Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Awesome Wonder Woman trailer

Peter Stormare as the Nazi interrogator. This is what Wonder Woman could be on the big screen. Why can't DC Comics/Warner Bros. get its act together?
Female Super Hero Fan Film from Jesse V. Johnson on Vimeo.

Annual exhibit supports ‘Art for Change’ project

PANAMA CITY — Proceeds from the fifth annual Northstar Arts show will be used to beautify the county and provide “artistically altered” benches and trash receptacles at Bay Town Trolley stops.

The Northstar Arts show and sale will be 7-9 p.m. today (Friday, March 1) at CityArts Cooperative in downtown Panama City. The project is sponsored by Northstar Church in Panama City, which sees art as a way of having a positive effect on the community.

“The event has grown exponentially every year,” said Nick May, the church arts director, who also is a novelist and founded the monthly Writers Gallery gathering. Nick added that the venue changed from the church to the co-op this year because CityArts is pre-equipped for such events, which cuts down drastically on setup time.

“It’s also a gesture of artistic camaraderie,” Nick said. “Northstar Church — and specifically Northstar Arts — has long been a patron and supporter of the local arts community. We believe artists are important to God, so they are definitely important to us.”

Last year, 314 pieces by more than 25 artists were featured, and 47 pieces sold for a total of $2,566 in only two hours, Nick said. The 10 percent of sales kept by the church was used to support an ongoing mission to aid the people of Kiu, a village in Kenya, in a clean water project.

As before, 90 percent of each sale will go to the artist (which is unheard of for most gallery events) and 10 percent will go to a church initiative. This year, the church has decided to use its share of the proceeds to provide for this community.

“Traveling around the Bay County area, it’s not difficult to spot a trolley stop with someone standing waiting for the bus,” said Northstar communications director Sonya Henderson. “One day, a member of our arts staff spotted an elderly lady standing holding groceries without a place to sit, and it struck a chord with them. After a conversation with a couple of other staff members, we began exploring the idea of putting benches and trash cans at some trolley stops that lacked these amenities.”

The idea, she said, was to create functional art installations. They contacted the folks at Bay Town Trolley and learned that financial limitations keep the BTT from providing these amenities at every stop. Both parties became excited by the possibilities a partnership could produce.

The Trolley Stop Project will be the first part of Northstar’s “Art for Change” initiative. Online concept submissions from artists will be taken in mid-March, final designs will be presented in April, and the plan is to have three benches installed by the end of May. Northstar will provide benches, trash cans and a materials budget for each of the installations.

The project won’t end there. The goal is to provide similar installations for every stop in a “captivating way” over the next few years, Sonya said.

“We believe that art can make a difference and is vital to community development,” she said. “We want each stop to be creative, beautiful, and serve as a place of rest for every trolley patron.”


Northstar Arts Fifth Annual Art Show
  • Where: CityArts Cooperative, 318 Luverne Ave., Panama City
  • When: 7-9 p.m. today
  • Admission: Free, and open to the public
(This is my Undercurrents column for and The News Herald for Friday, March 1.)

Monday, February 25, 2013

New Writers Group Forming

I received the following from Michael Brim (who writes as Michael Goldcraft) regarding an attempt to form a  new Panama City Chapter of the Florida Writers Association. Sharing it here in case you're interested:

"We are creating the chapter on Thursday evening, February 28th at 6:30 p.m. We invite you to visit us in the Bay County Library that evening and become involved in the Chapter’s creation. The library is located at 898 W. Eleventh Street.


"Come out to the meeting, learn about the state-level Florida Writers Association, and then decide if you would like to join.  You can join FWA any time after the meeting. Just visit their website to become a member. Membership is just $55 for the first year and $45 for renewed memberships. The benefits are myriad and valuable and I'll be discussing all the benefits at the meeting.  Then you can decide if the FWA is a good investment for you. There is no charge for being a local chapter member after you join the state Association!


"If you want to get more out of your writing experience and learn all about the complexities associated with the publishing industry, this is the place for you.

