Thursday, June 23, 2011

A Mondays Update: Pope of the People CD & DVR Launch

YOU MIGHT REMEMBER my friend Tom Quiner, the playwright author of The Pope of the People, a musical version of the life of Pope John Paul II.  He was a featured author on one of my Mondays With Mike interviews on April 25. CDs and DVDs of The Pope of the People are now available for $16.95 each and Tom is hosting a launch party for this Saturday (June 25) from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Divine Treasurers Bookstore, 5701  Hickman Road , Des Moines, Iowa. If you are in the area, stop by and check out the Polish treats that will be served.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Mondays With Mike: Modern Dickens Project Update

SINCE LAST FALL, a panel of writers, working with the Iowa Arts Council, have been sponsoring a chapter by chapter mystery writing contest called the Modern Dickens project.  I asked my and award-winning author Kali Van Baale for an update.  Here is her reply:

We’re now open for entries for Chapter 9 until midnight of June 21st. We’re starting to wind down the contest--and the story--with only 4 chapters to go. The challenge for writers submitting at this point of the contest will be to start wrapping up plot points, answering unanswered questions, and tying up loose ends. But the great fun for writers entering at this point, is that they get to decide the fate of our characters and outcome of the story!

We’ve named 8 winners so far (with one winner submitting anonymously under a pseudonym) and didn’t pick a winner in April, as there were no submissions deemed suitable by the editorial panel. We held a public reading at the Des Moines Social Club last weekend, the first time we had all 7 winners and guest author John Domini together on the same stage, and each had the chance to talk about their contribution to the story and their process. There is a discussion thread about the MDP story between several of our authors on Facebook. Go to the Modern Dickens Project Facebook page and click on “discussion” in the left-hand box. Complete details about the MDP, submission guidelines, and the winning chapters (read for free!) are still available on our website:

Story Overview:
In the dome of the Capitol building, Stephanie Ketchum Acuto, or Stikka, receives a text message from her former lover, Emmy, whose wedding to another woman Stikka is in town to attend. THE DEVIL IS DONE WITH SINNING, DONE WITH EVERYTHING, ANDYOU’RE ALL AS GUILTY AS SHE. Stikka, a former MP who served in Iraq, immediately jogs to Emmy’s apartment in the East Village to confront her about the strange message. There, she finds the police and learns that Emmy has been shot and killed.

Kali Van Baale
A few hours later, eager to escape the stress and grief, Stikka accompanies her boyfriend, a thirdyear law student at the University of Iowa, on a call to rural Iowa for the immigrantrights organization, Equal All, that he interns for. On the way, they learn that the Bosnian immigrant being held in Zephaniah is a suspect in Emmy’s murder. Once there, Saul and Stikka succeed in getting Semezdin Jelenik released, since they believe the hateful sheriff is just pulling a publicity stunt. Outside, they meet Semezdin’s beautiful daughter Sanita, who follows them on their way to pick up his car. On the road, Semezdin tells Saul and Stikka that he had met with Emmy on the morning of her death. Semezdin’s late son Enver had served with Emmy in Iraq, and Semezdin trusted her expertise in security. He confessed to her his fears that the building his construction crew was putting up was a front for Forcenet Sampson, a company that builds operating components for military contractors and government fighter jets.
The four reach the parking lot, and Semezdin, while walking toward his car, pushes the remote start. The car explodes. Semezdin is not seriously hurt, but the four realize that someone is trying to kill them. Afraid to return to Des Moines, they hide Sanita’s car in a remote barn and flee to a condo in Clear Lake owned by Saul’s friend. On the way there, Saul’s father Abe, a former Des Moines cop, calls to inform them that Stikka is a person of interest in Emmy’s murder and that there’s a warrant out for her gun, which she’s keeping at Abe’s house for the weekend. Later that night, Abe calls again to say that the police couldn’t find Emmy’s gun at the house. Saul and Emmy are confused and worried, and fall asleep watching a strange figure watching their house from across the road.
The next day, Saul, Stikka, Semezdin, and Sanita leave the condo to return to Des Moines, after learning that there’s a warrant out for Stikka’s arrest and that Nash Gilliam, an Equal All worker, found no evidence of an explosion in the construction parking lot. When they return to the barn where they hid Sanita’s car, they find Nash dead, hanging from his neck inside the barn door.

