Stephen Sondheim quotes and moments

Here are a few Stephen Sondheim quotes and moments from
this evening’s conversation between Stephen Sondheim and Frank Rich:


"One of my favorite songs is Something’s Coming. It was written in less than 48 hours during early West Side Story rehearsals. The actor playing Tony just didn't have the kind of “weight” that made you want to follow his adventures. But he could sing a 2/4 song better than anybody. So I wrote the song thinking it would give him an opportunity to establish himself on the stage. And give him confidence. And then he would give the rest of the company confidence… and it worked."


"‘Lenny’ Bernstein had a 12 room apartment at the Dakota. It was all big, spacious rooms inside this old-style New York City building that looked like a castle. But his studio… it was the size of a throw rug with a window that looked out on an airshaft. No distractions... There was nothing to do there but work."


"The song I'm Losing my Mind from Follies is a torch song.  It started out as a total imitation of Gershwin’s The Man I Love. I knew I wanted a particular kind of song there. And I knew that I wanted to imitate a certain style and feel. So if I was going to imitate, I might as well imitate the best."


"When I write a song, I become an actor… Of course, the song has everything to do with me because I’m writing it. But it also has nothing to do with me. It’s for a specific character in a specific scene in a specific story."


"You have to write about what interests you… and you can’t get interested in something you can’t relate to."


"Two-thirds of all American theater is about yearning for a connection… the stage is home to a whole lot of yearning."


Regarding the song “Sunday” from Sunday in the Park with George:  "Studying the painting, I realized that these people don’t know… they’re going to be immortal… and when I wrote the word “forever…” I cried."


"The only reason to write is to write for love. Write for passion. If you have the privilege of being able to write, then don’t do it for any other reason."


“I like to speak in hyperbole. It’s my favorite language.”
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A Very Short Meditation on Book Awards

Me: This book (Lizzie Bright & the Buckminster Boy) has one of my very favorite covers. I wish they didn’t cover it all up with the award stickers.

(Note: In addition to earning a Printz Honor and Newbery Honor awards, Lizzie Bright is an ALA Best Book for Young Adults, an ALA Notable Children’s Book, a School Library Journal Best Book of the Year, and it was selected for a Kirkus Reviews Editor Choice Award. )

My daughter: I bet the author doesn’t mind.

If we really wanted to raise boys that read…

The Wall Street Journal ran an interesting opinion piece today by Mr. Thomas Spence entitled, “How to Raise Boys That Read.” Mr. Spence is an Ivy-league educated lawyer who runs a publishing company (the modestly named Spence Publishing Company) that focuses on a mostly (but not exclusively) right-wing readership. In his piece, he offers several reasonable points including:

1. A full experience with literature is a good thing.
2. An educated citizenry is vital to a functioning democracy.

I agree. Also, I have to respect Mr. Spence’s willingness to stand in opposition to the anti-intellectual bent that so many of his conservative brothers and sisters have embraced.

But somewhere along the line, Mr. Spence’s essay started to grate on me.

Is it when he makes not-so-subtle fun of teachers and librarians? (First he builds them up as experts, and then he knocks them down as gushing idiots.)

Is it when he takes publishers to task for making a profit? (A very odd point to make within the pages of the WSJ I have to say.)

Is it when he uses C.S. Lewis in support of the proposition that we stop bringing books down to children’s level? (Is he talking about the same C.S. Lewis who recast Jesus as a talking lion or is there another one that I don’t know about?)

Or is it when he poses his thesis in the form of a question so that it doesn’t really seem like he’s got an agenda of his own?

It’s all that and more.

Overall, Mr. Spence does a good job spray painting a gauzy film of truthiness over his entire piece. But he does not present an accurate picture of reality. And his solutions, like so many Republican red herrings these days, are simply bait and switch, name-calling exercises with no real point or substance. (See the new GOP Pledge to America for a wordier example.) A solution that cannot be implemented is not a solution.

What if we really wanted to achieve a higher level of literacy, education and democratic engagement in America? What solutions would truly get our children from here to there?

As the Wall Street Journal should know, capitalism is a system in which you generally get what you pay for. If our nation’s boys can’t read, then it’s because that’s what we – as a nation – are buying for them. With that in mind, here’s my modest proposal for how we might work together to achieve Mr. Spence’s admirable goals of increasing literacy, improving education and generally bolstering a free American society:

Raise taxes to support libraries, school districts and public colleges and universities that can authentically educate our nation’s children.

Raise taxes to support public and private research and development programs, which – as any Fortune 500 CEO will tell you – will create jobs, lead to breakthroughs in health, science and technology, and inspire young people.

Spend less time and fewer resources on exercises, efforts and fake pundit opinion pieces designed to divide our communities.

