Sunday, December 8, 2019

Cindy Lou Who (Part Two!)

Who's Holiday
Guggenheim Entertainment
December 7, 2019

Shannon Guggenheim as Cindy Lou Who

If you're low on Christmas cheer
Mixing egg nog with your beer
Don't feel the need to join a cult
Just come see something more adult

The drama folks at 3Below
Are offering quite a naughty show
That asks a question strange and new:
What became of Cindy Lou?

The cutesy tot who caught the Grinch
Stealing Whoville's every inch
Is older now, ever soused
And living in a trailer house

Just released from the county pen
She hosts a bash for all her friends
But one by one they all cop out
From Fox in Sox to ol' Doubt Trout

So instead she pours some gin
Plays some tunes and fills us in
On what befell her since that night
Her greenfaced Santa gave her fright

Our hostess, Shannon Guggenheim
Is mighty skillful with a rhyme
But much more fully makes us laugh
On all those time she makes a gaffe

She's awfully fun with dance and song
And even lets us sing along
Or stops so we can end a line
Or brings up Jason for some wine

Once to play a rhyming game
She asked us for some animal names
But stuffed a couple 'neath her pillow
When up came aardvark and armadillo

In the end what's really fine
Is to feel the show is yours and mine
To party there with Cindy Lou
The sparkliest of all the Whos

Be forewarned this ain't for kiddies
Stuffy shirts or touchy biddies
But if you're done with sappy shit
This show is sure to be a hit

So crack those Nuts and Messy Sings
Turtle doves and golden rings
Why not party Cindy's way
And learn what grew three sizes that day

Through Dec. 22, 3Below Theaters, 288 S. Second St, San Jose., 408/404-7711.

Michael J. Vaughn is a widely published poet and novelist. His most recent novel, A Painting Called Sylvia, is currently #11 on Amazon's free literary fiction list.

Last year's review (for non-rhyming reference)...

Who’s Holiday
3Below Theaters
December 7, 2018

If you think the latest Grinch cartoon was entirely unnecessary, and what you’d really like to see is the whole enterprise blown up in a raunchy, comic explosion, then Who’s Holiday is your ticket. Matthew Lombardo’s script, written in perfect Seussian couplets, visits Cindy Lou Who in middle age, trying to get any of her Whoville friends to come to her holiday party but beset by a checkered past that has made her a bit of an outcast. All the better, since we get to have her to ourselves.

The Avenue Q-ness of the play is evident right away, as Cindy Lou recounts that fateful night: “…but I caught him green-handed as he was stealing our shit!” Her tale proceeds to her 18th birthday, when she discovers something else that grew three sizes that day (“If you think black guys are hung, try going jade”).

Our hostess is Shannon Guggenheim, who is 3Below’s Miss Everything (including librettist of their awesome Meshuga Nutcracker musical). She dispenses quickly with the fourth wall, and third wall, and a little of the second, throwing in regular asides and a running commentary on the challenges of stagework. Much of the fun is in the rhyming. When she rhymes “Christmas” with “isthmus,” she takes an educational timeout to provide a detailed geographical definition. Later, when she flubs a rhyme, she says, “Hey! This shit is hard.” And then she has to deal with an audience volunteer who seemed to think he was at an old-school hip-hip rhymeoff (he was good, but he was making us nervous).

To say Guggenheim is delightful doesn’t really say enough. She is an absolute natural onstage, and her Cindy Lou is sexy, funny, and ingratiating. She even makes us a little sad, singing “Blue Christmas” for her estranged green-skinned daughter (who’s off touring as Elphaba in “Wicked”). In short, she’s exactly the kind of woman you’d like to hang out with at a party. And to hell with those sanctimonious Who’s!

Sunday, November 24, 2019

The Humans at Your Table

Stephen Karam's The Humans
San Jose Stage Company
November 23, 2019

The scariest thing about the Blake family is that they are likely not all that different than your family or mine. As they gather around the Thanksgiving table, you'll find the same role-players you might see at your own gathering. The one who wants everyone to behave themselves for once and keep it light. The one who wants to talk about everything and keep it heavy. The outsider who's anxious about what kind of family he's joining. The one who's desperately hiding the fact that her life is falling apart.

