Review: “Escort” Entices Readers With a Futuristic Dystopian World

Rachel Moulden for The Pit

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Escort #1 by Iggy Michniacki

Publisher: Project Nerd Publishing

Release Date: February 15, 2017

Synopsis: Audiences have been waiting for the follow up to Barrens, Project-Nerd Publishing’s first title to go to second print on two different covers, but the project came to a halt after Chapter One. With the creative team moving on to other projects, it left the door open for Esme Ford to return in a different capacity.

Set in the not too distant future, The Escort follows Esme Ford as she proves to be the best guide through the barrens as she transports goods and people between the few remaining fortified cities left in the world. Ford will open up a brand new mission with the debut issue of The Escort in January 2017.

The Escort is written by Esme Ford creator and Project-Nerd Publishing Founder, Iggy Michniacki, and will feature the pencils and inks of J.C. Grande (Johnny Monster, Necessary Evil) and colors from Esteban Salinas (Deviant Apple Studios). Erin Lei will return as Esme Ford for a cosplay cover variant of the first issue with Salinas also creating the series’ cover art. (description from Project Nerd Publishing)

Review: The story of Escort follows main protagonist, Esme Ford, a transporter of goods in a barren wasteland. Not too much is said about her character in the first issue, but based on her interactions with other people she is well-known and revered around the land. She’s sassy, resourceful and skilled in fighting, which makes her an interesting character. Her mysterious aura is key to drawing readers into the story.

As for the story’s setting, there are small glimpse of what the futuristic setting is like here and there, but there was not enough description for me. I would have enjoyed more of the world-building process and want to see more of the setting that Esme lives in.When looking at the artwork, I wished it had a smoother, more detailed look when it came to the characters and background settings. But I did love the variety of colors and textures used to give the characters definition and depth.

Overall, the first issue of Escort says enough to get readers attention, but raises a lot of questions about its main protagonist, secondary characters, and setting. I hope the next issues goes more into depth about the setting and Esme’s backstory.

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Zenith Brass presents 22nd fall concert with Beaumont Brass

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Zenith Brass, a youth honors band, will perform its 22nd Fall Concert program Sunday, Nov. 20, at Oak Arbor Church in Rochester. Courtesy Le’Anna Miller

Rachel Moulden for Digital First Media

It is a pleasure for Mark Petty to direct the Zenith Brass, a 25-member multi-school extracurricular honors band for brass and percussion students.

He founded the band in 1995 to provide challenging experiences for young musicians.

“I think the most rewarding part of Zenith Brass for me is creating a unique organization with such outstanding students who can work together for a common goal,” he says. “Members really value their experience.”

Zenith performs a wide variety of classical and popular music, including orchestra and opera transcriptions, marches and movie themes. The band, now in its 22nd year, has performed more than 460 pieces of music over the years. Membership is by audition.

All members of Zenith participate in music programs at their own schools. The all-brass instrumentation has a different sound from a school wind band, and gives members an additional challenge to build their skills. One of the band’s members, Elena Miller, a trumpeter and sophomore at Chippewa Valley High School, shared her own experience with the band.

“I enjoy the positive environment with other high-schoolers that share the same love for music as me,” she says. “I think that having the opportunity to collaborate with people who share similar interests, but are unique in their own way, is extremely important.”

The band typically rehearses from September through May and performs three concerts a year — in fall, winter and spring. They always learn a number of tricky musical pieces.

“Each piece has sections that are difficult in some way,” Petty says. “Technical challenges need motivation in rehearsals and individual practice time. Some pieces might appear easier at first but require rehearsal time to perform musically and with a beautiful sound. We always strive to convey emotion through our performances.”

Zenith Brass will perform a variety of brass compositions, including the Toreador Song from Bizet’s 1875 opera “Carmen,” in their 22nd Fall Concert on Sunday, Nov. 20. In addition, they will perform original music by English composer John Ireland and by Royal Oak native James Curnow. This concert will feature guest artists in the Beaumont Brass faculty quintet from Michigan State University. This professional group will perform several pieces from their recent tour in New York City and Cleveland.

Zenith works to convey a bright image with its music.

