Tag Archives: writer

The Flower Lady of Leavenworth

September 12, 2017 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

If you live in or frequent the Elmwood Park area, chances are you’ve seen her. A petite, mysterious figure frequently and fastidiously tending her impressive garden at 57th and Leavenworth streets—her face obscured by a wide-brimmed, straw hat reinforced with duct tape, her skin fully cloaked to protect from the sun. Within her well-tended landscape, sturdy sunflowers jockey for vertical position alongside fragrant, alabaster tuberose, while bright daylilies and zinnias stretch from the devil’s strip like nimble yogis to meet the street and the sidewalk.

“Many people don’t know me or my name, but they know that I grow flowers and I wear this duct tape hat,” says Maureen Borden, whose bountiful, 35-year gardening streak began with a single packet of zinnia seeds from Earl May.

A low-key local celebrity of sorts, many of her admirers know her as some variation of “The Lady of Leavenworth” or “The Flower Lady,” but Borden’s much more than just your garden-variety gardener. Though the zinnias will be late to the curbside this year, due to a sidelining springtime shoulder injury, Borden’s literary career is coming up roses since she published her first novel, Hear I Go, in fall 2016 at age 72.

Her debut work tells the story of “Malka,” who’s grieving the loss of her partner alongside the painful fact that she wasn’t by his side in his final moments. As a means to heal, Malka volunteers at a hospice facility, hoping to assuage her guilt and offer a “good death” to her charges.

“Malka wasn’t there when her beloved died and she’s determined to give someone a proper send-off, so she answers an ad to read to the dying, because hearing is the last sense to go before death,” Borden says.

Malka’s journey features Heddy, a dynamic hospice nurse, her zany neighbor, Lily, and Tomas, a kindhearted pawnshop proprietor. Hear I Go also introduces several colorful patients and their families, and Borden’s at her best when drawing these rich, compelling characters. Scott Morrill, who designed the book cover, added the description “A Tale of Life, Death, Bar-B-Que & The Tango,” succinctly expressing the blend of bittersweet and whimsy within.

Hear I Go is heavily inspired by Borden’s own experience of losing her “beloved” Micky Metz.

“We were together five years, from 1983 to 1988, when he had the audacity to drop dead of a heart attack,” Borden says with witty panache. “The book is mainly fiction, but there’s a considerable amount of truth in terms of myself and the character of my beloved. To get past my grief, I started writing about Micky about a year after he died.”

Like Malka, Borden wasn’t there at the moment Micky passed, after 12 days in the hospital.

“He died, I wasn’t there, and dammit, I had to be there for someone, so that was the impetus for the book,” she says. “I’m very much a believer in the afterlife, but Malka is still coming to terms with the question of ‘Is there really something beyond?’ She desperately wants to believe there is, and she comes closer, but there’s still some doubt.”

Borden has a degree in theater and a teaching certificate from UNO, though she spent much of her career in copy-editing and secretarial roles. Despite her varied career and love of gardening, Borden’s lifelong passion is writing. She’s penned a bevy of poems, short stories, even three screenplays, and says she lives for plucky, impactful passages.

“I think even a single, perfect flower is just as wonderful as a bouquet. Sometimes I’ll just put one flower in a vase and when I walk past and it catches my eye for a moment, it’s sort of like breathing properly,” she says. “It’s the exact same feeling when I read or write a really good line. It’s like an arrow to your intellect, and it makes you come alive.”

Borden says that while it’s a great joy to know one’s purpose early in life, it’s never too late to realize your passion and pursue that which satisfies your soul.

“I think doing right work is the most important thing in life—probably even more important than having a great love. Loves can end. People die. But if you have something that’s just so deliciously your own, then that’s a great gift,” she says. “I’m a geezer chick at 73, so I say to all the sassy seniors out there: Live your dreams. Go for it.”

And Borden’s still going for it. In fact, she’s currently conceiving her next book, Slipped a Micky.

