Monday, August 3, 2020


When it comes to writing, do you have everything you need, or do you know everything you need to know? I still don’t. There are times when I need to research an element of writing. One of the first resources I go to over the years is INDIESUNLIMITED.COM. It is a free site dedicated to independent authors like myself. I highly recommend the site, not only for answers to writing questions, but as a source of interesting information related to writing

From a research standpoint, they have a “Knowledge Base” that provides information on different writing elements. For example, do you have “book trailers” for your books? If you are interested in creating a book trailer, why not visit this site to see how you can create one?

They also have “Tutorials” on many subjects, as well as a “Search” bar, if you need to find information on a particular subject quickly.

If you would like more people to know about you, why not try their weekly free Flash Fiction competition. Each Saturday morning, they post a picture prompt and open the competition. Can you come up with a story (max 250 words) by Tuesday evening? Voting is open to the public until Thursday evening. The winning entry is announced on Saturday morning.

One of the great benefits of the competition is that it gets your name and your story in front of a world-wide audience. Another benefit is that if your story is selected by the editors, it will be published, along with other selected stories in an annual “Indies Unlimited Flash Fiction Anthology.” Some of my stories were lucky enough to be published in this manner.

Wouldn’t it be a nice reward to have your story listed in the weekly competition, not to mention if it was the winning entry? In addition, if your work was selected for the Anthology publication, it would be another way of getting your name known to the world. Wouldn’t being published for free be a valuable gift to a potential unknown author?

Indies Unlimited has been in existence for over eight years. During that time, it has been a resource for my writing needs, an outlet for my creativity, and a source of valued friendships. Kat Brooks, who maintains the many aspects of the site, dedicates many hours to the work. The fact that the site was recognized as one of ‘Six Great Blogs for Indie Authors’ by Publishers Weekly, might be another reason to check the site out.

From a personal perspective – if I had discovered this site earlier, it would have saved me thousands of dollars…Yes, I am embarrassed to say, I was the victim of a Publisher, who turned out to be a “Vanity Press.” Don’t know when you are being taken advantage of? Maybe, you should check out the Indies Unlimited site, to prevent yourself from being a victim.

I can proudly say, I have learned better. I took my rights back! Don’t know how to do that? Check out the site for some facts. I am now a self-published author of six novels and two anthologies of my flash fiction and other short stories. As I mentioned, also published in Indies Unlimited Anthologies. All of my novels have book trailers, which I can credit IU for providing the information I needed to create them. 

I also use the Indies Unlimited Flash Fiction competition to periodically write an entry, primarily, to put a tear in my eye, or a smile on my face, and hopefully, someone else’s.

While you have many sources for helpful information related to writing aspects, please check out the Indies Unlimited website as a supplemental source, as well as a site to advertise your work and to potentially improve your skills. 

Dick (Rich) Waters lives in the Valley of the Sun near Phoenix, Arizona. A former resident of New England, he enjoys the beauty and sunny days of the Arizona desert. His novels include Branded for Murder, Serial Separation, Scent of Gardenia and others. Dick has agreed to serve as the new Arizona Authors Association Literary Magazine editor. Learn more about him at: Arizona Authors Association and at Amazon 

Friday, July 24, 2020

Book Review by Mark D. Walker - Pedro Paramo by Juan Rulfo

I first learned of what is considered “one of the masterpieces of twentieth-century world literature” while reading Paul Theroux’s, “On the Plain of Snakes.” In his critique of Mexican literature, he mentions “Pedro Páramo” because, unlike many of Mexico’s bestknown authors, Rulfo wrote about rural Mexico. He mentions that the book was published in 1955 and was one of the procurers of “magical realism,” which influenced many of Latin America’s best authors.

When I told my Guatemalan wife about the book, she told me she “hated it.” Evidently, the Belgian nuns who ran her school in Guatemala made this obligatory reading in 6th grade! Oh well, obviously I got a late start finding this great piece of literature, but was not disappointed one bit.

Susan Sontag, an American writer, philosopher, teacher, filmmaker and political activist described as "one of the most influential critics of her generation,” wrote the foreword to the book. According to Sontag, Garcia Marques said that, “Pedro Páramo is a legendary book by a writer who became a legend.” 