"The FWA motto is “Writers Helping Writers”

"Our chapter members will (on February 28) collectively decide the chapter priorities and goals at this first meeting. We’ll be listing any and all topics of interest under two broad categories: “The Craft” and “The Industry.” I'll explain the voting process you will take part in at this point in the meeting. The more votes per topic, the higher the chapter priority. The topics receiving the highest votes will form our list of priorities. For example, the list of topics may look something like this. 
THE CRAFT                                            THE INDUSTRY
Plot Development                                      Finding an Agent
Characters, Three Dimensional                   Finding a Publisher
Believable Dialogue                                   Professional Organizations
Point of View                                            Marketing, Marketing, Marketing
Scenes and transitions                               Social Network Marketing
The Inciting Incident                                  E-Books and Audio Books: launching and promotion
Research                                                   Books signings - Inside and Outside of Bookstores
Descriptions you can see, taste, and smell    Independent Publishing
Editing and Completing a Manuscript         Finding a Script Agent
Your Author's Reading Group                   Ways to learn about and network within the industry

"Our Agenda for the meeting is simple:
6:30 -6:35 Welcome and Introductions, Carole Bailey
6:35 - 6:55  The Florida Writers Association Presentation - Benefits, Membership, and Lots of Friends, Michael Brim
6:55:7:00 BREAK
7:00 - 8:00 Chapter Creation, Voting on Priorities, Open Discussion, Leadership - Bailey and Brim
8:00 - 8:30 The Social Half-Hour - Visiting with Your Fellow Writers

"We hope to see you on the 28th. I'll be at the Bay County Library at 4:30 .. just knock on the (left) side entrance. Anyone is invited to come early to discuss anything."

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Five Years

Gulf Coast State (then "Community") College. I was seated behind Jameson, Marisa and Nathan. Michael York was about to take the stage for his "Will and I" one-man show, in which he told stories of his times portraying characters from Shakespeare. He was there as part of FSU's "Seven Days of Opening Nights." The kids had gotten a chance to see him earlier in the day as part of a school trip, and this was his public event. 

I just looked up the date this happened. I found a TV news report of coverage.

Feb. 23, 2005.

I tried to get all three of the kids to look back so I could take a photo. Jameson actually shifted away, thinking I was trying to get a picture of just Nathan and Marisa. I got this shot, and my camera battery promptly died. I tried several times to revive it.

At the time, I was disappointed that I wouldn't be able to get a photo of Michael York. Now, there are very few things I would trade this photo for. I have a shadowbox in my writing space that contains York's autograph on my DVD of "Logan's Run" and the brochure for his performance. I'm adding this photo to that tonight.

Three years later, to the hour, we were gathered in the theater lab at Gulf Coast, the "black box," with Marisa's friends, fellow students, and loved ones, telling stories about her and trying to ease each other's pain. We woke up that day in a world that no longer contained her, and we've been struggling ever since with her absence.

And now, five years further on, somehow, the pain has eased.  It's an ache now, though it can still pierce, still bring tears. I feel it in the center of my chest as I write this. Yesterday seems so far away.

That is, until I ran across this photo tonight. I stared at it, and it seemed like only yesterday again.

We're still in the process of moving into a new home, and we were going through pictures to put on our "Family" wall in the staircase. I pulled this one out, not because it's going on the wall, but because of the look in her eyes.

Look at them. What do you see there? Look again.

Don't look away. Don't blink.

Look again, and she might be gone.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Art is not for the Faint of Heart

Devillers and Fuller
PANAMA CITY — Back when Steve Martin was still funny, he released an album titled “Comedy is not Pretty.”

It doesn’t make linear sense in that I always think of that title when I’m talking to someone about art. That is, I can’t draw a direct correlation between the two, though I know the connection exists.

I was thinking about that Tuesday evening as I watched a rehearsal of a scene from “How I Learned to Drive,” the latest production by the Division of Visual and Performing Arts at Gulf Coast State College. I’m not familiar with the Pulitzer Prize-winning play by Paula Vogel, except from what the actors and director related to me, but I’m guessing it’s not pretty, either.