Hear I Go was an introduction to Micky’s rascality, which I hope to explore more in the next book,” she says. “Everyone should be lucky enough to have a Micky in their life. He was quite a rascal, and I’m the keeper of his many stories.”

Borden does a lot of thinking in the garden. She says the time spent outside “weeding and pulling hoses around like a retired fireman singing ‘Born Free’ to keep my blood pressure down” can also be fertile ground for contemplating characters and dialogue.

“Gardeners have long lives, purportedly because they stick around to see what will happen the next year, if there are successes,” Borden says. “So, I hope readers have long lives waiting for books to come out.”

Visit facebook.com/maureenbordenomaha for more information.

This article appears in the September/October 2017 edition of Omaha Magazine.

Maureen Borden

The Brand Brief

February 23, 2017 by

I have good news and bad news. The good news is that greatness is a state of mind. The bad news is that others’ minds decide your state. As with many things in life, this is true for people as well as brands. A brand is, in its most basic description, what people believe, feel, and think about a company. Companies like to think that their brand (or “brand image” if you’re old school) is whatever they’re currently telling the public it is. Which is rare. However, that is the goal. Because when what people think of you matches up with what you claim to be, you’ve hit the branding bull’s-eye.

Great branding is built on a solid foundation. This foundation is commonly referred to as a “brand platform.” Used correctly, a brand platform can act as a launching pad for your branding efforts. Conversely, it may resemble the 10-meter Olympic diving platform, except, instead of water, the pool is filled with buy-one-get-five coupons that cause financial ruin and death by a thousand paper cuts.

A brand platform defines who you are as a company in a way that everyone in the organization can understand—even Chuck in H.R.—by codifying beliefs into a framework that doesn’t change with the shifting winds of accounts receivable. The platform becomes the guiding document in how you speak about the brand and how the brand acts. It is no use marketing something and then failing to live up to those promises operationally when people finally find time to “act now.”

There is no standard template for a brand platform. Most advertising agencies that deal in branding have developed their own process and format. I prefer a classic format that defines a brand purpose (why you exist beyond making money or even your current product), brand position (who you are relative to your competition and audience), brand personality (five or six adjectives, none of which are “sleepy”), and brand affiliation (the type of people your brand wants to attract). Feel free to Google these terms. Other platforms include brand archetypes or variations on all of the above. The important thing is that the platform brings clarity, unity, and direction. So beware the agency attempting to sell you a process that they themselves don’t seem to fully understand—just because it comes with a cool infographic doesn’t make it actionable.

I do not recommend trying to create a brand platform on your own. Anyone inside the company is too close to the situation to be completely objective. Nonetheless, you should be actively involved in the process. An agency that insists on doing everything themselves before delivering a final document fait accompli is probably doing a lot of finding and replacing on a platform they first wrote in 1998.

Once your platform is in place, use it. This is not as obvious as you would think. Weigh marketing decisions against it. Use it to filter operational objectives. Spread it throughout the company so that when an employee gets asked about where they work, they give an accurate answer. Eventually, because branding is a long game, your brand will be cohesive and consistent. And all your marketing will automatically be strategic in tone and message (and media, too, if you’re paying attention).

You will still need to decide on creative directions and tactics, of course, but you won’t have to do the heavy lifting of figuring out foundational principles every time you write a new tweet. Because you will know who you are. And, more importantly, customers current and potential will, too.

Jason Fox is a freelance creative director and writer. He can be found at jasonfox.net and adsavior.com.

This article was printed in the Spring 2017 edition of B2B.

One of Ours

February 21, 2017 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

“There aren’t a lot of people in Nebraska writing new musicals,” says Roxanne Wach, executive director of Shelterbelt Theatre.

The Omaha theater company is in the middle of its 24th season of producing original work by Midlands theater artists, and Wach reads around 200 original plays a year. But when she discovered the musical Catherland, it stood out from the pack.

A collaboration between Lincoln-based theater artist Becky Boesen and musician-composer David von Kampen, Catherland will open at the Shelterbelt April 21. It’s the latest incarnation of the project after a staged reading was produced at the Red Cloud Opera House in 2015, followed by a workshop at the Lied Center for Performing Arts in Lincoln.

