About Mala Burt

Mala Burt writes fiction and non-fiction, screen and stage plays.

Write on Wednesday – Why Watching Nova Makes Me Feel Like a Cockroach – February 20, 2019

Nova programs evoke strong responses in me. This week the husband and I have been watching a program about rockets.  I’d probably rather watch a cooking show, but when it comes to rockets the power of the human brain is awe inspiring. I can comprehend how someone, at some point in history, invented the wheel. But the engineering and sheer hubris in inventing something that goes into space is mind boggling. And I love seeing women in those rooms of engineering geeks.

A year ago I posted after watching a Nova episode titled Black Hole Apocalypse.

Here’s the log line from the PBS website: “Black holes are the most enigmatic and exotic objects in the universe. They’re also the most powerful, with gravity so strong it can trap light. And they’re destructive, swallowing entire planets, even giant stars. Anything that falls into them vanishes…gone forever.”

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I love Nova programs, but sometimes I feel like a dog listening to a human. Blah, blah, blah, Ginger. Blah, Fetch, blah. Especially the programs that are based on higher math. Math was never my strong suit. At Goucher College I was allowed to take an astronomy class instead of college algebra to fulfill the math requirement. Enough said! Note: I’ve never quite forgiven Goucher for taking away 27 semester hours of art credits when I transferred there from University of Maryland.

But this Nova program really made me aware of how many galaxies and stars and planets there are in the universe. Billions, trillions, way too many to count if we could see far enough. Our planet is an insignificant speck of dust among millions/billions of others. And it occurred to me that we are pretty much the cockroaches of the universe.  Somewhere out there another Mala Burt is writing the same book I’m working on. We think we’re special, but almost certainly are not. Note that I have enough ego to hold out some hope.

Alexander Pope said it best in his poem An Essay on Man.

“Hope springs eternal in the human breast; Man never is, but always to be blessed: The soul, uneasy and confined from home, Rests and expatiates in a life to come.”

Pope probably wouldn’t have written that poem if he’d been able to watch Black Hole Apocalypse. Despite Nova, I have enough hope to be thinking about  starting seeds for my always optimistic and hopeful garden. But that’s another post.

Six on Saturday – A Walk Around Three Gardens – February 16, 2019

No particular theme this week. Just a walk around three gardens. The St. Michaels Community Garden where I have several beds, the Wilson Reading Garden at the St. Michaels Library which I helped establish and maintain, and my own still soggy garden at home.

Yesterday it was sixty degrees. It wasn’t raining for a change. I harvested some Red Russian kale for dinner from my community garden bed and did a little weeding. IMG_8298

2. Across the alley from the community garden is the reading garden we created outside the St. Michaels library. We did a major clean-up in the fall and the garden is ready for spring. The original path was made of oyster shells. They are hard to get now and we will have to make a decision on what material to use as there are beginning to be some bare patches. Volunteers planted hundreds of daffodil bulbs in this garden last fall. It will be spectacular in a few months.

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When I got home I wasn’t ready to go in yet so I started raking leaves. I found all sorts of things.

3. The white hellebores are beginning to open and nearby I found a pink hiding under the leaves.

4. I pulled leaves out of the old wheelbarrow where I plant mint and found pineapple mint rosettes waiting to be discovered.

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5. Nearby day lilies are sprouting and the green thready leaves of crocus could be seen, but no flowers yet.

6. Buds on my Roseum Elegans rhododendron are waiting for May. I didn’t realize how beautiful the buds are until I looked at the photo.

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That’s my Six on Saturday, a meme started by The Propogator, a UK gardener. It’s mid February and as spring approaches there will be new things to share every week. This is the link to the rules if you’d like to join in.

Write on Wednesday – Recent Center Stage Baltimore Productions – February 13, 2019

I’ve seen two terrific plays at Center Stage Baltimore recently.

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A Wonder in My Soul

In late December I saw A Wonder in My Soul. I came out of the theater thinking this was one of the best plays I had ever seen at Center Stage. Written by Marcus Gardley and directed by Daniel Bryant, the play is about two black women who open a beauty shop in their neighborhood. Many years later the neighborhood has changed, and Pen Lucy and Swann Park are behind in their rent; the building where their salon is will be sold.

The playbook talks about the importance of beauty parlors in black communities. I remember when I was in school getting my Master of Social Work degree, we often talked about the fact that beauticians provide therapy for many of their clients.

This production was in the Pearlstone Theater at Center Stage. This is a proscenium theater although it doesn’t have a curtain. I’m always looking at staging. In this play the salon had two styling chairs, a loveseat in the reception area of the stage, a door which led to outside and a slightly lower apron area on which some “flashback” scenes were performed. The door was clearly the entrance to the salon and when people left the stage, they opened the door and walked through. It defined an action more clearly than just going off stage.

All the actors were wonderful, but Kalilah Black and Harriett D. Foy were exceptional.

Our tickets always seem to be the last performance in the runs. I need to try to change that. I would have gone to see this show twice – or more.