Brigid (Madeline Rouverol), Erik (Tim Kniffin) and Aimee (Lyndsy Kail).
Photo by Dave Lepori.
Stephen Karam's play is a cyclone of intentions and secrets, dropping hints and fears as its characters damage each other in the very act of trying to help each other. Under director Tony Kelly, the Stage's cast weaves a performance so naturalistic you feel like you could sit right down, grab a turkey leg and join in.

Brigid Blake (Madeline Rouverol) is hosting her family at her new digs, a Manhattan Chinatown apartment that she's sharing with her boyfriend Richard Saad (George Psarras). The set, by Giulio Perrone, is a marvelous two-story concoction that allows for simultaneous dialogues and actions. A memorable example is when daughter Aimee (Lyndsy Kail) takes her worsening colitis upstairs for yet another bathroom visit and follows with a painfully awkward phone conversation with her ex-girlfriend, who has already moved on.

I also enjoyed Tim Kniffin's performance as the father, Erik Blake. There are so many anxieties simmering beneath that shock of gray hair that poor Erik can barely function, his few moments of clarity ranging from heartfelt affection to creepy nightmare anxieties. He confides about the latter with Richard, a psychology student who finds his own creepy dreams terrifically entertaining.

Aimee (Lyndsy Kail) and Deirdre (Marie Shell).
Photo by Dave Lepori.
There's a similar complexity in Marie Shell's performance as the mother, Deirdre Blake. Her work with Bhutan refugees (rudely derided by her daughters) indicates a heart full of good intentions, but her constant prodding of her family's moral weaknesses (Brigid's "shacking up," her clan's general godlessness) provide a running irritation. (Naturally, the audience laughs at these gibes, but they don't have to live with her, am I right?) It's Deirdre who sets the trigger, asking her husband if he's going to tell them before dinner or after, and effectively activating the suspense.

Coincidentally, I recently re-watched Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf, and the bickering here provides an interesting comparison. Whereas Taylor and Burton (Martha and George) operated at a near-psychotic level, the Blakes come up with regular moments of warmth (a lovely letter written by grandmother Momo - Jessica Powell - before she lost her mind to dementia) and light-hearted quirks (a family ritual of following each declaration of thanks by whacking a peppermint pig). In other words, the Blakes may be having a bad Thanksgiving, but the fraying threads are not so much worse than the ones in your family or mine. And that's scary enough.

Through December 15 at The Stage, 490 S. First Street, San Jose. 408/283-7142,

Michael J. Vaughn is the author of 22 novels. His latest, A Painting Called Sylvia, was inspired by his recent success as a visual artist, and is available in both paperback and ebook forms at

Monday, November 18, 2019

The Hansel and Gretel Shuffle

Kerriann Otano as the Witch. Photo by Bob Shomler.
Humperdinck's Hansel and Gretel
Opera San Jose
November 16 2019

Opening night at Opera San Jose was a bit of a crisis center, what with the company's original Hansel, Stephanie Sanchez, being down with an illness (I hate the idea of someone putting in all that work only to miss performances, so be well, Stephanie). The resultant shuffle - original Sandman Talin Nalbandian in for Hansel, while understudy Jamie Wodhull played the Sandman - had no obvious ill effects on the result, an enchanting production directed by Layna Chianakas and powered by Kerriann Otano's dynamite turn as the Witch.

The chemistry between the two siblings suffered not a whit. Nalbandian seemed absolutely comfortable, and did well with portraying a young boy's growth-spurt awkwardness. (Perhaps it helps that Gretel is the classic bossy sister, so Hansel has only to follow her lead.) Elena Galvan's Gretel is perfect. She possesses a certain impishness to begin with, so playing an imaginative young girl is a natural. And the energized lift of her soprano is one of my favorite brands of coffee. She excels especially the morning scene , and the two of them blend wonderfully in Humperdinck's Evening Prayer.

