Paul Shapera’s “The Dolls of New Albion”

After a too-long hiatus from my blog, I return with praises for this awesome work, “The Dolls of New Albion: A Steampunk Opera,” (2012) by Paul Shapera.  It’s the first part of The New Albion Trilogy, and traces the story of four generations of the McAllistair family in the city of New Albion. It begins with clever Annabell McAllistair raising up the dead – a man she’d loved – and putting his spirit into a mechanical doll.  This one act echoes down the generations and has profound impact on the city.

Besides being an intriguing story, the music is great, and the songs are hummable/singable and stay with you after the end of the opera. It’s available in CD or streaming form. There’s also a beautifully tuneful recorded performance of the Opera on Vimeo:

Performance of The Dolls of New Albion, Vimeo

and the acting, and singing voices, will not disappoint!

And on top of all that, one thing that caught my ear was the brilliant way that so much story, so much description, was conveyed with an economy of words. Background information, motivations, and various details were artfully woven into the action without bogging it down – yes, not unusual for a theatrical production, but I’ve definitely taken it as a lesson for my own fiction writing!

And it all starts with the narrator describing the founding of the city of New Albion:

“Several hundred years before,
A gambler and a monk embarked
On a long trek through the endless prairies of the north.
They had a fierce debate
About God and chance and fate,
And to resolve it, agreed a game of cards indeed be played.

“The game went on all day,
And through the next and next they played,
And around them a shelter was built to shield the rain.
A street around the shelter formed,
Then a church, a house, a bar,
And that is how the city of New Albion was born.”

Which brings a possible writing prompt to mind – How many strange ways of founding a town can you think of?




Sheep and Wool Festival Coming!!!

Having woefully neglected my blog for weeeeell over a month, I’m “re-inaugurating” it with extra-excited anticipation.  The annual Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival will be at the Howard County, MD, fairgrounds on the first weekend in May – May 5-6!!!  This year, for the first time, they are charging admission – $5 (five!) per ticket for adults – but for youths 18 and under, it’s still free.

Official Sheep and Wool Festival Site

There’ll be vendors, sheep, alpacas, angora bunnies, wool, yarn, entertainment, food, demonstrations.  Woot!  Trust me, it’s oodles of fun!  I’ve been twice, and can’t wait for this years!!!

Don’t think sheep, wool, yarn, etc, can be interesting to write about or include in stories?  Look for – and I’m serious, this really is the title, and I’m in the middle of reading it – “Silence of the Llamas”.



Forest Therapy: Serenity and Renewal


It is a well-established truth that being close to nature has many health-related and spiritual benefits.  I also remember reading somewhere that whenever Gertrude Stein had writer’s block, Alice Toklas would take her to the countryside to look at cows.  Not exactly zen garden, I know, but pastorally peaceful nonetheless.  And the idea that walking among trees makes one feel better is, of course, nothing new.  BUT…

The benefits of walking amongst trees – from wild forests down to humble bunches of trees in someone’s yard – are greater than one might think – well, greater than I thought before a friend introduced me to the concept of forest therapy.  She said, “Look it up!” and I did.  The Japanese term (transliterated, of course) is “Shinrin-Yoku,” which means “forest bathing.”  But no, “nekkidness” is not at all necessary.  And taking part in Forest Therapy or Bathing can be as simple or involved as you want it to be – from just walking amongst trees to joining clubs, etc.

Forest therapy lowers stress, lowers stress hormones, combats the chronic stress that leads to so many other problems, and actually gives our immune systems a boost.  The sense of peace that you get is real.  And if you go with friends, there is camaraderie.

Here are a few links I found:

The Science of Forest Therapy

Shinrin-Yoku Page

Forest Therapy Welcome Page

Benefits for writers – if cows helped Gertrude Stein, why not trees?  Serenity, bliss, lowered stress, story ideas… “I was walking in the woods when I saw…”

One caution: Do be safe about it – possibly walking with one or more buddies or a dog.  Yes, it stinks that after all the lovely benefits I waxed poetic about above, that I need to remind of safety – yes, even for neighborhood paths where “nothing like <insert crime info here> has ever happened there before!” – but there it is.  So enjoy!  But safely.