Stikka is arrested for Emmy’s murder and taken to a holding cell in Charles City. The murder weapon was identified as Stikka’s, and her fingerprints on it. Mitchell Stephens, Emmy’s fiancĂ©’s lawyer, meets with a powerful but shady character named Harry, who directs him to join Stikka in Charles City and work as her lawyer as well. Meanwhile, Emmy’s brother, Richard Dundstadt III, the rebellious son of a wealthy insurance family, goes to a scheduled rendezvous in a hotel room and finds that Harry has left him a copy of an email from Emmy to Semezdin. Harry then poses as Richard and meets Semezdin at his hotel, threatening his daughter if he does not take over the work Enver was doing for them.

Stikka is transferred to the Polk County Jail, where she meets with her estranged father, an evangelical minister who begs her to renounce her sodomizing friends. While waiting for her mother to arrive, she reflects on her childhood and the beginning of her college romance with Tony Acuto, her late husband. Saul is called back to Iowa City to meet with the director of Equal All. Returning to his apartment, he finds Richard, an old friend from high school. Richard confesses that he insures drugrunning jets for his father’s company, but without his father’s knowledge. He also reveals that Emmy’s fiancĂ© Dot was his girlfriend, and carrying his unborn child, before Emmy even met her. When the two women meet at Richard’s house, they spend the night together and Emmy convinces Dot to abort her baby. Richard is devastated by the abortion, and his anger and regret drive Dot into a relationship with Emmy. With Richard’s input, Saul begins to doubt his relationship with Stikka. Semezdin calls Richard, revealing that he had met with someone posing as Richard and asking to meet in person to talk.

Monday, June 6, 2011

First Monday With Robyn: Middle graders and the world of Fantasy

by Robyn Gioia
Things are changing everywhere in the writing world.  Including what kids are reading these days. I have been teaching literature since 1990. It has been mine, and many other teachers’ mission to bring the written word to life for our students. Because there are so many distractions out there, like sports, television, and video games, our job has been challenging. But do it we must.
In recent years, students have combed through my classroom bookshelves, looking for the latest books in a variety of genres. This year has been different. Unless it was assigned, a portion of them wouldn’t touch a book with a ten foot pole. It was too much effort. I heard one girl saying Harry Potter was her favorite series and when the real Harry Potter fans starting talking about the books, she had to admit she had never read them. She had only watched the movies. 

Fortunately, I have the pleasure of teaching the advanced reading group. They on the other hand, are voracious readers. So much so, I had several parents throughout the year complaining their kids were reading late into the night, with the old flashlight under the sheets trick. I just nodded my head and said I would talk to them, but was really chuckling inside.
For our last book of the year, we took on Tom Sawyer. The vocabulary would send any academic to the dictionary. They did so well, they actually complained about the lack of new vocabulary words toward the end.  As a reward, I told them they could partner up into literature groups and pick their own books.  I would sit in on their conversations and grade them accordingly.
After teaming up into groups, they discussed what books to read. I made suggestions, but they were only interested in fantasy. Every single one of them. The more fantastic the fantasy world, the more they were interested. One of the groups pulled out a Nook and browsed the bookstore. From the description and the looks of the cover, they agreed to read The Emerald Diary, at over 400 pages.  Just like that. Another group followed their lead.  
When they met in their literature groups, I could barely hear in the room. The noise was deafening. They were so excited about the new worlds they were reading about, they talked over each other trying to give details and events. If someone could have bottled the energy in the room, our country’s fuel problems would be over. The kids weren’t able to talk fast enough to keep up with their enthusiasm.

I made the mistake of asking each group what the plot was about. They couldn’t tell me fast enough. I had to bow out politely after getting the gist of the story, because they were giving a blow by blow synopsis of every detail. I had to stand back and look at the excitement in the room. These kids were on fire!
As I reflect back on the year, I give credit to several things. Parents who model reading to their children, teachers who take their jobs seriously, and last, but not least, the army of hardworking authors who skillfully bring their imaginations to life.  Well done to each and every one.  

Now, I must get back to revisiing my own fantasy.  Happy reading everyone.