My “Wild” Amazon River Adventure

Here we are fishing on the Amazon!  Photo by Val.

Here we are fishing on the Amazon! Photo by Val.

Too close to caiman!Photo by Amy Stephens.

Too close to caiman!Photo by Amy Stephens.

My “Wild” Amazon River Adventure

I was fortunate to join my husband, Mike on his 10-day peacock bass fishing trip in Brazil—and it was a wild adventure! Mike hosted a group of 15 friends and clients, and I tacked on at the last minute as photographer/historian for the trip.

Going to the Amazonian rainforest is not for the faint of heart. You will see from the pictures that we had to wear very fashionable, full-cover gear to protect us from the bugs, hot UV rays, and occasional deluges of rain. We rose at 5:00am and fished until 5:00pm. We headquartered out of a main boat, but spent daylight in smaller 2-person fishing boats. Our Portuguese guides sat in the back to drive the boat and offer fishing advice (mostly in sign-language or broken English).

Mike caught many fish, including a 16-pound paca bass, and some of the people on the trip caught up to 23-pound fish! We saw caiman (alligators) swim past us and pink dolphins occasionally rose to the surface to try and snatch our fish from the line.

Mike's big fish!  A 16 pound paca.  Photo by Amy Stephens.

Mike’s big fish! A 16 pound paca. Photo by Amy Stephens.

We were surrounded by jungle wildlife and I saw many birds fly by, including parrots and macaws, as well as the large blue morpho butterfly. Oddly, all sounds ceased during the day. From 9:30am to 3:30pm, we saw little wildlife and heard none. Then, as if an alarm clock went off, the birds would start squawking at 3:30. We even heard howler monkeys in the distance, although I never saw one.

Along the Rio Negro are unexpected islands of solid white sand. One night, our boat moored up to one of these large sand banks and the staff set up tables and chairs so that we could enjoy a dinner party. It was the only time during the week we were on land. The staff dug a deep pit in the sand and smoked all kinds of meats. They chopped down four palm trees from the jungle and dug deep holes in the sand to drop them into so that party lights could be strung around the area. As the evening ended, Mike walked down to the water and made a cast. A staff person started yelling, “No, no!” He shone his flashlight down the bank where Mike stood to reveal huge glowing eyes, a 10-foot caiman alligator lay less than 10 feet away. We suspect the staff knew he was there all along—and that’s the reason for the boundary of lit palm trees.

My favorite part of the trip was when our boats left the main lake and struck off down a narrow trail hidden in the trees. We had to move vines out of the way and duck branches—but once the boat made it down these “secret” trails, the trees would open back up again to reveal another lagoon full of fish. As we disturbed birds and bats along the way, they would swoop across our path.

Our boat, docked at the white sand bank.  Photo by Mike Stephens.

Our boat, docked at the white sand bank. Photo by Mike Stephens.

My least favorite part of the trip was the rain. Yes, it is the rainforest, so water was expected—but we experienced more rain than typical for the November “dry season.” My rain gear was quickly saturated, making for a long, cold trip back to the main boat. We didn’t have hot showers or clothes dryers, either.

Every time I’ve traveled outside the United States, I’m reminded that I’m both blessed and spoiled. Although this was a luxury trip, we lived in a room/bathroom that was 5x10ft, with river water for the toilet, sink and bath (we used bottled water to brush our teeth!). We carried more in our suitcases than most of the boat staff owned. But the hospitality was wonderful and I loved our daily fish entrées, from fresh piranha soup to smoked bass–and I don’t usually like fish.

One amazing event occurred that still seems impossible. I was fishing with a gentleman in our group named Chip one day. About 3:30pm, a large fish broke off his line, taking the lure with him. Being such an expensive lure, we waited awhile to see if the fish would spit it up. He didn’t. We motored a half-mile up the river to a new location. A rainstorm struck and Chip was catching fish left and right for almost an hour. As we packed up to leave, that same fish exploded out of the water and spit Chip’s lure out right in front of us!

Beach party on the white sand bank. Photo by Amy Stephens

Beach party on the white sand bank. Photo by Amy Stephens

I’m thankful to have experienced the Amazon. As Theodore Roosevelt described when he traveled the Amazon—an invisible world surrounds you in the jungle. Invisibility renders the animals more able to survive its harsh conditions–which explains why hours sometimes went by without an animal sighting or sound. It also gives me greater respect for the people survive life on the Amazon.

After one large rainstorm, an amazing rainbow appeared above the river. Unlike those we see in the city, it was extremely bright, we could see the entire rainbow, and it lasted for a half hour. Sitting on the 2nd largest river in the world, surrounded by water that will raise 12 feet higher in the rainy season, I was reminded of God’s promise to never flood the earth with rain again. I was also reminded that God governs the whole earth and its many intricacies, habitats, and people. It’s an amazing world, and I’m glad to have seen a different part of it!