All you need is trees – cows are optional.



College of Wizardry! Enroll Now! (Or Later!)

I know that blogs are supposed to be able things I have done, but this looks so cool, I thought, “I gotta blog about this!”  Call it a newbie mistake, if you like!

Apparently, it all began at a castle in Poland – a four-day Live-Action Role Playing (LARP) college of wizardry that quickly sold out.  It was based on Harry Potter, but did not slavishly follow the books.  The houses are different, the spells are different, there is greater scope for the imagination than if they had stuck to the J.K. Rowling books.  And then there are trademarks to worry about.  Anyway, after the first one sold out, they had another…and another…and another… they even have their own website (… Oh, and don’t worry if your Polish is rusty; it’s conducted in English.  It has been written about in British newspapers, was even mentioned on a Fox News website.  Here’s a picture from the latter (I found the page on that website when I was searching for a picture to include):


And naturally the idea crossed the Atlantic, and is now here in the U.S. – Tada!  The New World Magischola – – and like its Polish counterpart, offers time away from the real world to roleplay as someone you never thought you could be – a magicmaker!  And yes, this is something I would love to try, when I can.  They supply the robes, the books (for the duration of the course; I don’t know if you can buy copies or not), the food, and the quidditch (yes! even that! okay, yes, no flying, though).

The angle for writers?  The role-playing!  Not just creating and presenting a character, but interacting with other people, which gives you an added dimension of unpredictability which you don’t have when you create all the characters and control how they interact.

Or: create your own LARP!  It doesn’t have to be College of Wizardry, if you want a different genre.  I believe there have been LARPs in the style of Downton Abbey, so I’d bet that the story for the LARP is limited only by imagination.  Or base a story on a LARP (as the comedy movie “The Knights of Badassdom” did).  Really, the magic is in the creating!

Virtual Reality for Fun and Writing

I recently discovered Virtual Reality (VR), and besides being fun in its own right, I think it could be an excellent tool for writers, too.  Viewers and game systems run the gamut from Google Cardboard, ViewMaster, and similar viewers that work with smart phones, to expensive game systems.  I “splurged” and bought a ViewMaster starter pack from Amazon for U.S. $16.99.  Then I discovered there are a HUGE number of cheap – and free! – smart phone apps:


So far, I’ve visited the Eiffel Tower, floated down the Danube, explored a “cartoon” castle, hung out with kangaroos in Australia, “walked through” apartments for sale in NY City skyscrapers, and visited Burning Man.  And it was fun!

I believe that YouTube also has what it calls “360 Videos” which work with VR viewers, but I’ve not tried those yet.

The GoPro app, for example is awesome; besides immersing you in interesting places (Paris anyone?), it includes VR videos of activities like skiing, scuba diving, and more.  USA Today also has launched an app with VR news.

For writers, especially those of us who want to set our stories in places like Paris, or the mountains of Switzerland, or Australia, or want to include scenes of snowboarding or sailing – or scuba diving with sharks! – and can’t, for one reason or another, experience these things first-hand, this is an excellent way to experience these things vicariously.  Besides the 360-degree views, most have sound as well – for descriptive passages, the only thing missing is smell.

I recommend sitting on a comfortable swivel chair, to avoid neck and back strain from looking around.

1) Yes, motion sickness is possible, though the danger of that varies from app to app.  If you start feeling nauseated, take a break.
2)As with any source you use, please be careful not to violate any applicable copyright and trademark laws.

Try it, you’ll like it!





Discoveries For Writers Too

This is really exciting for me and a little scary, too.  My first blog!  And I want to use it to share with anyone who might be interested, some of the way cool, wonderful, and sometimes offbeat things I have stumbled across.  I chose the title that I did for the site because I believe that a large number of the things that I have found could also be of use to writers.  So in the next few days I’ll begin blogging in earnest.