Elena Galvan as Gretel, Talin Nalbandian as Hansel. Photo by Pat Kirk
The Mother came off as unusually fierce, but it's a suitable reaction to finding your two brats throwing laundry all over the house. (This impression came before I realized the same singer was playing the Witch, a fairly common doubling with this work.) I really enjoyed Eugene Brancoveanu, who lent his boisterous baritone and presence to the Father. After a rare success selling brooms in the town he downs a few beers and comes home with a veritable feast of groceries. His aria "Ach, wir armen Leute!" conveys the particular joy of a provider who's finally getting a chance to provide.

Amy Goymerac as the Dew Fairy. Photo by Pat Kirk.
Ironically, Mother had just sent her two naughty children into the woods to pick berries, and Father tells her the legend of the witch who lives in those woods, who has a curious habit of baking kids into gingerbread cookies. Larry Hancock's set design, filled with the craggy limbs of oak trees, makes an easy segue from the house and its branchy furniture to the woods, which can be alternately spooky and gorgeous. Against this backdrop are displayed several enchanting visuals. Director Chianakas demonstrates the wonder that may be created simply by moving fourteen orb-carrying forest angels about a stage in interesting patterns. Woodhull has much fun skulking about in her hunterish Sandman cloaks, and Amy Goymerac's Dew Fairy is a one-woman dazzlement, thanks to Elizabeth Poindexter's silver-blue dress, Christina Martin's sky-high wig and a pair of confetti bazookas.

Which brings us to the Witch. Otano just takes over the place (which is, ideally, what a witch should do). Her high-energy stage presence is downright mesmerizing, reminiscent of Bette Midler in her prime. She handles her magic broom like a samurai sword, preps an oven that resembles the lantern fish from Finding Nemo and even rambles across the stage in a Wizard of Oz-ian bicycle, a gingerbread child filling in for Toto. Otano is also better-looking than a usual Humperdinck witch, but there's a nice twist to that, too. (I also loved Galvan's puppet-dance while she's under the witch's control, and I hope she doesn't hurt herself doing that.)

The fourteen angels. Photo by Pat Kirk.
To sum up, this production is a hell of a lot of fun. It's also very kid-friendly, sung in English with supertitles just in case the operatic singing drowns out the words, and with special $9 student tickets. There were a number of children opening night, and some of their exclamations were priceless.

I sat closer than usual to the pit and really savored watching Joseph Marcheso; his conducting possesses a fascinating intensity that certainly translates to his orchestra. The brass lent a particular richness to the angel-march. I also got a peek at percussionist Arthur Storch playing the cuckoo-pipes, which resemble two PVC spigots. Another lovely touch was having members of the children's chorus sing the echo parts from the audience.

Through Dec. 1 at the California Theatre, 345 S. First Street, San Jose. $29-$219, $9 students. 408/437-4450. Be sure to arrive early and get holiday photos with costumed performers and gingerbread men.

Michael J. Vaughn is the author of 22 novels, including the award-winning opera novel Gabriella's Voice.

Monday, October 21, 2019

Arguing with Fellini

Guggenheim Entertainment
October 19, 2019

Claudia (Amy Bouchard), Luisa (Susan Gundunas), Stephen
Guggenheim (Guido) and Carla (Becky Elizabeth Stout).
The effect of Nine, the musical, is much like that of a film by its subject, Fellini. It provokes and puzzles you, and continues to piece itself together the following day. For a musical, this is a remarkable achievement.

I've got a few bones to pick with the work, however, and since it's based on Fellini's film, 8 1/2, I suppose I'm arguing with Fellini himself. I hate that stories revolving around creative artists always focus on creative block, as if that's the only struggle facing an artist. Then, of course, there's the great challenges of  becoming a great success. (Give ME some of those problems!) Thirdly, the story doesn't really illuminate the creative process; we're supposed to just accept that the central figure, filmmaker Guido Contini, is a genius without any real proof. (For an excellent recent example of showing the creative process, see the film Bohemian Rhapsody.)