The Amazon Rainbow. The Promise.  Photo by Amy Stephens.

The Amazon Rainbow. The Promise. Photo by Amy Stephens.

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Jerry Bennett, Comic Book Artist

 Jerry Bennett, an Oklahoma comic book artist, is drawing for Marvel Comics, Lucasfilm and Power Rangers.  He’s an artist living a dream–working full-time doing what he loves.  I met Jerry and his wife several years ago as fellow members of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI). I enjoyed visiting him in his how studio to learn more about how he draws lines that create action and emotion.     

"Storylines" is the cover story for Outlook Magazine, November 2014, by Amy Dee Stephens.

“Storylines” is the cover story for Outlook Magazine, November 2014, by Amy Dee Stephens.

 

Storylines: The Comic Book Art of Jerry Bennett
Written by Amy Dee Stephens in the November 2014 Issue, Outlook Magazine

Comic books and superheroes-they aren’t just for kids! Adults love them, and Hollywood has introduced them to a whole new generation. Meet Jerry Bennett, an Oklahoman who is making a full-time living as a comic book artist. His designs have been licensed by the biggest companies in the industry, including Marvel Comics, Lucasfilm and Power Rangers.

No surprise—Bennett’s small home studio is an explosion of color. Movie posters, superhero drawings and inspiration pieces cover the walls. Boxes of his art prints line the floor, and action figures set on a shelf along with a very real-looking light saber.

But Bennett isn’t outflanked by the kaleidoscope of supernatural memorabilia—no, it’s his joyful personality and booming laugh that captivate one’s attention. He has good reason to be joyful. He’s living an artist’s dream, rubbing elbows with some of the biggest names in the business, and gaining a following of fans—including Stan Lee, the creator of Spiderman, Iron Man and X-Men. Lee recently saw one of Bennett’s Spider-Man drawings at the Salt Lake City Comic Conference (known as Comic Con). He invited Bennett to create an exclusive print for the Stan Lee Foundation for literacy. Bennett calls it one of his greatest honors.

Bennett’s career didn’t start with a BAM!

Amy with Jerry Bennett, featuring his Stan Lee poster.  Photo by Marshall Hawkins.

Amy with Jerry Bennett, featuring his Stan Lee poster. Photo by Marshall Hawkins.

“I went to art school, but like so many people who have aspirations for a dream job, I took a regular job,” Bennett said. “For 16 years, I worked at a door and plywood company, doing art as side work.”

Jerry Bennett

Then finally, POW! Bennett’s big break came six years ago when he drew a movie fan design which parodied Ghostbusters and Star Wars. A friend suggested that it would make a great t-shirt design—and 3,000 sold in 24 hours.

“Someone told me my image had gone viral, and I asked, ‘What does that mean?’ because it was a new phrase then.”

Shortly afterward, as Bennett was about to turn 40, he decided he didn’t want to work his regular job anymore. “So, I quit and took a leap of faith.” It was a leap without a cape or superpowers. Bennett created a portfolio and purchased table space at a Comic Con in order to gain exposure for his art. He entered contests. He took on small projects.

Now, Bennett’s award-winning artwork is popping up all over, from a licensed Power Rangers t-shirt and Oklahoma City Thunder basketball team image, to the annual report cover for the Oklahoma Pioneer Library System.

Currently, Bennett is serving as a fill-in artist for Larry Latham, author and illustrator of a popular online comic called “Lovecraft is Missing.” In former years, Latham produced cartoon television shows such as Disney’s Talespin and Hanna-Barbera’s Smurfs. After a recent cancer diagnosis, Latham hired Bennett to carry on his comic book series during his recovery. Jerry Bennett's Comic Art

“I’ve followed ‘Lovecraft’ since 2012, so I understand his vision and his art,” Bennett said. “Readers know that I’m filling in, so I’ve remained true to his style while infusing my own.”

Bennett just wrapped up an art show at a gallery in the Paseo district. He is also working on two educational projects. The first is a non-fiction graphic novel called “Felix Faces His Fears.” It’s the true story of Felix Bumgartner, who skydived from outer space in 2012. Bennett is also designing college course booklets for a business professor at the University of Oklahoma who believes that students are more likely to read assignments written like a comic book.

As glamorous as it sounds, the outgoing Mr. Bennett spends much of his working life in solitude. He listens to music or audio books while he draws, and he walks his dog each day. He uses this time to take a break from his contracted work to think about the personal projects he’s trying to pursue—an original graphic novel, an illustrated children’s book, a comic book version of a spiritual hymn.

Jerry Bennett's Comic Art

“I have so many ideas I’m playing with,” Bennett said. “Ultimately, I want to be known as a comic book artist, but my style is constantly growing and changing based on my interests or a client’s needs.”