The story is about a dying mother beseeching her son to locate his father, Pedro Páramo, whom they fled from years ago. With that, Juan Preciado sets out for Comala, a town alive with whispers and shadows - seemingly populated only by memories and hallucinations. Built on the tyranny of the Páramo family, its barren and broken-down streets echo the voices of tormented spirits sharing the secrets of the past.

Initially, the novel received a cold critical reception and only sold two thousand copies during its first four years, until it was highly acclaimed as a key influence on Latin American writers like Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Marquez claimed that after he discovered Pedro Páramo (with Kafka’s “Metamorphosis” the most influencing reading of his early writing years), he could recite from memory long passages, until eventually he knew the whole book by heart, so much did he admire it and want to be saturated by it. 

Everyone asked Rulfo why he did not publish another book, and Sontag observed, “…as if the point of a writer’s life is to go on writing and publishing. In fact, the point of a writer’s life is to produce a great book—that is a book which will last”---and this is what Rulfo did.

Walker was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Guatemala and spent over forty years helping disadvantaged people in the developing world. He came to Phoenix as a Senior Director for Food for the Hungry, worked with other groups like Make a Wish International and was the CEO of Hagar USA, a Christian-based organization that supports survivors of human trafficking.

His book, Different Latitudes: My Life in the Peace Corps and Beyond, was recognized by the Arizona Authors Association for nonfiction and according to the Midwest Review, “. . . is more than just another travel memoir. It is an engaged and engaging story of one man’s physical and spiritual journey of self-discovery . . .”

You can learn more at 

Monday, July 20, 2020

Harriet, a Historical Fiction Film

Harriet, the 2019 movie directed by Kasi Lemmons, stars Cynthia Erivo, and tells “…the extraordinary tale of Harriet Tubman's escape from slavery and transformation into one of America's greatest heroes, whose courage, ingenuity, and tenacity freed hundreds of slaves and changed the course of history.” I quote from IMDB.

I watched the movie on HBO last night and found Harriet exciting in two ways: first I love historical fiction and second I love examples of psychic experiences that come true and have impact on people’s lives.

When she was a youth, Harriet’s slave owner clubbed her in the head, giving her a concussion. After that she fell into a trance from time to time and awoke with psychic information, that is, she knew what was going to happen before it did. This ability was well known among her family.

When she ran away, her psychic guidance led her to safety. Then she embarked on many expeditions to free others, who followed her psychic sense into the free states and escape from slavery.

Harriet described her visions as “talks with God” and trusted God and her visions completely. They empowered her in profound ways, helped her lead an army regiment, and helped change the course of history. She was truly an American Joan of Arc.

The movie is dramatic, informative, and exciting. It is well worth your time to watch and imagine what it was like to be her.

Your friend,
Toby Heathcotte

Wednesday, July 15, 2020

Brief history of the written word - Part Two - by Vijaya Schartz

Last month, I spoke about the origins of writing in China, Japan, India, cuneiform writing in Mesopotamia, and hieroglyphic writing in Egypt, as well as the gradual switch from graphic representation of objects to the use of sound symbols.
Phoenician tablet

In the early 8th century BC, the Phoenicians, who traded throughout the Mediterranean basin, developed the first known alphabet. Instead of using imagery, the letters, some consonants and some vowels, were linked together to form phonetic words.

Soon, the Greek borrowed and adapted the Phoenician alphabet, and their culture flourished. 

Aramaic writing

Many other alphabets developed after that, like the Arabic alphabet in the 6th century BC. The first Proto-Hebrew alphabet developed from the early Phoenician, then they adopted the Aramaic alphabet during the Persian, Hellenistic and Roman periods (500 BC – 50 AD). 

Ancient Hebrew alphabet

In the first century AD, the Viking and Celtic tribes of northern Europe also devised the Runes. 

Runic stellae

Then much later, in the 9th century AD, St. Cyril devised the Cyrillic alphabet derived from the Greek, and used until recently in Slavic countries like Russia.