Art is often not pretty. It takes us as creatures with a shared origin and common ways of viewing the world to uncomfortable places to examine parts of our human psyche that we’d rather not bring into the light. The things that scare us about the strangers all around us. The things that possibly scare us about ourselves.

“How I Learned to Drive” is being presented in the Amelia Center Theatre Lab at GCSC, otherwise known as the “black box theater.” Seating is extremely limited and the audience is so close to the action that the space is often described as “intimate.”

Director Jason Hedden, associate professor, said that forced intimacy will likely make audience members uncomfortable as they view this play, which is about forced intimacy itself. He added that he would not be surprised if some of the viewers exit before the final bow.

“It’s right there in your face and hard to ignore,” Hedden said.

The story is introduced and narrated by a woman named “Li’l Bit,” who grew up in the 1960s and doesn’t have much in common with her family, according to a synopsis at Her only connection is with her Uncle Peck, a troubled veteran who seems to be the only adult in her life willing to listen. The two begin spending a lot of time alone together when he starts teaching her to drive.

Driving becomes a metaphor for many things in the play, and their relationship leaves her damaged.

“I’m not a very touchy-feely person,” said Jennifer Fuller, who portrays Li’l Bit. Fuller most recently played Puck in GCSC’s production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”

“The show has kind of tested my boundaries, having to be close and comfortable with my fellow actors,” she said.

The show opens Friday night for a two-weekend run. Show times are 7:30 p.m. Feb. 15, 16, 22 and 23; and 2:30 p.m. Feb. 16, 17, 23 and 24. Admission is $10, or free for GCSC students, faculty and staff with valid ID. Advance tickets are available online at

This performance is for mature audiences only. The 90-minute show will be followed by a talkback with the director, cast and crew. The box office opens 1.5 hours before curtain. Details: email or call 872-3886.

This was my column for and The News Herald this week.

Monday, February 11, 2013

More than Just a BLiP on the Radar

Screen Capture of BLiP dance video.
PANAMA CITY — Andrew Bouchard started Blues and Lindy in the Panhandle (BLiP) in 2010 because he wanted a place to dance in Panama City. BLiP grew into more than he ever imagined and is making plans to reach out to people who never imagined they could dance.

“Not only are people dancing, but we’ve become a tight-knit group of friends invested in each other’s lives,” he explains on a KickStarter page where BLiP is raising funds for its next stage.

They are shooting for $20,000, and they offer a number of incentives for donors. As of Wednesday, and with only 10 days remaining in the campaign, they have logged pledges totaling just over $5,100.

“We travel to exchanges together, celebrate birthdays and holidays together, and help each other out when we get in a jam,” Andrew said. “Most inspiring to me has been watching one of the first dancers to join us go from a wheelchair to dancing on her own feet. That is a gift that I never anticipated, and I want to share it with as many people as I can.”

The KickStarter campaign is to raise funds for a larger venue downtown. Currently, BLiP shares a small dance studio at CityArts Cooperative with three other groups, and Andrew said the schedule and space have become restrictive. He hopes the fundraiser will help BLiP make up the difference between the small fee they charge for admission and the cost of a dedicated dance studio.

“Even better, we’d like to do this in one of the vacant buildings in downtown Panama City and be part of revitalizing this city,” he said, adding that the vision is of “taking an abandoned 1935 department store and turning it into a community center supported by dancing but offering space to all sorts of great things.”

The second part of the project is perhaps the most inspiring: BLiP wants to develop a curriculum to teach people with disabilities to dance.

“I will never forget watching this young lady roll into one of my first lessons in a wheelchair, and watching her slowly move from getting pulled around the floor to dancing on her own feet has been a blessing beyond words,” Andrew said. “I didn’t do much other than support her efforts, but we believe that by involving professionals in the dance community and the medical community, we can teach others to do what she has figured out herself.”

The plan is to generate a series of lessons to be released for free as videos, written instructions, information on the limitations and abilities of various conditions, and anything else that might be needed.

To help keep costs low, the group is starting side businesses making dance T-shirts and hosting events. (See the T-shirt designs at the KickStarter page.)

