Fall ’18 2nd Prize Winner: I Am the Symphony of Beacon by Jennifer Rossa

My composer, a what-do-you-call-it – transplanted citiot? – thinks Beacon needs a symphony that showcases its spirit. Now, she might just not know what she’s talking about. But. Aaron Copland lived in Cortland Manor and Ossining. George Gershwin, in Ossining. John Cage, in Stony Point. Ferde Grofe’s The Hudson River Suite makes reference to Albany and, via Rip van Winkle, various other Hudson River towns. As for Beacon, it has an unquestionably strong folk music tradition. But classical music?

Therefore. Think of me as Cage’s 4’33”, but specifically adapted for Beacon.

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Movement One. I start slow, adagio, very quiet, pianissimo. I am the steam of the Hudson River in the summer, fogging up your commute, and the frozen-on-top crackle of the Hudson River in the winter, fogging up your breath. I am the whistle of the approaching Metro-North train, the cry of a circling hawk, the chirp of a cricket lost in your kitchen, the mutterings of a midnight drunk near the VFW.

Now just a little bit louder, but still very slow. I am a bucking deer on 9D who has caused you to slam on your brakes. Yowling neighborhood stray cats who have caused you to slam on your brakes. Slouching raccoons who have just crawled out of the gutter, glared at you and, yes, caused you to slam on your brakes. Tourists jaywalking who, you guessed it.

Sudden emphasis, sforzando! I am the sound of the smell of a skunk. I am not sure what the smell of a skunk sounds like, but nonetheless I am that sound.

Movement Two. A little faster now, andante please, a walking pace. I am the crunching of glass underfoot in abandoned hat factories, the hushed tones of visitors at Dia:Beacon, gravel dislodged by grunting hikers in sensible shoes on Mount Beacon. I am the dudes hanging out behind Kennedy’s shooting the breeze. I would be the sound of you mowing your rain forest of a Hudson Valley yard, but you haven’t mowed because it’s too rainy. I am the united grumbling of all of Beacon as a light breeze shuts down the power grid.

Movement Three, allegro now, quickly, louder. I am the drill of construction all day long but at least it’s only four-story buildings amIright? I am the scrape of steel plates and road work and the braaap of dirt bikes on Mount Beacon. I am the inappropriately late blare of Billy Joe’s Ribworks from across the river. (While actually that is part of the Symphony of Newburgh, we decided to collaborate for one movement, sort of like the local breweries. Speaking of which, I am dogs panting in the 100% summer humidity outside a certain brewery that has banned them.)

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Movement Four. Presto, very, very, fast, fortissimo, very loud. I am strife and dissonance. I am trolls in the Beacon Facebook group. I am large groups of people yucking it up in the quiet car. I am Jeep owners and hikers fighting over the right of way on Mount Beacon. I am people who want a gun shop on Main Street versus people who want a zero-waste food store. I am the Trump hot dog stand across the street from the Islamic teaching center. I am local kids joyriding their bikes on Main Street and adults yelling at them. And repeat, and repeat, and…wait.

Coda. Back to andante, walking pace, gradually quieter, diminuendo. Now, I know I’m just a symphony and I’m not supposed to have opinions, but look here. At least these kids are outside and not playing video games or hacking the government or whatever it is kids do online these days. And while I’m at this common sense stuff, I am a Jeep owner offering a hiker with a sprained ankle a ride down the mountain. I am gun owners shopping at a zero-waste food store. I am the Trump hot dog guy bothering to learn a little about Islam. I am commuters giving other commuters a ride home after a storm grounds Metro-North. I am an echo of a memory of Pete Seeger, singing “This land is made for you and me.”

I am new Beacon. I am old Beacon. I am the Symphony of Beacon.

 

Interview with Author Diane Lapis: Hot on the Trail of Cocktails Across America

by Julie Chibbaro

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We recently hosted author Diane Lapis who, with her writing partner Anne Peck-Davis, just published an unusual book that offers a unique overview of midcentury cocktail culture, featuring both recipes, and reproductions of the postcards used to advertise popular lounges and bars of the 1930s, 40s, and 50s. But it’s more than a mere compendium of recipes and pictures. In Cocktails Across America, Lapis and Peck-Davis tease out the stories behind each postcard, revealing some mighty strange history in these United States. I cornered Diane to ask a few questions about how she wrote the book, working with a co-author, and her unusual (yet serendipitous!) path to finding not only a great publisher, but a great agent too.

GLB: At Get Lit Beacon, you read to us a story about an Atomic cocktail. Is that really true? Can you tell us how you dug that story up?

Diane: The stories in Cocktails Across America use postcards as a starting point. My coauthor Anne Peck-Davis and I used a variety of materials to learn about the origins of the cocktail, or the bar or city in which the drink was first introduced. Vintage cocktail books and menus, newspaper and journal articles and advertisements, books, and websites were our go-to resources. For certain stories, we contacted historical societies, postcard clubs, and specialty libraries.

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Two postcards depicting views of atomic blasts were featured in the Atomic Cocktail story: Benny Binion’s Horseshoe Club, and Vegas Vic’s Pioneer Club. I gathered information from the Nevada National Security Site, the Nevada Historical Society Quarterly Magazine, the Los Angeles Times, and various websites and books about popular culture in Nevada. Then I pieced together how the hospitality industry capitalized on the atomic blasts as a form of entertainment. Finding old photos of beauty queens sporting the atomic bomb style hairdo, convinced me that this story had to be told.

GLB: You also mentioned you decided to find an agent for the book once you’d written it, even though you’d already found a publisher. Can you say why you made that decision?

Diane: Anne and I were thrilled that Countryman Press (a division of W.W. Norton) was interested in our manuscript. Before signing the contract, I serendipitously met the CEO of the Curtis Brown Literary Agency. He took an interest in our project and suggested that we consider using his agency to help with the business side of publishing. I was reluctant, as we already had a publisher… what could we possibly need an agent for??? Everyone that we knew in the publishing industry highly recommended engaging the services of an agent. Anne and I then interviewed one of Curtis Brown’s agents and liked his attitude and personality. He was well versed in the field and patiently answered our long list of questions. We are so thankful that we signed with Curtis Brown! Our agent was helpful in negotiating the complicated contract and added value to it as well.

GLB: How did you work together with your writing partner? Can you share a story of when it didn’t work so well?

Diane: Working with a creative collaborator was a gratifying experience. Anne and I shared similar interests in postcards and 20th century cultural history. We readily agreed on content and the design of the book, thereby making it easy to achieve our goals. We were ready to jump into something new and bold, and delighted in stretching our horizons. We split the workload, edited each other’s writing, suggested pathways to follow, and discovered and shared new resources.

However, our biggest challenge was finding time to work together. We were free during opposite times of the day and live about a 45-minute drive from each other. Therefore, we had to carefully plan our meetings. We prepared agendas that kept us focused and ensured that we discussed specific and time-sensitive items. Sometimes we met at a bookstore or traveled to each other’s homes. We sent hundreds (possibly thousands) of emails and had many lengthy phone conversations. Scheduling telephone conferences with our editor and agent required additional planning. Anne and I both loved working on this project, so we found positive ways to deal with our time challenge.