Add caption

In the 8th century AD, in China, where writing was done by hand with a brush (calligraphy) the emperor ordered some religious Buddhist texts to be carved on wood blocks, to be inked and pressed on parchment or paper, as an early form of printing. The blocks took a long time to carve, and could only be used a certain number of times before losing their sharp quality.

Some ancient cultures, like the Druids or the Polynesian and Native American tribes, had a strong oral tradition but never developed a writing system. That is why so little is known about their history today. Still, very old pictograms, drawings, and symbols carved in ancient stones, cliffs, caves, or etched over miles of Andean desert, baffle the anthropologists. This only tells us that some kind of writing communication may have existed well before what we understand today.

When the ancient Romans conquered the Greeks of antiquity, they borrowed and copied their culture, their religion, their arts, and adapted their alphabet to fit Rome’s needs, and for centuries, they thrived. Through conquest, the Romans imposed their culture and their Latin alphabet upon the defeated Frankish, Germanic, Saxon, and Breton tribes, overriding whatever local system they used at the time, and replacing it by the alphabet we are still using today in the west. 

 Of note is the fact that many countries added their own modifications to the alphabet. The French have the “oe” letter and many different types of accents. The Germans also have special characters on their keyboard that are not used by any other countries… so do the Danish and the Norwegians.

Roman writing tablet and stylus
Everywhere writing developed, it prompted a cultural revolution, the exchange of ideas and information, the first development of advanced culture, art, engineering, science, mathematics, and philosophy.

But there is much more to be told. Next month, in Part 3, we’ll talk about how writing evolved over the centuries, and how it translates in today’s society.

I write about the past and the future, as they are closely linked. My latest book is set on the Byzantium Space Station. Enjoy the read!

Akira's Choice
Byzantium Book 2 (standalone)
Find it from your favorite online store HERE

When bounty hunter Akira Karyudo accepted her assignment, something didn't add up. Why would the Galactic Trade Alliance want a young kidnapped orphan dead or alive?

She will get to the truth once she finds the boy, and the no-good SOB who snatched him from a psychiatric hospital. With her cheetah, Freckles, a genetically enhanced feline retriever, Akira sets out to flush them out of the bowels of the Byzantium space station. But when she finds her fugitives, the kidnapper is not what she expects.

Kazmo, a decorated Resistance fighter, stole his nephew from the authorities, who performed painful experiments on the boy. Stuck on Byzantium, he protects the child, but how can he shield him from the horribly dangerous conditions in the lawless sublevels of the space station?

Akira faces the worst moral dilemma of her career. Law or justice, duty or love. She can't have it both ways.

"Science fiction romance at its best. Great story, interesting characters and a great cat make this story one to read and perhaps re-read. The world creating is top notch." 5 stars on amazon

Vijaya Schartz, author
Strong Heroines, Brave Heroes

Monday, June 29, 2020

Telling Their Stories - by Sharon Sterling

Honoring and supporting local writers brings a special pleasure. Sharon Sterling.

Maybe I did it, in part, because as the subsequent news story said, I have "a soft spot for authors." That is just a pale shadow of the reason that in March of this year, I organized and conducted an Author Event/Book Fair in Arizona's Green Valley.

A more explicit reason for organizing the event was that throughout my childhood I was an enchanted reader of books, and as an adult I realized how much I respected the intelligent and articulate people who wrote them, as well as those who write the books I read now

Soon after beginning my job as psychiatric social worker at the La Posada retirement community in Green Valley, I met my first resident author, Carolyn Ingle Filigenzi. Her book is titled, In Defiance We Call Them Mangoes. “Why become defiant over mangoes?” I wondered.

Reading Carol's charming memoir, I learned she was born and lived in Defiance, Ohio, where the grocery store produce clerk persistently labeled the green bell peppers—you guess it—"mangoes." One can only guess about the culinary concoctions that may have inspired!

The next resident author to amaze me with her published story was Doris Steffy, a retired college professor whose mother had been a mortician. Her book, titled appropriately, is Mrs. Steffy: Our Mother the Mortician.