The group also is planning a Valentine’s Ball, a semi-formal dance where BLiP members can party, show off to the community, and formally announce the results of the campaign. The event will feature men and women in vintage getups, suits and dresses, heavy hors d’oeuvres, classic and modern music, and a dance floor.

The young lady Andrew mentioned is Ashlyn McWhorter, who suffers from spina bifida. The Mayo Clinic describes spina bifida as a developmental disorder in which a portion of the neural tube fails to close properly, causing defects in the spinal cord and in the bones of the backbone.

“I always loved dancing, but I had a condition that kept me from dancing. I had surgery, so I couldn’t,” Ashley told me in January 2012. “But I found out about this group from a friend of mine at school, and she said they would be willing to try to teach me what they could, and see how far I could go with it. I’ve gotten much farther than I expected. I love it. It’s wonderful.”

(This was my Undercurrents column for and The News Herald for Friday, Feb. 8.)

Thursday, February 07, 2013

Books Alive 2013 Photo Post (2 of2)

FSU-PC Holley Center

Books Alive took place at FSU-PC this year, moving across the street from its former home at GCSC. The move allowed the author tables to occupy the main floor entrance, meaning great traffic, and the rooms are larger, meaning fewer standing-room-only situations. Also, you can't beat the view of the bay. The local "authors" got the prime location at the entrance, and the featured ones shared tables across from the book sales area.

Kayla and Nick May
I was set up beside Nick May, who was accompanied by his wife Kayla. (Two of my favorite people on the planet, if I haven't told you this before, which made for a fun morning.) They brought a candy dish but no candy, so I put my cough drops in it.

Wilson, Angier
Greg Wilson and David Angier shared a table. They co-wrote "Salvaged Santa," and David just released "The Madness of Joe Francis." David and I were longtime colleagues at The News Herald, and we're hoping to write a novel together later this year. Probably most of that work will involve sitting by a fire and drinking manly portions of alcohol.

Murphy on Skype

I was assigned to introduce and moderate the session for Mary Murphy, a former CBS 60 Minutes producer who made the documentary "Hey, Boo," about the writing of "To Kill a Mockingbird," the production of the film and the cultural impact of the two. She was sick, however, and couldn't travel, so we ended up connecting with her via Skype.


Jayson Kretzer purchased a "33 Days" combo pack from me of my "pamphlet" of 10 flash-fictions based on the songs on The Offer's album of the same name, along with a copy of the album. David Angier also picked up the two-fer. I was pleased with sales this year, especially because of the variety of things I sold, including both of my novels, both of my short story collections, one of my column collections, one of the anthologies I edited, and a couple of the anthologies I have stories in. It's good to offer folks choices, I reckon.

Boss and a Hat

Mark Boss is a writer friend of mine. You should download his books now before he becomes famous and expensive. (I read a chapter of his new Untitled Crime Novel today, and it's fantastic.) I joined him and our mutual writing friends Carole and Ruth for lunch, then left my trademark hat behind when I hurried back to the conference. Mark was kind enough to save it from a life of abandonment and misery, selling itself on the streets just to get by.

Me and Kathie
Terra and Me
This is the part where I get to hug people, which is always my favorite part. Kathie Bennett is the daughter of Gerry and Barbara Clemons, and the sister of (among other siblings) Scott Clemons. She's a literary publicist for many of the authors at Books Alive, and she's a source of encouragement for me. I appreciate her more than I can say. When I asked her if one of the authors might be interested in visiting my Education Encore class while they were here, she suggested the gig to Terra Elan McVoy, who was -- let's face it -- pretty awesome. My class loved her, which just goes to show that they do have good taste in writers, despite listening to anything I've been telling them. Now I have to go back and continue to teach the class after she just raised the bar.

