The Boston Shakespeare Company wanted to offer me a contract for the next season…and I was already committed to the theater in Chicago!

Had I stayed in Boston, I never would have made the contact who would introduce me to a Los Angeles contact who asked me to come to an audition in Los Angeles. Instead of making a quick two or three day trip (and in the most impulsive move of my life), I moved to LA three weeks later and have never looked back! A few years later I met the man who I would eventually marry. If the company in Boston had contacted me earlier my life would have been very different…not necessarily bad, just different. Frankly, I can’t imagine my life without my husband Tony.

A personal goal in writing Fall Again was to create a realistic look at the lives of working actors whose profession is often misunderstood and represented.

How did your background in acting influence your writing? 
A friend of mine (an Emmy Award winning writer) told me that I write like an actor,  that is, I try to fully visualize the scene in my imagination as I write, and often read dialogue aloud to hear my character’s voices. I find that I create characters for the page the same way I would create a character for an acting role for the stage or screen. One of my first tasks in approaching an acting role is to create a strong backstory. I do the same in my writing, feeling that a strong backstory will make a fictional character real.

I think it goes without saying that several of my personal experiences, as well as the industry experiences of many of my fellow actors, inspired events and situations in the Fall Again Series.

You’ve said that the Fall Again series started as a short story.  How did it evolve into a novel? 
I have developed procrastination into an art form. 

Fall Again: Beginnings is the first book in the Fall Again Series. My original plan had been to write a short story entitled Time for Coffee, where two actors (who would eventually become Marc & Lauren) meet after several years on Sunset Boulevard outside of a casting studio as they’re both leaving an audition. Neither has a lot of time and decide to have coffee where they discuss their lives, careers and why they separated years before. 

The problem was I could never find the time to write this story, but the characters remained in my head and started to take on a life of their own. By the time I decided to start writing there was too much to the story. I no longer knew how to tell this story as short story, and I decided to write a stand-alone novel. After I completed a first draft, I realized that I had only told part of the story and owed it to my characters to tell their entire story. I had grown to respect them too much to do anything less. That’s when the novel morphed into a series.

As an author, what is your writing process? How long did it take you to complete Fall Again?
When I’m working on a project I try to write every day. I am most productive during the mid-morning hours or after seven in the evenings. I find a spot where I can relax with my laptop (though I somehow managed to write my first draft on a notebook) and allow my imagination to flow onto the page. I don’t outline on paper, but I do have a mental plan on what I’ll write for each session. I always keep a notebook close by just in case inspiration strikes and I need to jot down a few quick notes that I can easily incorporate into a manuscript.

I am always very aware of my surroundings (an actor’s trait) and will happily take inspiration and ideas from my world view. (I heard an interesting name one day which became the name of a character in the next installment, Fall Again: Lost Boy.)

One very important part of my writing process is music. My playlist for the Fall Again Series was eclectic ranging from Chopin to Billy Joel and David Benoit to a recent discovery, bass player and vocalist Nathan East.

Each novel in the Fall Again Series begins with a song lyric which sets the tone of the story. Fall Again: Beginnings starts with the first few lines of the classic song On Broadway.

I began writing Fall Again on November 1, 2012 and finished sometime in early 2015. The most difficult part of the writing process was stopping.

What’s next for you?  
As a writer, my next project will be a stand-alone novel entitled A Private Family Matter. This is the story of another working actor who returns home to attend a family funeral. In this novel I’m exploring family dynamics and the humorous elements which always surround these events.

As a working actor, I am constantly auditioning for various projects here in Los Angeles. I’m currently in the process of narrating an audio book; a crime drama that features a strong heroine, several teenaged girls and other characters on both sides of the law. I’m enjoying creating the different characters, their voices…and am having a great time and loving the process. For many actors, voiceover is the purest form of acting: it’s you, a microphone and your imagination!

Donna, thanks again for visiting with me today, and readers, be sure to check out Fall Again: Beginnings at Amazon!