Ukrainian Connections

I was delighted to be a part of the “Trapped” Reading last week at Trap Door Theatre in Chicago when the publisher Whiskey Tit arranged for two of its writers (who happened to be of Ukrainian descent) to fly into Chicago for a reading.

After a tasty dinner and lively conversation with Stefan O. Rak and Svetlana Lavochkina, we moved over to the theatre and welcomed guests.

The audience was enthusiastic, the musical accompaniment provided an unusual, creative twist, and both Stefan and Svetlana were wonderful and engaging readers.

I had broken my reading glasses an hour before, and one of the members of the audience was kind enough to lend me their glasses for the reading. It helped. 🙂

Jennifer B. Larson, another member of the audience shared her zine, Pulp Oddyssey, with me after the reading. It was fun to be handed a print zine. (I will always love the feel of paper and newsprint.) You can learn more at: www.disappearingmedia.comI don’t get to go to nearly as many readings as I would like to–one of the many challenges of being a parent of three and a working writer. I love getting the change to hear a writer read their own work live, especially when that writer is an excellent reader, as were both Stefan and Svetlana. I was caught up in both their stories, and I cannot wait to read their books! I’m also thrilled to have finally met Miette Gillette, who is doing an amazing job with Whiskey Tit. I look forward to following what her press and authors are doing in the future.

You can purchase their books direct from the Whiskey Tit website or on Amazon! 

The rest of the week was devoted to Chicago Literary Hall of Fame Fuller Award ceremony planning, spending time with friends in from the UK, and closing off the weekend by celebrating Liam’s performance at Thirsty Ears Music Festival, put on by his fabulous music school, ACM (Access Contemporary Music). I can not say enough about the instructors and staff at ACM. They are incredible musicians and generous, patient, and supportive teachers.

In the afternoon, Liam performed his original piano composition “Myst” on a gorgeous baby grand:

Then the evening closed out with ACM’s Sound of Silent Film Festival screening, where Liam’s Film Score class had the opportunity to watch a live ensemble perform their original musical score for the film, Hope by Michael Scherrer, performed by live musicians. It was remarkable. Each of the 5 students, ages 13-17, wrote a minute’s worth of the composition. The class was run by the incomparable Trevor Watkin, a talented musician, composer, and instructor.

AND our advance author copies of FORKING GOOD arrived! They’re beautiful, and we are so excited. We can’t wait until October!

If you want to get a copy in your hands before the release…during August, there is a Goodreads giveway to win 1 of 25 advance copies of the cookbook. The giveaway ends 8/30 and is U.S. only.

You can sign up here:



Thank You for Listening

Last week, I heard about the blackout in New York City, 42 years after the Blackout of 1977, which lasted 36 hours. I noted that it was interesting, and went back to typical weekend preparation for the week to come.

The next day, over lunch, I was catching up with social media, and I read about a challenge issued by singer Amanda Palmer to write a song inspired by the blackout… due in a week. (That’s tonight, Sunday, July 21, 2019.) I thought, “It might be fun to collaborate with Liam on that.” Liam, my son, is 14 and has been composing on piano and GarageBand for the past few years, and taking classes with the incredible folks at Access Contemporary Music in Chicago.

But there was the day job to focus on, and life and writing and summertime kid-shlepping, so I tried it put it out of my head again.

Except I couldn’t. The song kept writing itself in my brain, much like poems and stories do. The more I try to not write them, the louder they respond in my head. So… I opened a window and kept jotting down notes.

That night, after putting the kids to bed, I turned sheepishly to Stephen and told him I had written a song, except it had to be under 5 minutes, and it was 10 minutes long (and I had already cut 1/3 of it.)

He laughed and read it over with some suggestions—he’s a wonderful editor—and the next morning before work, I handed the lyrics to Liam and asked if he’d be interested in writing the music. After I explained the challenge and the deadline (thank goodness it’s summer vacation), he enthusiastically agreed; and we asked my youngest, Lana, who’s 12, if she’d like to sing.  She also agreed, and away Liam went—and 24 hours later, we handed Lana the lyrics and music for a four-and-a-half minute song, currently titled “In the Dark.”

If we had another week, my oldest daughter, Maya, would have created animation to accompany the song, but the deadline is tonight, so we’ve posted it with the lyrics to YouTube.