Steffy, who is also a Book Women subscriber, was among four children aged six to sixteen when her father, who had been a funeral director in Montezuma, Iowa, died in 1937 at age forty-three. With children to care for, Doris's mother went to embalming school and took on her late husband's role in the business. "She felt strongly that she wanted to continue his work," Doris said of her mother, who created forty scrapbooks of obituaries during her career.

Subsequently, I met and admired more resident writers, including a former psychotherapist who writes poetry, two gentlemen who wrote textbooks, a dedicated blogger of "Wise Words From Grandpa," and several others. However, I think I was most amazed to meet Helen Hanselmann, who had written and produced a comic operetta in fairytale style that was inspired by her reading of Bruno Bettelheim's The Uses of Enchantment.

Creativity flourishes when there is time and opportunity to express it. In our retirement community, there are painters, potters, quilt makers, jewelry-makers, woodworkers, Zen-tanglers and other artisans and artists of a dozen mediums. Most have the means to share their creations with others through exhibits in conference rooms, common areas, libraries and galleries. I have been happy to view their works and to support the artists. The authors here, however, were as good as invisible, incognito, their works unknown and unacknowledged.

In today's publishing world, authors are expected to market their own books through what has been described as "shameless self-promotion." That is definitely not the style of the resident authors at La Posada. So, through talking with a close friend who is a writer herself, I hatched the idea to hold our own author event. 

It would allow these special people to tell their stories, share their ideas and their histories and become acquainted with new residents as well as with each other. Seven authors took part.

The event was held on the patio of the La Posada community's coffee shop, where writers sat at a long table with copies of their books around them, ready to talk with people about their books and sell copies. The comic operetta played on a TV in the background.

As a social worker, I had little experience in event planning and the process was exhausting and sometimes frustrating. I made mistakes and the outcome was not perfect but I believe it was imminently worthwhile. A half-page story about the event ran in the main section of the local newspaper.

There must be many other unsung wordsmiths out there who are too modest for self-promotion. I hope this account may inspire their delighted and respectful readers to celebrate them in whatever way they can.

About the author:

Sharon Sterling is a psychotherapist/social worker and author. She earned her Bachelor of Social Work degree from Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff and her Master’s degree from Tulane University in New Orleans, and began her social work career as a crisis counselor. Over the years she worked in Cottonwood, Yuma, Tucson, Flagstaff, and Prescott. Her work experiences include community mental health agencies, psychiatric and medical hospital settings and private practice. The intense experiences and fascinating people encountered during those years inspire and inhabit her books, while the flavor of Southwestern locales spice her writing. Her mystery/thriller novels include Fatal Refuge and The Well. Both are set in Arizona and feature a young Apache woman and a mental health counselor. Ms. Sterling completed her Arizona Thriller Trilogy with A Killing at Lynx Lake. Find out more about Sharon HERE

Wednesday, June 24, 2020


Is writing fiction appropriation or sharing the human experience? That’s a question I’ve been facing for years. Certainly, each of my novels and stories contains an autobiographical element, but in no way are they memoirs, not even Memoirs From the Asylum, which does reflect my career in mental health, and certainly not Widow’s Walk, the story of an Irish-American widow. If I am not writing about me, who are these characters and do I have the right to use their stories? For example, the drunks and hangers-on found in the pages of Tales From the Dew Drop Inne—yes they are fictional characters, but—have I invaded their privacy and appropriated their stories? That is a question with which I wrestle as an author.

In the last year that issue has grown even more regnant.

First, there is my newest novel Red and White, which explores not only Native American culture but also examines the Black experience in the years after the Civil War. Preparing to write Red and White involved not just a lot of reading but also talking with many Native American friends. From them I learned a great deal about Native American history and culture. However, I didn’t want to appropriate what they told me. If I couldn’t come up with something more, something that I created, I was determined that the book should not be written.

The novel, which was channeled from a Sioux warrior Plenty Horses, centers on Lonely Cricket, a Ho-Chunk youth who was among the first students at the Carlisle Indian School. I have never been one to focus on reincarnation, and if I were to have lived before, I’m quite sure it would not have been as a Sioux warrior. Why and how the spirit of Plenty Horses decided to reach out to me is a mystery for which I have no answers.