“I championed the piece because I thought it had such potential. I liked the music to begin with, and that’s a huge hurdle with musicals. I liked a lot of the script and where it’s going,” Wach says. “David has really captured something in the music, and Becky is really talented with her lyrics, and it’s a pretty engaging score.”

It’s hard to imagine a story more quintessentially Nebraskan than Catherland, which is set in Red Cloud, the central Nebraska hometown of writer Willa Cather. The musical focuses on a present-day couple, Jeffrey and Susan, who move from Chicago to Red Cloud. Susan has some reservations about leaving Chicago; but early in their marriage, the couple agreed that once she finished her first novel they would slow down, move to Jeffrey’s hometown of Red Cloud, and possibly start a family.

Boesen explains that when people are experiencing culture shock they go through a honeymoon phase. Jeffrey and Susan are in that phase when “someone crashes into the barn outside and their life starts to unravel as a result, and there’s an immediate life or death problem that has to be solved,” Boesen says. “Willa Cather shows up, too. Susan, the novelist, is not a Willa Cather fan, and that’s a problem.”

That would be the ghost of Willa Cather. Boesen says that a lot of her own writing tends to include ghosts, though the ghosts are not always literal.

“I mean like a missing piece of your heart. Anything that’s missing to a protagonist,” she says. “But in this [show], there are legit ghosts, which is pretty fun.”

Von Kampen agrees, “And I don’t really like ghost stories. I don’t seek out movies or books that are like that, but from a creative standpoint, it feels really good.”

Boesen was born in southern Missouri and von Kampen is originally from Michigan, but they both moved to Nebraska as children. They’ve lived other places thanks to their careers, but are now settled in Lincoln raising their respective families. Boesen and von Kampen are full-time artists and arts educators who met briefly in 2013 while working on another project.
Boesen’s company, BLIXT, is an arts management and consulting firm that produces projects for the Lied Center, Lincoln Arts Council, and other entities. Von Kampen is a musician and composer who also teaches at Concordia University in Seward as well as the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

Roughly a year after their initial meeting, Boesen talked von Kampen into working as the musical director on a staged reading she was directing.

Von Kampen says, “I remember when (Becky) called, and I was thinking, ‘How can I get out of this?’”

She talked him into working with her, and it went well.

“David said, ‘Hey, don’t you write stuff? We should get together and talk about writing sometime.’ And I said, ‘cool let’s get together,’” Boesen explains.

They discovered their work “sort of sounded alike” and began to share ideas. Boesen had been thinking about her experience as a teaching artist in Red Cloud. Her play, What the Wind Taught Me, ran at the Red Cloud Opera House while on tour, and she says she fell in love with the town.

“You’re driving in Nebraska and all of a sudden you feel like you’re on Mars, because the prairie is like an ocean out there,” says Boesen, who started thinking about Cather and “what it must have been like to live in Red Cloud, Nebraska, in the late 1800s.”

The Nebraska prairie might be considered a character on its own in some of Cather’s work. That striking landscape also has inspired the creative team behind Catherland.

“It’s an exploration of sense of place, what it means to be home, what does it mean to make a commitment, and how does that change over the course of time, and the messy nature of long-term love,” Boesen says.

“I really think they’ve captured something. I’m so excited to be working on it. I just can’t wait for people to see it,” Wach says, impressed with Boesen’s willingness to revise her script. “To have somebody who’s that fearless in the process is a real asset to Shelterbelt in really giving new works their highest potential.”

Wach points out that supporting and nurturing new work by local artists is essential to the vitality of the Omaha theater scene.

“There are very few theaters our size who do new work in a city of our size.” Wach says, “We have a very vibrant theater community, and having new works helps feed it.”

Boesen says she and von Kampen feel lucky to have such a joyful creative process, “We just like making stuff, and we make stuff well together, and we have a lot of fun doing it.”

Visit shelterbelt.org for more information.