Bone-picking aside, the musical works, because it portrays some intriguing relationships illustrated by a fascinating cast of players. Stephen Guggenheim is perfect as Contini, providing a calm, bemused eye to a hurricane of his own making. His resounding baritone lends the famed director a commanding presence, and plays well with the score's regular dips into classical tropes; Contini's  film about Casanova even employs classical recitative. The only downside to Guggenheim's voice comes in the rapid-fire lines of "I Can't Make This Movie," when all that power obscures some of the fast-flying words.

Contini's greatest flaw is his constant philandering. It is also, paradoxically, his greatest skill, in that he can make every woman in the world feel that she is the only woman in the world. The company succeeds in supplying a number of intriguing females to fall for him. Elizabeth Palmer plays Lillian LaFleur, a cranky producer who suddenly turns into a cabaret hostess in the hallucinatory "Folies Bergeres" scene. Katherine Stein plays Stephanie, a film critic who sings of many Contini's many flaws in a lightning-fast patter. (It is one of Contini's many charms that he finds these insults rather entertaining.) Heather Faulhaber projects a warm wisdom as Our Lady of the Spa, playing tour guide to Contini's psyche as he tries to relax at her retreat. The ensemble number "The Germans at the Spa" is just plain hilarious.

Susan Gundunas plays Contini's wife Luisa with a quiet calm that only accentuates the pain beneath. This is most touching in "My Husband Makes Movies," a desperate attempt to explain Contini (and perhaps her reasons for putting up with him) to the press. Her restraint is maintained for so long that her eventual blowup, "Be On Your Own," is well-deserved and a great relief. (Also, a good piece of advice.)

Becky Elizabeth Stout plays Contini's mistress Carla with mile-long legs and a joyous sexuality. In "A Call From the Vatican," she wraps herself around the filmmaker in various gymnastic poses as she tries to lure him to her hotel room. Her final song, "Simple," gives the character added dimension and a depth of intelligence. Amy Bouchard gives Contini's favorite actress, Claudia, a determined coolness, not happy to play more of his fantastical spirits, and dedicated to her art in a way that Contini is forced to respect.

Krista Wigle plays Saraghina, the prostitute who teaches nine-year-old Guido the ways of love. Her answer is "Be Italian," an infectious tune that Wigle delivers with a remarkable radiance. Young Guido completes that circle years later by telling his older self to grow up in "Be Tall," delivered with a touching sincerity by Elijah Seid-Valenca.

Set with Julie Engelbrecht's simple, elegant backgrounds and costumes, the production is really not much more than interactions, but of course it's the magic of theater that sometimes that's all you need. Sound designer Jon Leyden and orchestrator Tom Tomasella did a fantastic job of delivering the music. Finally, kudos to the company for taking on such a challenging, provocative piece.

Through Nov. 10, 3Below Theaters, 288 S. 2nd St., San Jose. 408/404-7711.

Michael J. Vaughn is the author of 22 novels, most recently A Painting Called Sylvia.

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Figaro Goes American

The Marriage of Figaro
San Francisco Opera
October 13, 2019

Serena Malfi as Cherubino, Michael Sumuel as Figaro and Jeanine de Bique
as Susanna. (All photos by Cory Weaver.)
SFO has embarked upon an intriguing three-opera project, setting the three Mozart-Da Ponte operas in the same American manor house in 1786 (Marriage of Figaro), the 1930s (Cosi fan tutti), and 2090 (Don Giovanni).

Le nozze is a natural for an American setting. The opera made its appearance in 1786, just as the world-changing Constitution was percolating overseas, aimed at taking down the noble classes in the same way that Beaumarchais' play took aim at the aristocracy's overentitled tuckus. (Beaumarchais was greatly fond of the new country, and in fact financed a gun-running scheme during the Revolution.)