One of the things that I appreciate about Amanda and Neil Gaiman, and their extended circle of creative adventurers, is their eagerness to collaborate and encourage collaboration. It was a collaboration that brought them together, and our mutual friend Kyle Cassidy had a part to play in that—and several other collaborations orchestrated on the internet over the years. I watched with great interest Neil and Amanda’s 8in8 experiment with Ben Folds and OK Go’s Damian Kulash back in 2011, when they committed to work together to try and create and record 8 songs in 8 hours. One of the songs that came out of that, “The Problem With Saints,” is a family favorite.

Liam, Lana, Maya

So this Blackout songwriting challenge provided me with the first actual opportunity to collaborate with my kids, and I’m really proud of them for working together (no small feat for this preteen and teen). It’s our first attempt at doing something like this, Lana’s first try at singing in public (she’s shy), with the added challenge of trying to sing an “Amanda Palmer” song, in a lower vocal register than she would usually sing.

Honestly, I’m not sure I would have been able to do that at their age. While Liam has been composing songs for a few years, they have been instrumental only and usually classical or EDM (electronic dance music). I handed them the lyrics, and they did the rest.

Thank you, Amanda, for being the art catalyst. I love it when art makes ripples like this. In today’s day and age, making good art is as important as ever, and I’m happy to be a part of it, and to show my kids that, working together, we can do amazing things.

I look forward to listening to the other entries now that we’ve submitted ours. If you’d like to review the hundred responses, you can find them on Amanda’s Patreon page:

I’ve been smiling all evening because of the absolute joy of this. There are some great entries for the contest, a few submitted by friends of mine; and for me and the kids, it was really never about the destination, but all about the journey. We got to make something together. That is a gift.

It will be fun to see what evolves out of this.

Thank you for listening to this proud Mama.



The Magic of Music

As a child, my favorite part of going to Mass at Sts. Volodymyr and Olha Ukrainian Catholic Church was the music. The walls, covered with their beautiful icons, were a feast for the eyes and my  young imagination, but it was the music that transported me into another world.

Mass was usually sung in Ukrainian and accompanied by a choir of voices in the balcony. Standing with my parents and little sister, I remember closing my eyes and feeling like I had stumbled into another world. I was absolutely certain that those voices and music got God’s attention. It was my first experience with the very real way that music could transform a space into something sacred.

The first time I remember hearing Gregorian chants, I was in high school, and it was a similar experience. I recall sitting in my religion classroom blown away by the power of those voices. Later, it made perfect sense to me that ethereal bands like Enigma or Dead Can Dance would incorporate the chanting into their music. There was power there.

As I got older, I became interested in comparative religions and learned that the ancient Greeks were among the first to document the ways that music shifted the collective consciousness of a group of people. I became especially interested in shamanic music and the ways that indigenous holy men and women used drumming and their voices to heal, to protect, and to communicate.

My first drumming circle, hearing the heartbeat of those many drums working together, was another of those pivotal moments that touched something deep inside of me. Although maybe not as elegant, drumming was raw, honest, and primal. The drum beat is so much like the first sound we all hear–the heartbeat of our mother in the womb. It is the sound of our own heart as we learn to sit quietly and meditate. It is a sound that stretches across time and space.

After following more breadcrumbs of myth and music, I encountered ritual theatre. Theatre emerged from ritual and mythology as a way to recreate sacred stories and repeat certain actions for a desired end. From the ancient Greeks to contemporary Balinese, ritual drama engages the community and allows participants to surrender themselves to the ritual process.

Last weekend, Mark and I had the pleasure of watching my favorite ritual theatre ensemble, Terra Mysterium, perform the Snow Queen version of Betwixt & Between, A Journey into Faery for their Winter Gala.

Held at the Chicago College of Healing Arts on Devon, the performers masterfully wove the web of their story about the Snow Queen, two human children, and the Fae.

All the members are talented, and I’ve had the pleasure of seeing them perform in several other venues. Each performance has been wonderful and wonder-filled, but this time I was struck by how polished they have become, how cohesive as a group.

When Terra Mysterium sang their beautiful songs, I recalled those days in church as a child, when all the world faded away and I felt a part of this magnificent music that filled the space. Their music was magic. Terra Mysterium took my breath away, transported me to another world, and inspired my imagination.

Plato believed that music was a form of medicine that brought order to our souls. In this day and age, when there is so much disorder and dissonance, we could all use a little more music in our lives.

So I leave you with two songs from Terra Mysterium:

Walk To My River (music and text by Shannah Lessa Wojtyska; arranged by Matthew Ellenwood)

07 Walk To My River

Athrabeth (music by Matthew Ellenwood, text by Keith Green):

09 Athrabeth