Instead, let’s put time and money into creating a shared national focus on issues that really matter.

Some thoughts inspired by Banned Book Week

Banned Books Week starts in a few days, but there’s always somebody somewhere who wants to get a head start. This year’s go-getter is Wesley Scroggins of Springfield, Missouri. With some high quality misrepresentation, faulty logic and poor writing skills, and in the name of Jesus Christ, citizen taxpayers and concerned parents everywhere, Mr. Scroggins advocates the pulling of several books from the shelves of his school district’s libraries. As a concerned parent and a citizen taxpayer, I have to confess that it annoys me when idiots I’ve never heard of speak on my behalf. That’s what elections are for. Thank you very much.

In any case, Jesus and I have been talking about this situation. Jesus is who I talk to when I get angry (or when I want a pony or a puppy). Personally, I don’t think it’s reasonable to expect that every school library should carry every single book ever printed. Not everything is appropriate for everybody. And there is a thing called a budget. To my mind, an important role of the school librarian is to work within his or her limits – budget, curriculum, literary and literacy benefits and abilities, and yes, community values – to select titles that will serve the goal of building educated and engaged citizens for our towns, states, nation and world. It’s a big job.

But when you start yanking Laurie Halse Anderson’s Speak and Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five… that’s a no-brainer. As in, you have to have no brains to suggest that these books do not belong in the educational experience of America’s young people. So – with apologies to those who believe that reasonable dialogue is the universal path to defusing discord and defining constructive solutions – here is my note to Wesley Scroggins: Shut the *&#$ up you ignorant, fear-mongering, anti-American ass hat.

As a point of interest, Jesus disagrees with my stance that all books are not for everybody. He’s all “screw the budget” and “love one another” and “I had a teen mother, and it worked out fine” and “people are basically good and I should know because I made you.” To which I say, Jesus, hold your hands up to the sky, dude. That’s sunlight beaming through your palm. How do you think those peepholes got there? Perhaps limiting access to “Making Crucifixes for Dummies” might not have been a totally bad idea. And he says, “Paul (I love it when Jesus calls me by my name), I got crucified by a mob. Mobs come from fear. And fear happens when you don’t trust people to think for themselves… For the love of God, give your kids the freaking books.”

For a more intelligent response to Mr. Scroggin’s thoughts, see below:

Why we should read “Soft Pornography” by Isabel Kaplan:

"Another Ugly Case of Attempted Censorship" by Tahleen

"This Guy Thinks Speak is Pornography" by Laurie Halse Anderson


Finding time to write

People often ask how I find time to write. The answer is simple:
I try not to think about it.


There are 168 hours in a week. If I added up all the commitments I’m supposed to address, there simply would not be enough time to write. So I carry a notebook everywhere I go, and I’m not embarrassed to use it.  In any given week, you can find me making stories in grocery store parking lots, on soccer sidelines, inside ballet studio waiting rooms, perched atop bleachers, and, very occasionally, at stop lights waiting for the green. Lately, I’ve also been getting in 30 – 60 minutes of writing time before work every morning. I try hard to give myself a scheduled time to write every day so that I can always hit my goal of producing at least 2 pages/day at least 5 times/week. But sometimes, things don’t work out.  Like yesterday:


I started out by hitting the snooze alarm and staying in bed 10 minutes longer than I should have.  My bad. Goodbye 10 minutes.


I did not set up the coffee pot before I went to bed … so I had to do it this morning. 5 minutes.


I also did not prepare my lunch before bed so I had to do it in the morning. Goodbye 5 more minutes.


I spilled coffee on my pants. Had to change pants. 5 minutes.


Dogs. I love my dogs. I do not love when I step in my dogs’ poop. 10 minutes to clean work shoes.


Finally, my son reminded me that I promised to bring him to school 10 minutes early so that he could meet with a teacher before class. And that leads us to…




ZERO writing during my regularly scheduled morning writing time.


Was I feeling a little persnickety about it?

Definitely yes. I hate when I conspire to defeat myself.


Did I get my two pages done before the day was out?

Yes. The dogs and I walked my daughter to the park for soccer practice after work. From there, we hung out on the sidelines to cheer and write. Honestly, the dogs could have produced better work than I did, but I’m working on a first draft right now. Quality has very little to do with it. In fact my goal at the moment is to simply write a very bad novel. It’s a good goal because when it comes to first drafts, it’s the only kind of novel I can write. If I finish at all, that will be a huge success.


Finally, will I set up the coffee pot, make my lunch and let the dogs out before I go to bed? And also, avoid the snooze alarm in the morning?!

Yup. Yup. Yup and yup. Because these are very small things. And it’s easy to knock them down one by one by one by one. If I don’t, then they gang up on me like a pack of pigeons heading for a man wearing a birdseed coat. I have nothing against pigeons, but I’d rather save up my extra minutes for writing stories rather than throw them away for the birds.