Nicole Heaston as the Countess, Serena Malfi as Cherubino.
The elephant in the room (literally, Figaro's room) is the dominance of black faces: Texan bass-baritone Michael Sumuel as Figaro, and our Susanna, Jeanine de Bique from Barbados. (Another appears in Act II, Chicagoan Nicole Heaston as la Contessa.) Although acknowledging the "optics" of such casting, trilogy director Michael Cavanagh denies any intention - which is really too bad, because the move brings up some provocative parallels. Figaro's pivotal conflict is the droit du seigneur, the medieval European custom allowing feudal lords to have sex with subordinate women on their wedding nights. The painfully apt American equivalent was the trysts between plantation owners and their slaves, most infamously exemplified by Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings.

Jeanine de Bique as Susanna, Catherine Cook as Marcellina.
The other intriguing presence is Erhard Rom's set, a classic Philadelphia manor represented by facades that are half-house, half-blueprint, as if the home, like the country, were still in the process of becoming itself. The set is foreshadowed by a lively dance of architectural projections during the overture.

From square one, Sumuel is the quintessential Figaro, a hard-working blue-collar figure with sensitivities and wit far above his station. He fits right in to a particular American ideal of manliness, and perhaps his pledge to take on his master, "Se vuol ballare," is his Declaration of Independence. De Bique partners him with all of Susanna's saucy cleverness and appealing moments of girlishness, whether bouncing excitedly at the latest scheme or unleashing bursts of infectious laughter.

Musically, I keep flashing on the quiet moments. Conductor Henrik Nanasi displays a great sensitivity in matching these passages to his orchestra. The first is that fetching slowdown in Cherubino's "Non so piu," mezzo Serena Malfi gearing down from her page's hormonal panic to soak in the sudden open spaces and sing in captivating sighs, "And if no one is near to hear me, I speak of love to myself."

Michael Sumuel as Figaro.
The second quietness comes with Heaston's elegant reading of Dove sono, the restatement of the theme conveyed with a sublime delicacy. The third is De Bique's thoughtful interpretation of "Deh vieni," a beautifully sincere rendering of an aria that is completely fake, a trick for her new husband.

The more outrageous side of the equation is fueled by the Evil Trio, intent on undoing the youngsters' nuptials. Mezzo Catherine Cook is divine as Marcellina, like some kind of wacky Disney villainess, and tenor Greg Fedderly and his pink wig play Basilio gloriously out. Bass James Cresswell offers a calm, likeable center as Bartolo, particularly in the great "sua madre" reveal. Lawrence Pech gave the threesome some deliciously dastardly movements to complete the picture.

Malfi's Cherubino is nicely centered on the female-male scale of a teenage dandy. Designer Constance Hoffman gave her a dazzling regimental uniform, all white underpinnings with a blue and red waistcoat. Levente Molnar's Count is all lothario, making his scenes with Susanna delightfully cringe-worthy. In the days of Harvey Weinstein and a certain President, you really can't carry the caddishness too far, and actually the Count's boyish moments of glee at his sexual anticipations are rather charming.

There was a surprising disappointment in the back-and-forth duet of "Sullaria... che soave zeffiretto" (famously played over the prison PA in the film The Shawshank Redemption). Though they blended beautifully in their scheming chatters against the Count, Heaston and De Bique seemed to be battling here. It's hard to pinpoint the blame - a little too much ego, clashing timbres - but it does demonstrate the challenge in Mozart of having to deploy both solo and choral abilities.

Greg Fedderly as Basilio.
Kudos in general to the orchestra for its care in matching its conductor's dynamic desires, as well as to Bryndon Hassman for excellent continuo work on the fortepiano. My favorite supertitle: "She's his mother? Well then they can't get married!"

Through November 1, War Memorial Opera House, 301 Van Ness Ave., San Francisco., 415/864-3330.

Michael J. Vaughn is the author of 22 novels, including the opera novels Gabriella's Voice and Operaville, both of which include scenes at the San Francisco Opera.

Tuesday, October 8, 2019

Rocky and the Callbacks

The Rocky Horror Show
San Jose Stage Company
October 5, 2019

Allison F. Rich as Magenta, Parker Harris as Brad,
Ashley Garlick as Janet, and Sean Okuniewicz.
"The callbacks," the practice of inserting one's own lines into the dialogue, has long been a part of the Rocky Horror Picture Show, but not necessarily of the stage version that started it all. The Stage Company makes no bones about where it stands; they invited audience members to speak up, sold "participation packets" with the familiar RH props (playing cards, spray bottles), and one of the wittier hecklers turned out to be their artistic director, Randall King.