This article was printed in the March/April 2017 edition of Omaha Magazine.

Oh Dear!

June 26, 2015 by

It’s summertime and I’m taking full advantage of the fact that my kids are preteens and sleeping in. Camp Mom is pretty laid back and the kids seem to appreciate it. Yesterday, I filled up 50 water balloons, declared my contribution to their summer fun, and went inside to read my book.

Max asks if we can go swimming. I tell him that I just need to finish one more thought and then we we’ll go. Two hours later, I finish the thought. Once we get to the pool, I see a bunch of familiar moms that I haven’t seen in a while.

I wave to the fellow gym moms. There was a half-hearted,  “Do I know you?” kind of reciprocation wave. That’s when I get a glimpse of myself in the window reflection. It’s not that I feel like I should get all dolled up to go to the pool, it’s that I look that awful.

My hair is a wirey mess. I have no make-up on and my current summer wardrobe is whatever I grab out of my laundry basket as I’m putting away the clean clothes, which happens to be full-length faded gym sweats in the middle of summer, a t-shirt, and my flip-flops from last year.

It’s evident that to these very put-together moms, I look a little bit homeless. And what’s the point in showering and washing my hair anyway if I’m going swimming? In short, think of that famous Nick Nolte mug shot from several years ago.

It hasn’t occurred to me until just now that I look like a mom begging for help.

I smile with pride because I’m living a dream: I’m a writer and mom. This is apparently what it looks like. I don’t have it all together, but I do indeed have it all. I mentally “high five” myself and play frisbee with the kids for a while.

When we leave the pool, I wave to the now-concerned moms. I’ve always been a low-maintenance kind of a gal, but right now I realize I’m a no-maintenance gal. I resolve to maybe give a slight bit of effort to my summer look. Camp Mommy takes on a new meaning.

Pool2

Marilyn Coffey

May 4, 2015 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Article originally published in The Encounter May/June 2015 edition.

Somewhere along the continuum of every poem and scrap of prose that ever was and ever will be, Marilyn Coffey’s canon hovers quietly like a fleck of dust swept from the spine of a leather-bound classic.

She was never in it for the fame anyway.

“It’s going to be a very tiny part,” Coffey, 77, says of her contribution to the whole of literary history while holding her thumb and index finger an atom’s width apart, “even if it’s a huge part to me at the end of my life.”

But for those loyal readers of the national prize-winning and internationally published author known for her brazenness and ability to reconcile casual, everyday language with contextually strange words, Coffey will be remembered as a revolutionary. She’ll be remembered as a second-wave feminist who fought for sexual freedom, one lover at a time.

“Any woman who loves/one man and only one man/is mad (or sane),” wrote Coffey in her 1960s poem, “Credo”. “I see it this way: why love one when you can love two/or three or more.”

Coffey was probably damned to put up a fight from the beginning, she says. It’s easy to see why. The author says she was raised in the middle; the middle of nowhere in the middle of the United States in the middle of last century, with an undiagnosed case of bipolar disorder and a lot of sexual feelings that she didn’t know what to do with.

“I masturbated a lot and then I found out I wasn’t supposed to,” Coffey admits while laughing off a slight embarrassment for her puritan generation. “I got involved with this Christian youth leader…and that didn’t go well. I actually did try to kill myself at that point in time.”

After religion failed to exorcise her lust, she says, Coffey denounced her faith and eventually left the comforts of her home state. She found inspiration in a brand new novel called On the Road by a then relatively unknown Jack Kerouac.

“And then I left and I went on the road,” she says, pausing as if she still doesn’t believe it to this day. “I went on the road…I went on the road and it was definitely an experience, not like his [Kerouac’s], but it was like mine—it was an experience I wouldn’t have had otherwise if I hadn’t read On the Road.”

Her trip lasted about a year before she landed in New York for roughly the next 30 years. It was in Greenwich Village where Coffey started her discourse on female masturbation through her adolescent heroine, Marcella, and where she won the Pushcart Prize for “Pricksong,” a poem described by the Los Angeles Times as “a wry poem about an obscene houseplant.”