Filled with a newly created series of Native American stories, Red and White is, in my opinion, not an appropriation but a reflection built on Plenty Horses’ speaking to my heart and my empathy for the young men and women taken from their homes and sent to such schools. As I thought about those youngsters, it occurred to me that there would be a natural affinity between them and the Blacks they would meet in that “White world.”

Having grown up a member of a minority and having gone to a boarding school designed to make me not just a “White American” but an old-fashioned New England Yankee, what I call a Broody New Englander, I have great empathy for the marginalized and rejected. I guess in some ways I identify with Steinberg, an author whose characters are often outside trying to see into society.

I think that sense of empathy has also connected me strongly to Africa, a part of the world to which I have never been

My first connection was an on-line friendship with a South African writer, a connection which helped my books to sell well half-way around the world. However, that was only a beginning. A few years back, I met a man from South Sudan. He had been a child soldier, one of the Lost Boys of Sudan. Deng wanted to write a memoir and was looking for help. I ended up co-authoring that volume, which is yet to be published, and became involved with his magazine, Ramciel. The goal of Ramciel is to connect the South Sudanese who are scattered around the globe with those still in their homeland. Since South Sudan is a young nation, still suffering civil conflict and driven by multi-tribal identities, and since so many South Sudanese are dispersed around the world, the role of this magazine in helping to create a national and cultural identity is important.

Then, there’s my friend Tendai Mwanaka from Zimbabwe. A publisher, Tendai was looking for essays about the African-American experience. He read one of my essays about discovering racism as an adolescent and asked to include it in a collection. I was delighted. Only later was I more delighted to learn that I was the only White author whose work was included.

With such connections and with an active presence on social media, it seemed more ordained than coincidence that I became friendly with Nigerian playwright Umar Abdul. Umar and I decided to write a play together. Ashes is the story of an African-American who, with his mother, brings his father’s ashes back to Nigeria to scatter them in the ancestral homeland. Of course, identifying that homeland so specifically involved both oral history and DNA analysis. 

Writing Ashes, which recently had its first performance in Nigeria, was a great experience. I learned how the people of Umar’s community looked at the world and how they used metaphor. I provided more of the plotting. Between us we wrote a play that has something to say. However, we also needed it published. Re-enter my friend Tendai who offered to publish Ashes. 

The experience was so rewarding that Umar and I are working on a new play, one that is more surrealist and hopefully more universal in its insights, even more encompassing of the human experience.

The goal of my writing is to find that which encompasses not my personal experience but the universal, that which makes us all more nearly human than otherwise. If I cannot go beyond that which I have personally experienced and connect to the collective and archetypic, I have failed in my goal as an author. I create characters who live their own lives and my job is respecting their existence while celebrating their connection to us all.

To answer my original question: no, to create a work of fiction from the perspective of another person and even a culture is not appropriation but rather a celebration of our human connection.


Sometimes Ken Weene writes to exorcise demons. Sometimes he writes because the characters in his head demand to be heard. Sometimes he writes because he thinks what he has to say might amuse or even on occasion inform. Mostly, however, he writes because it is a cheaper addiction than drugs, an easier exercise than going to the gym, and a more sociable outlet than sitting at McDonald's drinking coffee with other old farts: in brief because it keeps him just a bit younger and more alive.

Ken’s stories and poetry have appeared in numerous publications and he has a number of books which can be purchased on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and other outlets.

More about Ken can be found at:  

Monday, June 22, 2020

Discrimination, Repression, & Sexism from the Sixties to Now

by  Toby Heathcotte

Non-Fiction - Anthology 126 Pages
Reviewed on 04/03/2020

Book Review
Reviewed by Shannon Winings for Readers' Favorite

Women Wronged: Discrimination, Repression, & Sexism from the Sixties to Now is a collection of stories from multiple women. Edited, and partly written by Toby Heathcotte, each story details another woman's account of growing up in a world of discrimination, repression, and sexism. Each one shares how they were perceived solely for certain qualities, like beauty, or for what they lacked, namely male anatomical parts. They missed jobs and opportunities because they were women. Family and co-workers felt entitled to their bodies. They were looked at as individuals with no intellect. Even today, women's rights are still lacking and incidents such as the above are prevalent. Where do we go from here?