Fun Home

Then last Sunday I saw Fun Home, a musical memoir based on the graphic novel by Alison Bechdel. The book and lyrics were by Lisa Kron and the music was by Jeanine Tesori.

Billed as a play about a dysfunctional family, I wondered if I even wanted to see it. I get enough dysfunction these days watching the news.

It was another stellar show. A closeted gay father raising three children with his increasingly angry wife. One of the daughters is gay but only understands that when she goes to college. Oh, and the father teaches literature at a local college, but runs a funeral home on the side. Hence the title of the play, Fun Home.

In this show the gay daughter is depicted as a ten-year-old, a college student and a woman in her forties. It was the actress who played the ten-year-old who caught my eye. Molly Lyons is her name and she’s nine. Someday I’m going to see her on Broadway.

Fun Home was performed in the Head Theater which is a thrust theatre—a stage surrounded by audience on three sides. The fourth side serves as the background. Hydraulic lifts in the floor raised and lowered part of the sets. If only the community theaters that produce the play I wrote with Laura Ambler (The Santa Diaries) had those kinds of options. Another staging tool that could be translated to community theaters was a slightly raised platform with furniture that was rolled onto the stage when the scene took place in the living room. Faster than having stage hands carry furniture on and off stage. A similar platform on the other side of the stage was a kitchen area that rolled on and off. Of course this only works if you have off stage areas that will accomodate the platforms. Many community theaters don’t.

Watching live theater is enjoyable (I go with some girlfriends) and educational. I always come away with some ideas about improving the plays Laura Ambler and I write.

Six on Saturday – Spring Is Coming -February 9

It’s just the first week of February but we are having a warm spell and the birds are excited. This cardinal was on my front walk this morning. Nearby a robin was digging for breakfast and a bluejay was calling out. The birds seem to know something is afoot.

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2. I noticed some new growth on the Knockout roses. I think it’s too early to prune, but I’m putting March 1 on my calendar as the date to start this annual chore. The new foliage is spectacular.

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3. I checked the helebores. Not open yet, but lots of buds on this particular plant. Others may be hiding under the leaves, but it’s still very squelchy in the beds and I don’t like to walk in them more than I must as it compacts the soil.

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4. When my mother was 75 my brothers and I gave her this teak bench for her birthday. When she moved into a retirement community and couldn’t take it with her, I was gifted with it. Now it is a reminder of a place she sat to rest when she worked in her acre of azaleas in a beech woods. She is always with me in my garden. The lichens on the bench need to be scrubbed when it warms up, but for now they make a lovely patchwork. The squirrels have gnawed on the front leg. Little buggers have no respect for heirlooms!

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5.  Daffodils are Goliaths in my garden — resilient and strong. In the upper right corner of the photograph, they are pushing up a large chunk of mulch. Nothing says “Spring is Coming” more than the the daffodils.IMG_8270

6. And just because I can’t believe I didn’t kill an orchid here is another picture of my  phalaenopsis orchid which is continuing to open. To my local friends…if you have an orchid you are going to put in the trash, give me a call. I’d like to try and resurrect it.

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And I couldn’t resist adding this photo of the beautiful markings on the throat. They look like an insect from a distance and a Georgia O’Keefe painting close up.

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That’s my Six on Saturday, a meme started by The Propogator, a UK gardener. It’s the beginning of February and as spring approaches there will be new things to share. This is the link to the rules if you’d like to join in.

Write on Wednesday – Read Your Work Out Loud – February 6, 2019

I’m getting ready to send my novel manuscript out to an editor. I had been over the print copy, penned in revisions, deletions, changed the order of some scenes and then spent two weeks making all those changes on the computer file.

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But I knew there was something I still needed to do. I needed to read my manuscript out loud. All four hundred plus pages of it. I’d never done this before with a long manuscript, but I kept reading that this step was an important editing tool.

It took me a week, and lots of glasses of lemon water, but I was glad I’d done the work.

  1. I found multiple errors that I’d missed when I marked up the manuscript pages.
  2. I found I could better assess the pacing of scenes.
  3. I found places where characters said something they couldn’t have known because it hadn’t happened yet.
  4. I found spelling errors that Word had overlooked.
  5. I found inconsistencies in dialogue for characters.
  6. I found character “tells.”
  7. I found that I still liked my story.

My advice: Read your work outloud. It’s an editing tool worth the time and effort.

 

 

Six on Saturday – What I Saw – January 26, 2019

I went to the Community Garden yesterday to pick some greens. The tatsoi and collards are holding up to the recent brutal cold under a light row cover.

I steamed the leaves and topped them with pan grilled shrimp.  There was a little left over Basmati rice from a couple of days ago to which I added pan toasted pine nuts and golden raisens. A healthy, yummy dinner.

2. Some clumping onions (or are they garlic chives?) haven’t fared as well but will come back in the spring. I need to divide them. They came as a freebie from a neighbor’s bed. The rest of that bed has been covered in black plastic to keep the weeds from proliferating.

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3. Across the alley from the community garden is our public library with a garden that was installed and is maintained by volunteers. I am one of them. The chokeberries against the blue sky are beautiful.