“I was so delighted that it was that poem that was recognized,” Coffey says, weighing the award’s fatalistic importance, “because had it been one of my more conventional poems, I would’ve felt the push to behave like you’re supposed to.”

MarilynCoffey

From Stage to Page

October 6, 2014 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

After 28 years directing one of the nation’s top youth theaters, James Larson knows how cats talk. They tend to be a bit snooty. They certainly like to think they’re smarter than your average talking dog.

So shifting to writing children’s literature after decades directing the Omaha Theater Company for Young People at The Rose wasn’t that big of a leap, Larson says. Especially since Larson also has written stage adaptions for some of America’s most beloved children’s books.

“Writing fiction is quite a bit of fun,” says Larson, who adapted, among others, The Little Engine That Could and Mercer Mayer’s There’s an Alligator Under My Bed for national tours. “I’m usually limited to the space on a stage. In a book, nothing limits your imagination. I can have rocket ships blasting off to the moon. Pigeons can talk. It’s liberating.”

It’s a pleasure to witness that imagination unbound. His new book, “A” is for The Alchemist is a pure joy, a book seemingly written by a seasoned literary veteran rather than a first-time novelist.

“A” is for The Alchemist, a tale of a brother and sister (Winnie and Winslow) and their cat and dog pitted against a mad scientist, has exactly what fans of the Theater Company would expect from Larson: Vivid, fun, young characters, dastardly antagonists, a frolicking adventure and, yes, some lovable and pitch-perfect animal characters.

While Larson may have been steeped in the storytelling art, he did struggle with some of the novel demands of writing literature. For one, when you have 255 pages of story, you have a lot more story to tell. That means more backstory. Much more than in stories for the stage, Larson had to get to know everything possible about his characters and the landscape in which they live.

“To make them come alive, you have to know these characters so well,” he says. “I’ve written so much just in the process of getting to know them and trying to get to understand the craft. While some things about writing may be easier because of my profession, in some ways, writing this book is the hardest thing I’ve ever done.”

One of Larson’s longtime collaborators, Mark Medoff, winner of both the Tony Award and Olivier Award for his play Children of a Lesser God, effused about his friend’s skill at storytelling. Larson and Medoff have collaborated on several productions over the years. Medoff says he’s excited to see Larson try his hand at fiction.
“James became one of my heroes,” Medoff says. “He is such a talented artist and humble and generous human being that it’s not shocking he made the Omaha Children’s Theater into an international success.

“I so look forward to reading his book—and my grandchildren reading his book,” he says. “I know it will enhance my respect for…this dear and unique man.”

The book is already beginning to garner significant positive reviews.

Kirkus Reviews wrote that Larson “has written a well-paced story with all the ingredients to keep kids enthralled.” A Clarion Review piece said the book “is a promising start to Larson’s new series, which will appeal to children and young adults seeking an action-packed novel with some fantastic twists.”

Yes. Winnie and Winslow and their friends are scheduled for many more adventures, Larson says.

“I really like these characters, I really enjoy spending time with them and exploring their lives,” he says. “I honestly can see writing about them until I’m—I dunno—89 or so. That’s how much I care about them.”

Beverly Kracher, Ph.D.

August 26, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Beverly Kracher, Ph.D., has been teaching and researching business ethics for more than 20 years. She has been professor of Business Ethics at Creighton University since 1991. But the seasoned academic holds a strong belief that ethics discussions should reach outside the classroom and into Omaha’s day-to-day business life.

She found soulmates in many of Omaha’s business leaders who shared her passion for ethics. Working together, Omaha’s business community launched the Business Ethics Alliance in 2008. The group consults, trains, and speaks on ethics.

Founding partners are the Creighton University College of Business, Greater Omaha Chamber, Better Business Bureau, and the Omaha business community. The Business Ethics Alliance isn’t just for business. The group also interacts with college and K-12 students, as well as executives, employees, and entrepreneurs.