“Brass music can be very brilliant and exciting,” Petty says. “The all brass band also can play with a warm emotional sound that is not as often encountered in a wind band or orchestra. It’s not that brass is better, it’s that it is different and can stretch players to grow in new directions.

“I also think that any youth music program displays the best of students. They are among those that we all can take pride in.”

For the program information, upcoming concerts or to learn more about this talented group of young musicians, visit ZenithBrass.org. Zenith Brass’s 22nd Fall Concert program is at 7 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 20, at Oak Arbor Church, 495 Oak Arbor Circle W., Rochester.

Interview: BareBones Entertainment Developing New Comic Titled “Nice Guys Finish Dead”

Rachel Moulden for The Pit

Recently the Pit got the chance to chat with Bryan Swann from BareBones Entertainment who is developing a comic book titled Nice Guys Finish Dead.

For some who not be familiar with BareBones Entertainment, what kind of content have you produced?

BareBones Entertainment is a entertainment site that primarily focuses on music, though we have worked with some writers and artists. We do interviews, features, reviews, etc.

 

Is this the first comic book from BareBones Entertainment?

Yes, this is actually the first comic that I have wrote. Since writing this one I have wrote a mini-story and, am working on the sequel all in this series. Thought I have yet to really lock down an artist.

 

What is the Nice Guys Finish Dead about? Can you give us a brief synopsis?

Of course! The story was initially going to just be a fun thing for the creation of our mascot, but evolved into something much larger.

This comic follows Edwin on a shocking path that takes him from a looked over, pushed around music dweeb to something altogether different. I feel that the story asks the question: That if you have been pushed around and bullied your whole life, but finally had the power to pay back all that pain, how would it change you?

 

Who is the audience for the book?

I’d say a more teen to adult audience. The book is pretty dark and has some foul language.

 

How did the story come about/what inspired it?

Honestly it just came to me, when I was thinking about what to do for the mascot. I started with a broad idea that sounded bad ass and went from there.

 

Give us some insight of some of the main characters. Do you have a favorite?

This story mainly has 4 main characters: Edwin, Bryton, Jet, and Blair.

  • Edwin (protagonist): He’s the quiet guy that desperately wants to fit in, loves music, and is kind of nerdy.
  • Bryson (Antagonist): Drunken frat boy. Overall nasty person.
  • Jet: Lead singer of a band. Confident and sure of himself.
  • Blair: innocent girl next door, and Edwin’s girlfriend.

I have a connection with Edwin, because I put a lot of myself in to the character. But I am excited for the direction I am going with Jet, and how his story is going to unfold.

 

What is the hardest thing about the writing process for this book and in general?

Just really learning how to properly layout a comic script. The writing part came naturally for the story. I recommend a ton of research on all different sites for comic writing!

 

How can readers discover more about BareBones Ent.?

A couple of ways. Our site is www.barebonesent.com. We are also on all social media check out our main Facebook page as well as the Facebook page for Nice Guys Finish Dead.

Farmington native’s first novel “Letting Go” of the past

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“The Art of Holding On and Letting Go,” by Kristin Lenz, a Farmington native, was released in September 2016. Courtesy Elephant Rock Productions, Inc.

Rachel Moulden for Digital First Media

Oakland County author Kristin Lenz has always been a writer at heart.

As she grew up in Farmington and attended University of Michigan, she says she lacked confidence to pursue a career in writing. Instead, she chose psychology as her major and went on to earn a master’s in social work at Wayne State University.

Then, her husband’s job took them cross-country to Georgia and California, giving Lenz opportunities to work in various areas of social work.

“Social work greatly expanded my world view,” Lenz says. “It gave me the confidence I needed to pursue writing again, and I’ve been so inspired by the resilience of the children and families that I’ve worked with.”

Inspiration for her first novel, “The Art of Holding and Letting Go,” came as Lenz and her husband fell in love with the outdoors near the mountains of Georgia and California. She followed the careers of well-known mountaineers who died attempting epic summits, and studied the effects their deaths had on their families. Lenz says she wondered what it would be like to be the child of a professional mountaineer, and asked herself just how that child’s upbringing would be different.

Her story further developed after she moved back to Michigan.