Women Wronged by Toby Heathcotte is a great read, especially given the increase in women's rights advocates and movements. I loved how articulated the stories were and how they explained feelings so well. I was angry, sad, and ready to fight for them. While I may not have lived during the same time period as some of these women, I found the stories relatable. As a woman, I have lived through aspects of each story and each touched my heart. Despite their trials, however, the authors provide hope and understanding to women today who are going through their own ordeals. Their messages spoke volumes - being a woman is not just about being beautiful, conforming to how others think you should be, or being less than others. I think these messages can reach more than just women and I am sure it can inspire many individuals.

Buy Kindle from Amazon and support National Organization for Women.

Thursday, June 11, 2020

Brief history of the written word - Part one - by Vijaya Schartz

I was always fascinated by the multiplicity of languages, cultures, and different kinds of writing. My research about the origins of the written word only proved that not all the experts agree, but this is what I gathered. 

In every Asian country, there is a legend saying that writing was a science of the gods, and they taught it to man as a means to impart their knowledge. This explains why the most ancient writings are religious in nature and tell of the life and exploits of the ancient gods, as well as ancient teachings, like the knowledge of medicinal plants, acupuncture, etc.

In China, Cangjie, who, according to legend, brought writing to the court of the Yellow Emperor, was a very unique individual. He was described as having four eyes. Not your typical human being. 

A Chinese character is an entire word in itself, often a graphic representation, an image that evolved over time. The pictogram for rain, for example, represents a stylized window and the falling rain seen through that window, with a flat cloud above. The writing is read from top to bottom and from right to left, allowing continuous writing on long scrolls. 

Since Chinese is an agglutinant language, it doesn’t use prepositions or other small connecting words. The placement of the word inside the sentence clarifies the meaning (who is doing what to whom, how, why, where, whether it’s a noun, a verb, an adjective, etc.)

In the late 6th Century AD, a mass political exile saw large numbers of Chinese emigrating to Japan. They took with them the teachings of Confucius and their system of writing. Since the native islanders of the time (the ancient Ainu tribes) didn’t have writing, they used the Chinese ideograms to write their own language. Then different emigrants came to the islands and mixed with the Ainu and the Chinese to form the Japanese people. They wrote with Chinese characters, same meaning, different pronunciation, using the same brush strokes. 

However, the Japanese used a number of one-syllable connecting words to form sentences, and there were no phonetic syllables in Chinese. So, they added a number of small, simple connecting characters, called Hiragana, representing phonetic syllables, which are also used today to teach children to read and write, before they can memorize the thousands of complicated pictograms or ideograms (Kanji) necessary to read and write the main language.

Legends of India say that the Mahabharata, an ancient epic depicting the exploits of the gods during their time on Earth, was recited by the sage Vyasa from the oral tradition, while Lord Ganesha himself (the Elephant God) penned it down… implying that only the gods could write.

Other legends of India also portray the gods teaching writing to their people. Sanskrit is one of the oldest forms of sophisticated written language, used to write the Vedas. But it doesn’t use images, only letters linked together to form sounds and words. Sound is very important in India. Some sacred sounds are so powerful (like the mantras) that they are believed to manifest divinity.

In 3400 BC a cuneiform type of writing developed in Mesopotamia. Legend says it was given to the Sumerians by their Anunnaki gods, those who from the heavens came. The oldest tablets tell of the interactions of the Anunnaki with their human workers, stories of the flood, etc. The characters represented stylized Sumerian or Akkadian objects. Soon, these symbols were also used to represent specific sounds.

Ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs seem to have derived from Sumerian cuneiform writing. Sometimes they represent an object, an animal, a river, a sacred symbol. However, a bird doesn’t necessarily mean a bird, but the phonetic sound of the bird’s name, which is used as a syllable in a longer word or name. To indicate that, the full name of a Pharaoh, for example, is enclosed into a cartouche. 

Since I want to keep this post brief, I will continue this history of the written word in parts 2 and 3, in the next two months.