Business Ethics Alliance programming focuses on the core values of accountability, community responsibility, integrity, financial vitality, and moral courage. As holder of the Robert B. Daugherty Endowed Chair in Business Ethics & Society, Kracher is free to work outside the classroom. She teaches one Creighton graduate class each year.

Otherwise she leads the Business Ethics Alliance as executive director and CEO, often traveling to countries worldwide.

“Words are power. One of the easiest things we can do is practice articulating our ethics.”

“I spoke in Ethiopia recently, and they said they had never conceived of a relationship between ethics and success in business,” Kracher says.

But companies considering relocating to Omaha are well aware of the relationship, according to David Brown, president and CEO of the Greater Omaha Chamber. One Illinois company, reeling from the indictment of the state’s governor, found solace in Omaha’s ethical business community.

“Another client specifically asked us to make part of our presentation about ethical practices in Omaha because they wanted a community that took ethics seriously,” says Brown. “We blew them away.”

Helping found the Business Ethics Alliance brought Kracher a great deal of satisfaction—and an award from the Greater Omaha Chamber as the 2013 Business Woman of the Year. She’s earned it, says Brown: “She has taken a fledgling organization and turned it into something unique to Omaha. It requires business acumen, as well as the ability to work with business leaders.”

Kracher said that ethical business communities have leaders with strong, shared, positive values who are fair to their workforce, give back to their communities, and have honest and accountable employees. The ethical communities have non-corrupt government and nonprofits that partner with for-profits.

She is a columnist for B2B Omaha magazine and co-authored the book Ethinary, An Ethics Dictionary: 50 Ethical Words to Add to Your Conversation. The book sits on many business professionals’ desks around the country. “Words are power,” Kracher said. “One of the easiest things we can do is practice articulating our ethics.”

Professor, researcher, author, columnist, CEO, she also is vice president of Plant Pros of Omaha, which puts her in the small-business arena.

Ethics haven’t changed over the years, she believes: “The ancient Persians used to burn bakers in their ovens for adulterating bread with straw, etc. So bad business has been around for centuries. Good has, too.”

Leo Adam Biga Releases Book about Alexander Payne

October 25, 2012 by
Photography by John Gawley

“Most of us are familiar with the actors who’ve come from here,” says Leo Biga, local journalist, author, blogger, and Omaha Publications freelancer. “Fred Astaire, Robert Taylor, Montgomery Clift. There are very few non-actors in the film industry from Nebraska. There’s Darryl Zanuck. Harold Lloyd. Then there’s a long pause, and we get Joan Micklin Silver. And now there’s Alexander Payne.”

Biga’s newly released book, Alexander Payne: His Journey in Film – A Reporter’s Perspective 1998-2012, is a compilation of the journalist’s many articles about the filmmaker from Omaha. “This is not a biography at all,” Biga says of the first book written about the famous director. “I almost never intrude on his life. There are tidbits there, but mostly it shows the arc of his film career.”

A native Omahan and movie buff himself with years of film programming under his belt, Biga was intrigued by Payne from the first he’d heard of him. “I read an article about this young filmmaker who’d done something called The Passion of Martin,” Biga recalls. The local journalist observed the director as he rose in the industry, finally calling on him in 1997 as Payne prepared to shoot his second feature, Election, in Omaha.

“We met at McFoster’s Natural Kind Café,” Biga says. “We talked about his creative process, the characters, the settings, the editing. Everything.” When 2003 rolled around and Payne was shooting Sideways, the director gave Biga full access to the set. “The red carpet was rolled out for me,” the author remembers. “The exclusivity of it was so unique.”

Even though the book is finished, Biga continues his years-long conversation with Payne as the director prepares for Nebraska, his fourth feature shot in his home state. “It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” Biga says. “It’s the fact that I was there. I’ve seized the opportunity.”

Readers interested in purchasing the book can visit The BookWorm (8702 Pacific St.) or alexanderpaynethebook.com

Read more of Leo Adam Biga’s work at leoadambiga.wordpress.com.