“I was struggling with this transition and the losses that came with it,” Lenz says “I had left my job, close friendships and a beautiful climate with daily access to nature. I was a new mom, feeling isolated and uncertain in a new environment while simultaneously trying to raise my baby daughter. My grandmother died suddenly.”

She believed everyone can relate to this feeling of loss during times of transition, at any age.

Her coming-of-age novel follows the story of a 15-year-old competitive rock climber. Cara, the main character, has enjoyed a roaming life with her mountaineering parents and makes the natural world her jungle gym. When tragedy strikes on an Ecuadorian mountaintop, her nomadic lifestyle comes to an abrupt halt, and she’s forced to move to her grandparents’ home in suburban Detroit.

Through the novel, Cara embarks on a year of discovery, uncovering unknown strengths, developing friendships and finding first love. It’s a journey that illustrates the transformative power of nature, love and loss, and discovering that home can be far from where you started.

An avid reader and writer, Lenz says reading builds empathy by inviting you to walk in someone else’s shoes and experience other time periods, environments and cultures.

“Our world needs thoughtful writers with diverse voices who open doors, especially as a contrast to the vitriol that’s often spewed on social media in response to current events and our toxic political climate,” Lenz says.

She will have two book launch parties to celebrate “The Art of Holding and Letting Go.” The first is Sept. 18 at the Office Coffee Shop at 402 S Lafayette Ave, Royal Oak. Oak Park indie bookstore The Book Beat will sell copies , along with fellow author Laura Romito’s new line of specialty cooking salts, High 5 Salts with Benefits. (foodgeekfoods.com)

Then on Sept. 25, Lenz will be at Nicola’s Books, in the Westgate Shopping Center at 2513 Jackson Ave, Ann Arbor, with author Shutta Crum, who has written many books for children, including her new middle-grade novel, “William and the Witch’s Riddle.” (shutta.com)

When she’s not working on books, Lenz does freelance writing for nonprofit organizations, keeping her involved in social work. She also manages a blog for the Michigan Chapter of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators.

For more information about Lenz, visit kristinbartleylenz.com.

Teacher brings the art of hula to Southeast Michigan

By Rachel Moulden for Digital First Media

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Frances Price has been performing Polynesian dance since her 30s. Now in her 70s, she teaches.  Courtesy of Frances Price

Oakland County resident Frances Price has brought the art of hula to the mainland through her Polynesian dance classes.

The Polynesian Dancers of Michigan halau (school) mission is to spread the spirit of aloha and share the passion for hula and Polynesian dance with all who are interested.

While born in New Orleans, La., Fran — known to all her students and in the local dance community as “Auntie Fran” — moved to Ferndale in the late 1960s. Price developed an interest in Polynesian dancing back in 1970.

“They were teaching a hula class across the street from my house and I fell in love with it,” Price says. “Ten years later the teacher quit and the students wanted me to teach the class so I agreed to do it for one year and then I decided to keep teaching.”

She started Polynesian Dancers of Michigan with only eight students; now she has about 75 students. September marks her 46th year of teaching hula classes.

Price teaches a variety of classes, six days a week, for people of all ages. The classes range from family, children, and adult beginner and advanced classes.

“I teach everything but Samoan (dance) in my classes and I mainly focus on Hawaiian dances,” Price says. She has three dance groups. Her Pi’ilani Wahines group performs in senior homes and daytime shows, while the Pi’ilani Wahines Ohana group performs night and weekend shows.

Her third group, the Polynesian Fantasy Dancers, is a professional troop specializing in the art of Hawaiian, New Zealand, Tahitian and Samoan dances. They perform at weddings, anniversary parties and corporate gatherings.

One of Price’s students, Farmington Hills resident Andrea Tobel, enjoys the classes thoroughly.

“I love the exercise and the ‘aloha spirit’ of my sisters (in class). Doing hula has helped me to not only to keep limber, but it also sharpens my mind.”

Hula dancing also can be challenging in many ways. Price says, Kahiko chants can be difficult, and usually Samoan dance is the hardest to learn because of its constant foot movement which is why it’s nicknamed, “running aerobics.”

“Hula hands are the hardest for beginners to learn, as well as timing the movements with the song,” Price says.