At times the back-and-forth is a little chaotic (this is not a rehearsed element), but it produced a number of superb moments. When Brad surmised that the castle must be one of those places where sicko millionaires hide out, an instigator at audience left shouted "Mar-a-Lago!" But the most fun came with the Narrator, Edward Hightower, who had a brief Harvey Korman moment when one of the comments struck his funny bone, and made comic battle with his hecklers the rest of the night, aiming his lines and gestures for effect.

Allison F. Rich as Magenta,
Matthew Kropschot as Rocky and
Jill E. Miller as Columbia
Beneath all this unfettered democracy, Stage has itself a freakishly awesome production. There's a certain quality - call it "presence" or the "it" factor - that an aficionado might find once or twice a season. You know it when you can't keep your eyes off a particular performer. This single show has three. One is (no surprise) Allison F. Rich, whose commitment to Magenta is absolute, and intense. Another is Sean Okuniewicz, whose Riff Raff is a 100 percent freakball liable to go off at any moment (he also has a true rock star voice suitable to the Time Warp). The third is Keith Pinto, who moves with a fascinating, precise elegance, giving an undercover fussiness to Frank 'N' Furter.

Keith Pinto as Frank 'N' Furter
Over all, I keep coming back to that word "commitment." The cast offers no half gestures, they are all there, all the time. Matthew Kropschot could easily cruise on his ridonkulous physique, but he's also quite loose and funny, and a good singer. The phantom ushers offer a tight, athletic dance team. Performing Eddie's "Hot Patootie," Will Springhorn, Jr. whipped out a sax and played the solo himself. It's also nice to hear a Janet Weiss with real pipes (Ashley Garlick), and Parker Harris gives Brad a likeable Niles Crane nerdiness that turns to fetish on a dime. The only flaw I even noticed was a little tightness from Jill E. Miller on Columbia's Time Warp solo, but her later drug trip is an excellent little monodrama. It's obvious that director Allison Rich and choreographer Tracy Freeman-Shaw got the absolute most out of their players.

Allison F. Rich as The Usherette
The production creates a nice balance between providing all the touchstones of the 1975 film without being a slave to them. Ashley Garlick's costume design, for one, made some amusing innovations. When Riff-Raff entered the final scene in his white platform boots, our friend at audience left remarked "Didn't you wear those in Mamma Mia?" Which was my exact thought.

Through Nov. 3, The Stage, 490 S. First Street, San Jose. 408/283-7142,

Michael J. Vaughn is the author of 22 novels and two plays, Darcy Lamont and Cafe Phryque, which are available for free downloads at

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Amateur Opera Critic Meets Diva

Reprinted from, story by Naomi Bolton. Free download of Operaville the novel at

Michael J. Vaughn is the author of 22 novels, including Mascot and The Popcorn Girl. He is a thirty-year opera critic, a jazz singer, and plays drums for the San Francisco rock band Exit Wonderland. For Gabriella's Voice, the predecessor to Operaville, Vaughn was awarded a $3,000 fellowship from Arts Council Silicon Valley. As our Author of the Day, he tells us about his latest opera novel, Operaville.

Please give us a short introduction to what Operaville is about.

Mickey Siskel is a survivor of a traumatic divorce who sort of klutzes into opera as a form of therapy. He discovers a great ruse for getting free tickets - just start a blog and figure out how to write reviews. He gets unexpectedly good and attracts the attention of a world-class diva, Maddalena Hart, who meets with him and finds herself smitten. It's a bit like "Notting Hill" (which I saw AFTER I wrote Operaville, please note).

What inspired you to write about an amateur opera critic who finds himself in an affair with an opera diva?

I am a long-time opera critic, but after I quit my newspaper jobs to focus on fiction I still wanted the free tickets so I could continue seeing opera. So I started a blog called Operaville. But somewhere along the line, I thought, Hmmm, interesting device for a novel. As for the diva, I've had the good fortune of befriending quite a few opera singers and I find them to be delightful, fascinating creatures.