Special Message to my Bristol Friends

Hello friends,
If you grew up in Bristol, it’s possible that my Uncle Tony was your grade school Principal or you’re your teacher. If you went to South Side, Hubbell, Westwoods, Jennings or Ivy Drive, you probably had Mr. Acampora at your school or in your classroom.

Last year, my Uncle Tony was diagnosed with Lou Gherig’s disease. He remains one of the smartest, kindest and funniest people I know. At the same time, his body is behaving badly. Rather than sit around and mope, however, he’s working with the Connecticut Chapter of the A.L.S. Association to help others. If you know my Uncle Tony, this is no surprise. In fact, if you know my Uncle Tony, it’s very likely that he’s helped you out somewhere along the line.

I’m writing to ask you to take a moment to return the favor by clicking the link below to join “Team Acampora” and make a pledge to this year’s A.L.S. walk.

Here’s the link: http://goo.gl/r994

Lou Gherig’s disease is not just a physically paralyzing condition. It can also be remarkably frustrating and demoralizing. Your gift will help fight A.L.S, but more important (to me) -- your pledge will make a difference to my Uncle Tony. I didn’t really know much about Lou Gherig’s disease before it hit my family. It certainly was not on my list of problems to solve. But if my Uncle Tony is in, then I’m in. And I hope you’re in too.

Here’s that link again: http://goo.gl/r994

Click it now!




Sept 7, 2010
Just finished updating my website. Took me 3 months to update 8 pages which leads me to believe 1) I should stick to fiction and 2) I've got to hire a webmaster. In the meantime, check out some pictures from our really fun trip to the Great Allentown Fair. For people who ask where I get my ideas, you should go to the fair!

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I’m really looking forward to books I don’t even know about yet!

In no particularly order, here’s what I’ve read or am in the process of reading during 2010:

  • A Storm in the Barn by Matt Phelan
  • My Rotten Live:-Nathan Abercrombie Accidental Zombie by David Lubar
  • Harpers magazine (totally depresses me, but I can’t avert my gaze)
  • The Rising Tide by Jeff Schaara
  • Marcelo in the Real World by Francisco X. Stork
  • The New York Times (I love David Pogue and Paul Krugman. In that order.)
  • Schulz and Peanuts: A Biography by David Michaelis
  • Through a Narrow Gate by Karen Armstrong
  • A Prayer for Owen Meaney by John Irving
  • Looking for Alibrandi by Melinda Marchetta
  • 2010 American Girl of the Year books(Lanie) by Jane Kurtz
  • Bark magazine
  • Welcome to Camden Halls (Book 1 in the Main Street series) by Ann Martin
  • National Geographic Magazine (Did it get thinner this year?)
  • Howard Hughes Aviator by George Marrett
  • The Magician’s Elephant by Kate DiCamillo
  • Art & Fear: Observations On the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking by Ted Orland & David Bayles
  • A Man on the Moon: The Voyages of the Apollo Astronauts by Andrew Chaikin


Also in no particular order, here’s what I might read before December 31:

  • The Cabinet of Wonders by Marie Rutkoski
  • anything and everything written by Francisco X. Stork
  • At least a couple Henre Nouwen books and/or lectures
  • Louise, the Adventures of a Chicken by Kate DiCamillo
  • The Case for God By Karen Armstrong
  • Puppy Love by Bob Krech
  • All the rest of the Main Street series by Anne Martin
  • Book of Everything, by Guus Kuijer
  • 4 Gospels, Acts of Apostles and Pauline epistles
  • Game Change: Obama and the Clintons, McCain and Palin, and the Race of a Lifetime ~ John Heilemann
  • I.O.U.: Why Everyone Owes Everyone and No One Can Pay ~ John Lanchester John Lanchester
  • Looking for Calvin and Hobbes: The Unconventional Story of Bill Watterson and His Revolutionary Comic Strip
  • Looking for Mary (or, the Blessed Mother and Me by Beverly Donofrio
  • The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz
  • The End of the World as We Know It By Ken Auletta
  • The Invention of Air: A Story of Science, Faith, Revolution, and the Birth of America By Steven Johnson  
  • Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson
  • The River Gods by Brian Kiteley
  • The secret circus by Johanna Wright
  • anything and everything written by Donna Freitas
  • When you Reach me by Rebecca Stead
  • Going Bovine by Libba Bray
  • The Dark Days of Hamburger by Josh Berk
  • Scott Westerfeld – please publish the follow up to Leviathan this year!
  • Spilling Ink: A Young Writer's Handbook by Ellen Potter & Anne Mazer
  • Stitches: A Memoir by David Small


What I’m really looking forward to are the books that I don’t know even about yet!

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