“It can take one year (at minimum) to become a good Hawaiian dancer because of all the work that goes into the feet and hand coordination. “It’s hard because the head has to know the lyrics, the body has to know the motion, and the hands have to tell the story. You have to memorize everything since you don’t know the Hawaiian language.”

The thing Price enjoys most about Polynesian dancing is how good it makes her feel.

“I may not feel good when I wake up in the morning, but when I go to class I feel fantastic,” she says. “Dancing brings joy in life and I love teaching.” She typically enjoys performing non-Hawaiian novelty numbers such as ragtime music.

Price hosts an annual extravaganza show every June, including professional dancers, students from all classes, and Price’s family group. Next year, show attendees can look forward to a “Hawaii comes to the Mainland”-themed show, featuring Hapa Haole songs, which have a mixture of Western and Hawaiian influence.

Price has classes in Ferndale, Redford and Livonia.

• Fall classes in Ferndale begin Sept. 19 (Monday evenings) and Sept. 20 (Tuesday evenings) at the Gerry Kulick Community Center on 1201 Livernois.

• Friday evening classes in Redford begin Sept. 25 at the Redford Senior Center on 12121 Hemingway.

• Wednesday morning classes begin Sept. 28 at Livonia Civic Park Senior Center, 15218 Farmington Road.

For more information about classes, booking events and more, visit polynesiandancers.us/.

Oakland County author merges sci-fi, horror in new novel

Rachel Moulden for Digital First Media

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Troy author Brian W. Matthews’ new novel, “The Conveyance,” promises to put a chill up your spine. Courtesy Brian Matthews

Troy author Brian W. Matthews loves to craft entertaining stories that put his readers on edge. His tales of things that go bump in the night, as well as his penchant for exploring the unknown are fueled by his appreciation for the sci-fi and horror genres.

Matthews, who works as a financial planner by day and a writer by night, has enjoyed writing stories about anything and everything since he was a young child. As he grew up, he continued to express his love for the art by taking creative writing classes in college while attending the University of Michigan. However, his career took on a different path when he decided to pursue a graduate degree in psychology and spent more than a decade as a therapist. This would serve as inspiration for his latest novel “The Conveyance.”

In 2010, Matthews started taking writing seriously when a friend asked him to contribute a story for a science fiction anthology titled “Foreshadows: The Ghosts of Zero.”

“I enjoyed the experience so much that I decided to try writing a novel of my own,” Matthews says. In 2013, he went on to sell his first novel, “Forever Man” to JournalStone Publishing.

His published works include “Graveduggery” (Co-written with Jeff LaSala) and “Lament” which both appeared in the short stories collection “Foreshadows: The Ghosts of Zero” in 2012. In addition to “Forever Man” he has also published the novels “Revelation,” and his most recent sci-fi novel “The Conveyance” through JournalStone Publishing.

“The Conveyance” follows the tale of psychologist Dr. Brad Jordan, who happens upon the town of Emersville, where odd events are always occurring. While exploring Emersville, he sets off a series of catastrophes that threaten to expose a dangerous secret hidden within the town. Dr. Jordan follows a trail of madness, suicide, and murder that leads him to a sinister device known as the Conveyance.

Matthews got the inspiration to write this novel from his experiences practicing as a child therapist for 20 years, where he learned a lot about child-parent relationships.

“This novel is a blend of thriller, horror and fiction. I wanted to show real horror is not always about monsters, creepy dolls and zombies, but rather what people can do to other people,” Matthews says.

He was also inspired by all of the horror and sci-fi films and books he digested growing up.

“The scariest book I ever read was “The Exorcist” by William Peter Blatty, when I was about 13 years old. I had trouble sleeping for nights, and my mom was not too happy about that,” Matthews says.

Challenges can occur during the process of writing any book. Matthews says the hardest thing about writing any story is disciplining yourself to sit down and write every day.

“When writing the first draft, I have to ignore everything that I want to change at that moment and just solely focus on writing,” he says.

An avid reader himself, Matthews says that in order to make a good story — and especially in the sci-fi/horror genre ­— the story must be about the people.

“A lot of the authors today in this genre focus on the monsters in the story rather than the people,” he says. “Real stories are based on your characters and their relationships. You push them to the edge and see what they can do.”

