Saturday, March 28, 2015

Free This Weekend: The Astrologer's Portrait

My new comic fantasy novel, The Astrologer's Portrait, is free to download this weekend on Amazon.  Click on the link to find it:

Here is a brief synopsis of the book if you're still on the fence (did I mention it's free?): Prince Harold has fallen in love with a portrait, which he much prefers to his real bride-to-be. However, the portrait may be a hundred years old, and only the greatest sorcerer in the land can verify her existence. Unfortunately, Turold the Magnificent is currently on trial for maliciously impersonating a person of quality and despoiling her family history. Harold gets him off on the condition that they locate his lady love before his wedding to Sonya, who vows to kill him on their wedding night. Along with his faithless Russian servant, Dimitri, the three steal off to locate the true identity of the sitter—only to confront a curse much older than the portrait. To dispel the curse the prince must lead a revolution, fall in love with his wife, and release the centuries-old hands of Einhard the Black, who are eagerly awaiting their latest victim.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Can Writing Be Taught In College?

The Department of English in any university is predicated on the idea that writing is a skill that can be studied, learned, taught, and to some degree, mastered (at the undergraduate level, at least).  We have innumerable theories on how to teach writing, and each teacher does his or her variation on some of these approaches, funneling their ideas into at least two core classes, Freshman Composition 1 and 2.  The goal of these courses is that students leave with a knowledge of writing critical essays using sources, and are able to understand how to write for various audiences by employing different rhetorical strategies to make his or her argument coherent and, perhaps, persuasive.  Sounds simple enough, but it’s a pretty tall order considering students have a very tenuous relationship with writing.  Sure, most have a passing acquaintance with the basics of writing an essay, and if pressed, some will admit that they have at least heard of MLA documentation.  A few even know the difference between primary and secondary sources (but only a few).  However, the idea of making an argument and responding to other ideas and conversations out in the world is completely foreign to most students for one simple reason: the vast majority of students don’t like to read.  They didn’t read as high school students, and they don’t magically read once they come to college.  Sure, they (usually) dutifully read assigned pages in a textbook or a novel assigned for class, but reading is seen as an artificial activity, something remote and academic.  It’s not something “real” that occurs in an organic form out in the world...and if it does, it primarily takes the form of Harry Potter or something they would consider “fun reading.”  

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

THE EARLY DVORAK SYMPHONIES: A Trial Run or a Complement to the Famous Three?

Dvorak’s ‘Early’ Symphonies have a checkered past, even though the final three (Nos.7-9) are considered cornerstones of the symphonic repertoire.  I’ve always found it curious that an audience that embraced one (much less three) symphonies by a great composer wouldn’t be the least bit curious to hear the works that came before, particularly when Dvorak wrote six (!) symphonies that lie in relative neglect.  What separates the ‘early’ symphonies of Dvorak from the three late masterpieces?  Did it truly take him six attempts to hammer out a competent symphonic language?  Conventional wisdom would tell us that, yes, the first six are so-called apprentice attempts, useful for scholars but not the lay audience, that simply wants tunes and dance rhythms in equal measure.  However, conventional wisdom, particularly when it comes to art, is usually wrong.  The Dvorak symphony cycle is (I feel) the most consistently rewarding 19th century symphonic cycle after Beethoven, rivaling for sheer variety and gusto even the symphonies of Brahms and Bruckner (Schubert’s are a near rival, though the early symphonies lack variety for all their charm).  From the very beginning, there is a clear voice that speaks Dvorak’s language, even if the earliest works are a tad verbose and under the spell of Beethoven.  Yet the mastery of form is there, the creativity, and the jaw-dropping orchestration.  Almost every one of these symphonies could be a “greatest hits” piece of a lesser composer, and Nos. 3, 5 and 6 in particular are masterpieces that by some fluke of fate escaped the orchestral canon.  Luckily, in our age of cheap music downloads you can sample these works at leisure, deciding for yourself if history has been unjust to Dvorak’s symphonic legacy.  As you do, here’s a brief rundown of each piece and its chief points of interest (click below to read about them...)