Several years ago, Bennett tucked away his drawing easel and art pens—replacing them with a high tech computer graphics program. A digital pen allows him to “draw” on a special monitor, like he used to do on paper.

“Most people don’t realize that creating a commercial comic book page takes a team of people, because while I do the initial line drawings, someone else writes the scripts.”

When Bennett first gets a script, he visualizes each panel like a movie shot, making sure that each scene has action. He then allots space for written text bubbles and adds scenery details that keep readers grounded in the setting. After several digital pencil sketches, he draws the final lines and fills in details.

“Art brings stories to life and gives them heart, soul and expression,” Bennett said. “I’m dying to tell emotional stories that make people laugh and cry,” Bennett said.

Jerry Bennett's Comic ArtThat emotion is exactly why Hollywood has latched onto comics, Bennett believes. And it’s working, if the rising number of fans at Comic Cons across the country is any indication. Bennett enjoys socializing at the Comic Cons and meeting celebrity actors. More importantly, it has been his door into the publishing industry, and he has several big prospective projects on the horizon. He’s hopeful that in the future he’ll establish his own graphic novel series—one that might land on the big screen someday.

Bennett may not be leaping tall buildings in a single bound, but that crucial leap of faith to pursue art full time has quickly escalated his career to enviable heights.

“It seems like so many people give up on their aspirations—I’m blessed and fortunate to be one of the few living my dream.” WOW!

 

If you enjoyed this, check out another story I did about a year ago that mentions Jerry’s artwork and how he is inspired by animals.

Artists Inspired by the Zoo https://amydeestephens.wordpress.com/wp-admin/post.php?post=961&action=edit

 

 

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Bryan Crump, Oklahoma Body Painter

Cover Story, "Body of Work" by Amy Dee Stephens, Outlook Oct 2014.

Cover Story, “Body of Work” by Amy Dee Stephens, Outlook Oct 2014.

Article: Body of Work

Written by Amy Dee Stephens, Outlook Magazine, October 2014

One might think that the latest superhero movies are the inspiration behind Bryan Crump’s body painting—but he explains it as an art that has been around since the dawn of time.

Bryan Crump at workBody painting is one of the earliest forms of expression,” Crump said. “It’s been used in tribal ceremonies, wars and weddings. Cave men painted their bodies to scare predators away. For the opposite reason, women paint their faces every day.”

Crump uses his elaborate artistic skills to transform people into fantasy creatures. By using skin and clothing as his canvas, he creates a temporary art form that, he believes, has a much longer-lasting effect than a costume at a party. For this reason, he calls his work “transformational art.”

“I’ve watched people with low self-esteem, who come in slouched and talking in a whisper, become confident, vocal and stand taller,” Crump said. “Sometimes they aren’t even recognizable. They feel something they’ve never felt before.”

The reasons someone might choose to be painted are varied. Some are models needing a new look for their modeling portfolios, others are going to a club or an event and want to stand out. Crump’s early work was with a jewelry company that hired him to paint their jewelry models in Las Vegas. He later worked with movie costume crews in the Los Angeles entertainment industry. His portfolio includes actress Sasha Williams, the Oklahoma City Ballet Company, and models featured in Swimsuit Illustrated Magazine.

Regardless of why customers choose to be painted, watching people’s look and behavior change is highly motivating to Crump.

“Many of them just want to try a new experience. I spend time talking to my clients to find out where they are coming from and what story they are trying to tell.”

Because his artwork causes people to embrace alternate personalities, he’s cautious about transforming customers into evil characters, such as demons or zombies. According to Crump, “If people have a dark side and I turn them to into a monster—they can become monstrous. It’s not comfortable for me to nurture someone’s dark side.”

Crump had practiced art from childhood. Growing up on an acreage, he ventured into the forest and used his imagination to build a fairytale world. He drew dragons and learned Japanese animation so well that, in high school, his work was published by B. Dalton Bookseller, and he was a guest on the local Ranger Roger television show.

Navi FaeBody painting started as a hobby for his friends back in 1997. While doing some photography work for the Oklahoma City Ballet in 2012, he was invited to paint one of the highly-costumed ballet performers for the show Firebird. He decorated the dancer’s unitard with elaborate flowers and flames, and before performances, he painted her face to match. The character was photographed and quickly became an icon for the show’s posters and promotional materials.

“That was a dream come true for me,” Crump said. “At the time, my mother was very sick—but she got to see that before she passed away. She saw my art promoted by such a respected venue as the ballet.”

As with any art, Crump’s work is unique and personal. On average, he spends two to eight hours on a body painting project. Holidays and special events are peak season for him, during which he uses assistants to help with base layers so that he can focus on the detail work.

