Friday, November 28, 2014

Interview of Paladin's Pawn author Michael D. Young

Michael, thanks for doing this interview. First question: Your new book, Paladin Pawn has a lot of chess references, which I love. Were you a good chess player in middle school or did you get crushed most of the time?

Haha, I was all right. Not exactly grand-master material, but I did play often with my brothers and friends. I often won or at least got my opponent to a stalemate. We even had this intense version called “Nightmare Chess” where you each had a hand of cards that gave your pieces special powers.

What gave you the idea for Paladin's Pawn? How long has this book been playing out on the board in your mind?

Some of the ideas from the book have been playing around in my head since about Junior High, but I didn’t actually try to put any of them down until I was in college. It’s a good thing too, because I’m a much better writer now than I was then. It comes from growing up loving stories about knights and acting them out with my siblings.

How much does the main character in Paladin's Pawn resemble yourself? What is the most similar thing to you in the character, and what is the least similar thing?

Paladin's Pawn Author Michael D. Young
Very much like the main character, Rich, I got picked on a lot when I was in Junior High. I was studious, had thick glasses and liked thick fantasy novels. Unlike Rich, I’m not good with putting together with my hands, especially the little models he works on. I’d probably have wasted a bunch of money on those things, because I’d have been breaking them all the time.

If you were a chess piece, which one would you be, and which chess piece do you most like to kill whenever you're playing?

I’ve always liked the straight-forwardness of the Rook, and its ability to “castle”. I think though I’m more like a “bishop”, kind of the spiritual/intellectual kind of guy. And I just played a bishop last summer in Les Miserables, so I’m definitely going to have to go with bishop. I like to take out knights when I’m playing, because they can be difficult to watch for at times, because of their erratic movements and ability to jump over other pieces.

When you were writing this book was there a moment when you finished some part and yelled "Checkmate!" If not, how did you feel when you finished the first draft?

Oh, I should have done that! Maybe when I’m done with the next book in the series. In many ways, I felt like finally finishing something I’d been mulling over in my mind since I was the age of my protagonist, so, yes, it felt pretty great. To quote a famous fictional knight, I had “reached the unreachable stars”.

Optional question: No big spoilers, but what was your favorite scene to write in Paladin's Pawn?

There’s a scene where Rich is introducing his guide from the Middle Ages to the wonders of chocolate milk. Medieval mind blown. 

Synopsis of the Middle Grade Fantasy (Trifecta Books), Paladin's Pawn by Michael D. Young
When nerdy Rich Witz unwittingly becomes a Paladin, a white knight, in training, he is thrust into a world where flunking a test can change the course of history and a mysterious bully is playing for keeps with his life.

Rich’s grandmother leaves him with one thing before disappearing for good: a white chess pawn with his initials engraved on it. The pawn marks him as the next in an ancient line of white knights. He must prove himself in a life or death contest against his Nemesis, a dark knight in training, all while dealing with math homework and English projects.  With the ghost of an ancestor for his guide, he has seven days to complete four tasks of valor before his Nemesis does, or join his guide in the realm of the dead.

 As Rich rushes to complete the tasks, he realizes the chilling truth: his Nemesis is masquerading as someone at school and will stop at nothing to make him fail. As the tasks grow ever harder, the other knights reveal to him that his failure will break a centuries-old chain and bring the Paladin order to ruin. If he fails, the dark knights win the right to control the fate of the world, a world without hope or the possibility of a new dawn.  So this is one exam Rich has to ace, with no curve and no extra credit.

Author Bio:
Michael is a graduate of Brigham Young University and Western Governor’s University with degrees in German Teaching, Music, and Instructional Design. He puts his German to good use teaching online German courses for High School students. Though he grew up traveling the world with his military father, he now lives in Utah with his wife, Jen, and his two sons. Michael enjoys acting in community theater, playing and writing music and spending time with his family. He played for several years with the handbell choir Bells on Temple Square and is now a member of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.
 He is the author of the novels The Canticle Kingdom Series, The Last Archangel Series, and the Chess Quest Series.  His also authors several web serials through He publishes anthologies for charity in his Advent Anthologies series. He has also had work featured in various online and print magazines such as Bards and Sages Quarterly, Mindflights, Meridian, The New Era, Allegory, and Ensign.