In the meantime, you can read my CURSE OF THE LOST ISLE series, where history and Celtic legends collide. Years of research went into it, and the result is an edgy medieval fantasy saga. Find it at - Amazon - B&N - Smashwords and more.  
From history shrouded in myths, emerges a family of immortal Celtic Ladies, who roam the medieval world in search of salvation from a curse. For centuries, imbued with hereditary gifts, they hide their deadly secret, stirring passions in their wake as they fight the Viking hordes, send the first knights to the Holy Land, give birth to kings and emperors... but if the Church ever suspects what they really are, they will be hunted, tortured, and burned at the stake.


Vijaya Schartz, author
Strong Heroines, Brave Heroes
amazon B&N - Smashwords - Kobo FB 

Thursday, June 4, 2020

The Show Will Go On - by Craig Sodaro

Kids can get really passionate about their school activities, whether it’s sports, debate, or student council. One of the most passionate groups are the drama kids—the ones involved in their school plays and musicals. So when COVID-19 slammed the school doors shut as the busiest school performance season got underway, there were thousands of very disappointed actors and crew members.

That’s when Debra Fendrich, my editor at Pioneer Drama, called and told me she’d just finished a call with a teacher in California who was directing one of my plays which now had been cancelled. Would there be any way the actors could video a bit of their performances and email them to me so I could watch them? That way they’d have an audience—of sorts—and not feel like all the work they’d put into the show was a total waste.

After being in contact with the teacher, I’ve found out they’re doing a lot of zooming and putting together a virtual version of the play—shortened, but still acted—that I’ll be able to watch. That’s exciting! As an old drama teacher myself, it’s great fun watching student performances as they’re developing their acting chops.

Since Debra’s call, a number of us playwrights have taken to writing short plays specifically designed to be performed online. The experience drew me back to Playwriting 101, the “elevator play” in which all action takes place within a contained area. The most famous “elevator play” has to be Sartre’s No Exit, a group of people trapped in a room, no way out, no way in. Often an “elevator play” is one of the first assignments you get in playwriting class and sometimes you have to set the play literally in an elevator. The idea is to learn how stage plays take place in a confined physical space where character development and human conflict become the most important elements of drama.

Because the “Virtual Plays” (as they are called) are ten minute sketches, I’ve had to go right to the heart of the matter quickly with only the barest of exposition. “Uh Oh!” is a rom-com of sorts with two kids, Jaxon and Addie, trying to put together a class project. Suddenly, a new girl enters the picture and complications arise. It’s all for fun and the good thing about a virtual play is the actors find that everything is about their character. They can’t rely on a set or props or anything else to create the drama, only their own talent.

I’ve also done a fun spy comedy called “Spies R Us” featuring four spies, A, B, C, and D. Great for nonspecific gender casting! The most recent one I’ve written is called “Who’s There?” designed to be a bit spooky: Willow links up with three girlfriends because she’s home alone and scared. As they converse, each of her friends exits the conversation and doesn’t comeback. And that’s when there’s a knock at the door. A little bit of spooky fun!

These three plays are all available from Pioneer Drama Service and Eldridge Publishing Company. Needless to say, I’ll be writing a couple more soon. 

If nothing else, this horrible pandemic and our being sheltered in place have inspired a great deal of creativity in all walks of life. As a playwright, it’s brought me back to my roots, but, believe me, I am as anxious as the next guy to see theaters opening again with curtains going up. Until then, though, the show will go on. 

About the author:
A Chicago native, playwright Craig Sodaro has published over 200 full-length and one-act plays that have been presented all around the world, from Mongolia to Australia, South Africa to Norway. He began writing plays in high school and by the time he graduated from Marquette University, he was seeing his work presented at the University theatre. Publishing success came later during his 33-year teaching career. As an English and drama teacher, Sodaro had difficulty finding scripts that worked for his students, so he began to write plays that fit his classes. These plays turned out to be popular with schools and community theaters throughout the country. Plays coming out next fall include “A Play to Die For” from Heuer Publishing, “Brushstrokes” from Pioneer Drama Service, and “Frankenteen” from Eldridge Publishing Company. Find out more about Craig HERE.