Your first opera novel, Gabriella's Voice earned you a fellowship from the Arts Council in Silicon Valley. Tell us more about this.

That award was very important; it gave me a sense of legitimacy early in my career. Authors really need those! Gabriella actually makes an appearance in Operaville.

You are an opera critic yourself. How much of your own experiences have you incorporated in the book?

Lots! I have learned so much through my reviews. When it comes to opera, it's easy to fall into stupid cliches (the fat lady with the horns). The real world of opera is so much more interesting. And also I'm able to write about the music in a deep, thoughtful way, and hopefully translate these concepts and descriptions to the lay reader.

Tell us more about Maddalena. What makes her so exceptional?

She's at the very top of her game and yet she never stops learning. Some of this is based on Renee Fleming. She wrote a book on singing in which she said she never stops re-evaluating a role, even if she's performed it a hundred times. I think this endless seeking is indicative of the most successful people in all fields. Also, Maddie is very sexual, which is the thing that perhaps people don't know about opera singers. I always want to say, But look at all these shenanigans they get to onstage? Don't you think that has an effect?

Besides writing, what other secret skills do you have?

I came from a musical Disneyland called Peterson High School in Sunnyvale. We had 120 guys in the men's glee and used to tour other schools, encouraging boys to sing. From there I went to San Jose State, where the choir performed with the local professional orchestra. My own singing continues with jazz (Sinatra a specialty) and rock; I'm a drummer/vocalist with a classic rock cover band, ECRB. Not surprisingly, music plays an active part in most of my novels.

Was there a single defining moment or event where you suddenly thought, 'Now I'm an Author,' as in—this is now my career?"

I've always been self-powered, but there was one moment. I graduated with a journalism degree and immediately realized, Who am I kidding? And got a day job so I could start writing novels.

How do you force yourself to finish what you're doing before starting the next project when the new idea is nagging at you?

I have actually begun a new project while finishing an old one. It didn't seem to bother me. Though I usually do enjoy a month or two of "brewing" between books.

Among the wealth of characters in Operaville, who was the most difficult to create?

The ex-wife kept shifting on me! I really wanted to indulge in an old-fashioned nasty villain, but she insisted on being human and showing all these redeeming insecurities. In the end, she might be the most intriguing character in the book. I always preach a certain lack of control to beginning writers, because you never know when a character will raise her hand and say, I think you're wrong about me.

If you could choose one character from your book to spend a day with, who would it be? And where would you take them?

Oh, Maddalena, naturally. I'd like to take that 4th of July cruise into Seattle for the fireworks show. What fun!

Do you ever suffer from writer’s block? If so, what do you do to combat it?

I really don't because I don't push myself to write when I'm not feeling inspired, but I do keep a sketchbook around for doodling. I actually wrote a story about this for Writer's Digest; visual play has a way of re-energizing those parts of the brain used for writing. And sometimes I get a page or two when I wasn't expecting it.

What are you working on right now?

I did a rather unusual thing to start my new novel. Without any preliminary theme, I simply put a character in a certain place and wrote my way out. I ended up with a speculative novel about post-flood California (a climate-change Handmaid's Tale), which is unlike anything I've ever done. So perhaps this is a good way to push one's boundaries and find out what your subconscious is up to.

Where can our readers discover more of your work or interact with you?

I have an author page on Amazon (22 titles), and a page on Facebook. Also, my blog is at, and I continue to write opera reviews.

Extra notes:

The sex scenes In Operaville are pretty candid. Prudes, please note. Inspired by authors like Kundera and Tom Robbins, I tend to write about sex as if it were a normal part of life. Although you won't find godawful erotica tropes like "throbbing" and "perky."
The opera descriptions get pretty technical sometimes but never fear. They're not essential to the plot.
The cover photo is a selfie! Taken by a soprano friend, Isabella Ivy, before going onstage in a Mozart opera. I'm so grateful that she let me use this extraordinary shot.