Follow Michael . . .

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Review of Giselle by Ballet West

Opening night, November 7, 2014

Evil ghost ballerinas surround Giselle’s two suitors and force the men to dance until they die. The scenes with the ghosts in Act II is a big reason this ballet is still being performed 173 years after its premier. The ghosts of the young maidens who were betrayed in love and died before their wedding day take the stage wearing bridal veils. The ghosts, called Wilis in the German folklore, haunted the Capitol Theater with eerie beauty that took my breath away.
Photo by Kelli Bramble

Did you know that the phrase “it gives me the willies” was made popular because of Giselle? The “Willies” (Wilis) are the spirits of young women who have died from love gone wrong, haunting forests for all eternity.

The queen of the Wilis, played by the prima ballerina, Christiana Bennett on opening night, was fierce and evil as she exacted revenge. She perfectly portrayed her character, the first woman ever who was jilted and betrayed, and has spent thousands of years taking revenge. Christiana Bennett danced masterfully and brought serious gravitas to the stage.

All the ground fog, the ominous set dressing, and the sinister music worked so perfectly with the exceptional dancing and choreography. The dancers floated across the stage with the mist swirling around them and I loved it.

Act II, The Forest, begins when Giselle’s suitor from her village, Hilarion played by Rex Tilton, arrives at her grave. Hilarion is quickly surrounded by the Wilis and they make him dance until he dies. Rex Tilton had what I believe is his best performance ever. I wished the choreography would have showed his actual death, but this ballet dates from 1841 when it debuted in Paris to rave reviews. Giselle is still incredibly relevant and has been adapted for a modern audience, though it  feels like a classic from another age.

Act I, Harvest Time (in a village in the German Rhineland) starts out a bit slow, with Giselle’s suitor in her village, Hilarion vying for her heart. Giselle, played beautifully by Arolyn Williams, has fallen in love with a handsome stranger, Prince Albrecht played by principal artist Christopher Ruud, who has been visiting Giselle for the past two weeks in disguise as a commoner.

She has fallen deeply in love with him all the while not knowing he is a Prince. Arolyn Williams did such an amazing job portraying the character. Her dancing, especially her solo work blew me away. In one sequence in Act I she stands on her toes—on one foot!—and crosses the entire stage. I’ve never seen anything like it.

You’ll have to watch the ballet to learn how Giselle dies at the end of Act I, but it’s shocking and dramatic. The build-up to the climactic end of Act I is quite long, and I did find the waltz sections when the villagers were celebrating the harvest somewhat tedious, but the dancing during those scenes was excellent. Over fifty dancers were part of this production, and Ballet West has to give everyone in the company some time on stage to showcase their skills, which they did wonderfully. All of the scenes with the villagers in Act I were beautiful, but my favorite parts involved Beckanne Sisk and Sayaka Ohtaki, who danced solos and showed their brilliance.

The love triangle aspect with spurned and angry Hilarion fighting with Prince Albrecht in Act I over Giselle was extremely interesting, but it was all about the second act for me. Seeing the Wilis, especially their queen and her two hench-women (Emily Adams and Alison DeBona on opening night) was the highlight.

The final scenes with the ghost of Giselle and Prince Albrecht were awesome. I used my opera glasses to see Arolyn’s expression at the very end when she disappeared inside her grave. She perfectly captured the tragedy and redemption of Giselle, a classic ballet, now made into a modern masterpiece by Ballet West.

My wife and I are strongly considering going again to see rising star, Beckanne Sisk take on the lead role of Giselle with Chirstopher Ruud again playing Albrecht. We both love Christopher’s dancing, and he’s a master of his craft. We want to see him and Beckanne dance together.

Giselle runs from November 7-16, 2014 at Capitol Theater. To read a summary of the entire ballet or learn more, please visit Ballet West’s website.