Morris and Owens

Jacqueline West
These next pics are pretty well self-explanatory, as they represent authors meeting fans and telling stories and signing books. The only one I want to make special mention of is Michael Morris and Janis Owens. I joke that coincidence surrounds them to such an extent that the universe has begun to revolve around them. Then I take this picture, after which Janis tells the lady in black that "Tony comes from your neck of the woods." The lady is named Lydia. She lives in Pensacola. Her next-door neighbor is Buck Showalter, former manager of the New York Yankees, who hails from my home town. His dad was my middle school principal. His mom was friends with my grandmother. His sister was a counselor at the elementary school when my son attended there. I wrote the newspaper article when the town renamed the baseball park after him and his dad, "Showalter Park." Then Michael and Lydia start quoting the same Bible verse as they discuss how Lydia was the name of Paul's first convert; Lydia is the name of the main character in Michael's next novel, which he's calling "The First Convert." See what I mean?
Terra Elan McVoy

Erin and Erica (Go Gators!)
Last photo is of two of my coworkers at The News Herald (the only two I saw that day), one of whom was brave enough to wear her Gator jacket to Seminole territory.

I marked this entry as No. 2 of 2, but I believe I will be following it up in a few days with some thoughts on the event as a whole, with a couple more photos.  Right now, I need to get back to work. This novel is not going to rewrite itself.


Monday, February 04, 2013

Books Alive 2013 Photo Post (1 of 2)

Morris & The Kretzers
Books Alive was Saturday. The 14th annual event hosted by the Bay County Public Library Foundation. As a volunteer, I was invited to the Friday evening gathering at the home of Frank Walker, the director of the Panama City Beach Library. (Debra wasn't able to make it, as she was still very ill with the head cold we both have been suffering from this week.) These photos are from that event, and the next post will include photos of the actual festival.

I was pleased to see my friend Jayson Kretzer and his wife, Heather, in attendance. Jayson is the guy I want to work with on a graphic novel adaptation of my "Book of Gabriel." They discovered they knew some of the same folks in Wewa as author Michael Morris, who asked me about my current project, which I have teased a bit on Facebook. Michael is a lyrical writer, and a gentleman. He hails from Perry and writes about the areas just east of here along the "Forgotten Coast."
Stone, McVoy, West

I met the authors Michel Stone and Jacqueline West at the party, but had already met Terra Elan McVoy earlier in the day; my friend Kathie Bennett (of Magic Time Literary Agency) had put us in touch when I asked Kathie if any of the authors she represents would like to visit my Education Encore class. Terra volunteered, and the class just loved her. She showed them a character-building worksheet she uses, and how to draw a character web. (She brought her mother, Heather, along to the class — and Heather bought two of my books on Saturday. Terra says she gets to read them when her mom is finished. I hope we can still be friends when she does.)

Morrison, Monroe
Michael and Mary Alice Monroe wanted a photo together, and I was glad to oblige. I had written an article about Mary Alice for the daily paper two weeks back, based on a looong phone conversation we had (and which Kathie again set up), and we had another long talk at the party. I was impressed by how she really focuses on the person she's talking to; I noticed her giving her undivided attention a few times that evening and the next day. She's a South Carolina conservationist and avowed "turtle lady," which I thought Marisa would have appreciated.

My Big Bald Head. Also, authors.

Michael also grabbed me to say that Janis Owens wanted to recreate one of her favorite photos from a previous Books Alive party, in which I held the camera out MySpace style and authors gathered behind me. Why not? So I did, and that is the result at left. Janis is the one with the giddy expression and clasped hands. She's so funny. I was glad that Michel and Mary Alice jumped in to participate. Last time, we had a rather unimpressed Jeff Shaara in the photo (or rather, his name tag. That guy is taaaaalll.)

Featured Authors (and Bettina)
Bettina Mead, the PR person for the library, asked me to take the annual "official" photo of the featured authors. That's what you see at the left. This photo kind of marked the end of the evening (although now that I think about it, I believe the picture above actually was taken after this one). Everyone was shuttled off to their overnight places, and I returned home to gather the things I would need for the next day.

It was very cool to meet some new-to-me authors, and to get to spend a few minutes with Michael and Janis and Kathie again, as well as the locals who support the event each year, like Frank Walker, who's always good for a joke or two. Kathie and Michael, in particular, made me glad I attended, as they had nice things to say about my work; that may come off as egotistical, but what I mean is that it's nice to be bragged on by people you admire in front of people you respect.
Better picture, with Janis literally propping me up as I squat.

...To be continued ...