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4. At home many of my azaleas are wearing a comforter of fallen leaves. It was so wet this fall I couldn’t get to the leaves, but in this area I don’t mind one bit. I hope the extra insulation will keep the plants safe from our recent extreme temperatures. One day last week it went from 50 degrees Farenheit to 19 in just eight hours.  And then a few days later it almost hit 50 again. The plants must be very confused.

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5. I am astounded that sage in a window box of herbs wasn’t totally blasted in the recent cold snap. This sage goes on from year to year but in the spring I need to pull everything out and replant it with fresh soil.

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6. When I was in Maine before Christmas I saw a small concrete leaf casting in a gift shop. It was about the size of the one I made below and retailed for $45. It made me wonder what the price of some of the large ones I’ve made would be. That’s my hand just to give you some perspective about size. The casting was made with a hosta leaf.

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That’s my Six on Saturday, a meme started by The Propogator, a UK gardener. It’s the end of January and getting harder to find new things to share. This is the link to the rules if you’d like to join in.

Write on Wednesday – Where Do My Books Belong? – January 23, 21019

I have a problem. I don’t know what kind of books I am writing .

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They are romance, but not in a generic bodice ripper sense. They have a strong paranormal bent but it’s not the only theme. Spirit guides abound and a ghost is featured in the second book in the series. And in the third book (revisions continue) romance, paranormal, spirit guides and the ghost all come together. But when I look at the list of Amazon best selling romance, I don’t know where these books belong. This will be important when I reissue the first two in the series and publish the third as on Amazon Kindle you need to pick two categories for each title.

I copied the best selling romance list below from The Passive Voice. If you are a writer or a reader you should subscribe to this blog written by a lawyer. Very interesting stuff on a wide variety of topics. One of the blogs this week was about the importance of Children’s Picture books and had a link of a Scottish grandmother reading to a baby. I was laughing out loud by the end of that YouTube video.

Anyway, here is the list of the Amazon’s best selling romance categories. It was also instructive to look at the covers of these books, but that didn’t help me figure out where my books belong.

I found another romance list on Amazon.

“For a title to appear in the Romance sub-categories below, the title’s search keywords must include at least one of the keywords or phrases listed next to the sub-category. These categories and subcategories are specific to books listed for sale on Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk. Other marketplaces may not support these keywords. ”

Category Keywords
Romance/Inspirational/Amish* Amish
Romance/Inspirational/General* inspirational
Romance/Military military, navy, army, soldier
Romance/Multicultural & Interracial interracial
Romance/New Adult & College new adult
Romance/Paranormal/Angels angel
Romance/Paranormal/Demons & Devils devil, demon
Romance/Paranormal/Ghosts ghost, spirit
Romance/Paranormal/Psychics psychic, telepathy
Romance/Paranormal/Vampires vampire
Romance/Paranormal/Werewolves & Shifters werewolf, shapeshifter
Romance/Paranormal/Witches & Wizards witch, wizard, warlock, druid, shaman
Romance/Romantic Comedy comedy, humor
Romance/Sports* sport, hockey, soccer, baseball, basketball, football, olympics, climbing, lacrosse, nascar, surfing, boxing, martial arts, golf
Romantic Heroes/Cowboys cowboy
Romantic Heroes/Doctors doctor, physician, surgeon
Romantic Heroes/Firefighters firefighter
Romantic Heroes/Highlanders highlander
Romantic Heroes/Pirates pirate
Romantic Heroes/Politicians politician
Romantic Heroes/Rich & Wealthy billionaire, rich, millionaire, wealthy
Romantic Heroes/Royalty & Aristocrats nobility, royalty, aristocrat, prince
Romantic Heroes/Spies spies, espionage
Romantic Heroes/Vikings Viking
Romantic Themes/Amnesia amnesia
Romantic Themes/Beaches beach
Romantic Themes/Gambling & Poker gambling, poker, casino
Romantic Themes/International international
Romantic Themes/Love Triangle love triangle, menage
Romantic Themes/Medical medical, doctor, nurse, hospital
Romantic Themes/Second Chances second chance
Romantic Themes/Secret Baby baby, pregnancy
Romantic Themes/Vacation vacation
Romantic Themes/Wedding wedding
Romantic Themes/Workplace office, workplace

*Subcategory is specific to the U.S. marketplace or Amazon.com.

This information helps — sort of — romance/paranormal/ghosts comes the closest, but I still don’t know where my books belong. They are set in the Caribbean. That’s not a category. They have spirit guides. Not a category.  Two of the characters in the second and third book are twins. Not a catagory. I was surprised that there wasn’t a Christian romance category. Not that that would have helped me.

As I look at the list above I realize that maybe each of the books fit into different romance categories because they follow the same characters through a generation. Different characters take center stage.

Knowing the category of a book is important in marketing because of key words. I probably should have thought more carefully about this twelve years ago when I wrote the first in the series. But I’ve learned that my books don’t always follow the plot line I intended. Which is what created this problem in the first place. I still don’t know where my books belong.

Maybe I need to research Fiction categories.