When Matthews is not writing up a storm, he loves to read and travel. He’s been to Russia, Poland and Germany among other places, and wants to discover the world. He also enjoys spending time with family and occasionally golfing in his free time.

Matthews is working on his fourth novel. To learn more about his work, visit brianmatthews.org/.

Historical society celebrates contributions of Jewish women in Michigan

Rachel Moulden for Digital First Media

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Detroit labor leader Myra Wolfgang (right) was the fiery labor leader who devoted her life from the mid-1930s until her death in 1976 to the members of the Hotel, Motel and Restaurant Employees and Bartenders International Union. Courtesy the Jewish Historical Society of Michigan

Myra Wolfgang may not be a household name, but in 1975, she was deemed one of “Detroit’s 10 Most Influential Women.”

As a labor leader, Wolfgang (1914-1976) gained national attention when she walked into the Woolworth’s Department store on Woodward and Grand River in Detroit and blew a whistle, signaling the start of a pink-collar sit-down strike that lasted for eight days.

The co-founder of the Coalition of Labor Union Women is just one of many Jewish women in Southeast Michigan celebrated in a recent project by the Jewish Historical Society of Michigan.

The society, based in West Bloomfield Township, launched the Michigan Women Who Make a Difference Project in 2012. The project is a community research effort to collect the stories of Jewish women who helped shaped their communities.

“We found when looking back into the past that women’s stories were often not included,” says Wendy Rose Bice, executive director of the society. “When many organizations were founded back in the day, men took overseer roles, while women worked at the foundation level. As a result, women’s names were often left out and they didn’t get credit for their work.”

Bice says her predecessor, Aimee Ergas, research director for the project, was doing some historical research when she discovered the wide variety of female leaders in Jewish history and wanted to share their amazing stories.

“We really want to focus on reaching out into the (Jewish) community and focus on getting stories from elderly women who remember their olden days in order to be able to share their stories with others,” Bice says.

The project continues to collect “her-story,” and in 2015 the Michigan Humanities Council awarded the society a Heritage Grant to expand the project statewide. The long-term goal for the project is to create a free database open to the public that would be accessible through the Jewish Historical Society website. The database would include articles and blogs written by a series of featured guest writers.

The project also turned out a book, “Michigan Women Who Made A Difference,” published in 2015 (available at the Jewish Historical Society of Michigan website for $24, $27 with shipping). It features 125 Jewish women who helped to shape their Metro-Detroit communities. It includes women such as:

• Blanche Hart, who created the Fresh Air Society, which would eventually be known today as Camp Tamarack, in Bloomfield Hills. The camp provides enriching Jewish camping experiences for children and families.

• Early female athlete Miriam Edwards Kushner (1911-2004), who was all-city in basketball, field hockey and tennis attended Central High School in Detroit. She became a distinguished concert pianist, performing at the Book Cadillac Hotel, and playing on radio station WXYZ-AM from 1928 to 1930. She and her husband, Aid Kushner, helped star the Leo M. Franklin Archives at Temple Beth El, where they served as volunteer archivists 1984-1998.

• Marj Jackson Levin (1925-2007), a journalist and fiction writer for local and national publications for more than 30 years, in 1969 became a founding member of the Michigan chapter of the National Organization of Women and was among those who “walked through the front doors of the Detroit Athletic Club,” in protest over their women-through-the-back-only policy.

On Monday, the society will celebrate the stories and achievements of the Jewish Michigan women who helped to build and shape their communities. The conference is free and will include a speech by Linda Borish, a writer from Western Michigan University who studied Jewish women in sports, and a workshop on “How to Preserve Women’s Voices and Stories,” led by Ergas. The conference also will have panel discussions on women’s roles in the past and cultural barriers women still face today.

“We refer to history so often, but we don’t seem to really recognize it,” Bice says. “When we fail to include women’s stories we are not representing half of the population and it ends up being a one-sided discovery process. We have to understand that history is really relevant and because of it we will have lessons we can learn from our past.”

• The Michigan Women Who Make a Difference Conference will be 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. June 27 at Temple Emanuel, 1715 Fulton St. E. in Grand Rapids. For more information about the upcoming conference and the Michigan Jewish Historical Society, visit michjewishhistory.org/.