For Crump, temporarily transforming people into heroes or fantasy creatures breaks down barriers and self-perceptions. It also can be a lot of fun. Crump recalls a visit to the state fair with some friends he had painted. In the exhibit hall, a vendor had a cartoon character prop by his booth. Suddenly, the vendor looked up and saw additional characters next to his. He thought someone had put up new props—until they moved!

“My creations generate so much excitement and wonder—and the response is that viewers start to engage their own imaginations. For an artist, that’s an amazing process.”

Model: Navi Fae. To learn more Bryan Crump or his body painting classes, visit facebook.com/thecrumpeffect.

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Bryan Crump Says:

September 30th, 2014 at 10:40 am
It is an honor to have my work featured. Thank you so much for covering what my team and I do. It would not be possible without some amazing people that I have worked with. I hope this article inspires people in some positive and awesome ways.

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“Wise Woman” Lives by Essential Oils

The Essence of Nature

Written by Amy Dee Stephens in the September 2014 Outlook Magazine Issue

A Native American legend tells of a wise woman who found a precious gemstone and gave it to a weary traveler.  At first the traveler left rejoicing, but he soon came back and said, “I’m returning this to you for something more precious—to understand what enabled you to give me this stone.”

Living on an acreage near Guthrie, Oklahoma, is a modern-day wise woman. Elizabeth Skala, 77, has spent 25 years learning the arts of natural healing. She has traveled the world, studied ancient techniques and sat at the feet of brilliant scientists—and she shares her gemstones of knowledge with others.

Elizabeth SkalaSkala lives alone in a log cabin which she built for herself at the age of 62. She maintains her own garden, rides her bicycle daily, doesn’t wear reading glasses, has an impeccable memory, takes no prescription medications and hasn’t needed to visit a doctor in 23 years. Skala uses the traditional healing methods to maintain her health—herbs, essential oils, nutritional foods and massage therapies. But her handy iPad and advanced knowledge of biochemistry lend credibility to her message that healing comes from plants.

“This is not new information—it’s very old information that’s been used throughout the ages,” Skala said.  “People are starting to realize the value of what was practiced by the Egyptians, the Israelites and the ancient Chinese cultures.”

Skala shares her craft by teaching a variety of classes and offering her therapies. She starts with some basic tenets of health—that people need to stay hydrated, they need to move and they need to eat nutrient-dense foods. “Let food be your medicine,” Skala said. “Right now, I have chicken bones cooking on my stove for a family member who’s recovering from a hip replacement. Bone broth is an old, but effective remedy.”

In addition to nutrition, Skala has studied other alternative healing methods, which range from acupuncture to aromatherapy. Lesser-known techniques she has used include light therapy and the ancient art of vibrational medicine. The method gaining the most attention lately is the use of healing oils.

Skeptics might label Skala as a witch doctor or a New-Ager, but she’s a God-fearing woman who is quick to point out that healing oils are referenced hundreds of times in the Bible. “There’s a reason the wise men brought frankincense and myrrh to Christ. Oils were regularly used in anointing rituals,” Skala said. ”Scientists know that oils have a small enough molecular structure to get into the cellular level. There’s nothing witchcraft about that.”

Skala shares that sentiment with several local doctors who are finding success in treating illness with essential oils. Dr. H. K. Lin, a medical researcher at the University of Oklahoma, has long-term proof that frankincense oil can kill cancer cells. In Edmond, Dr. Michael Cheng is one of two dentists in the country finding success in eliminating early-stage cavities with a blend of herbal oils.

During Skala’s twenty years of training in botanical therapies, she has become involved with Young Living Essential Oils, a company that grows, harvests and distills their own plants. They openly provide information about the uses of essential oils—topics which Skala incorporates into the classes she teaches.

Students have seen dramatic changes in their health and mental well-being after trying Skala’s therapies. One student shared her story of extreme fatigue and depression, which left her facing a lifetime of medications. Sandy Miller attended Skala’s class two years ago, and she is now medicine-free and feels twenty years younger. The effect was so profound that Miller is completing her degree in holistic health and is starting to co-teach classes with Skala.

Sandy Miller and Elizabeth Skala“I had to take responsibility for my own health,” Miller said. “Our bodies can’t handle so many chemicals. We’re masking symptoms instead of listening to our bodies. Now, my medicine cabinet consists of plant-based oils—and they work better.”

According to Miller, bacteria is quickly becoming resistant to synthetic antibiotics, making it “a race between science and the super bug.” Unlike the precise recipes of prescription drugs, essential oils vary slightly in their composition because they are grown in different soil and weather conditions—making it tougher for bacteria to become universally resistant.

Both Skala and her apprentice can share endless success stories of using peppermint for headaches, lavender for insomnia or fennel for digestion. “And if an oil doesn’t work perfectly—at least you know it’s not going to harm you, either,” Miller said.

Despite Skala’s incredible health, she has no illusions about aging. She takes more rests than she used to—but one can’t deny the miracle of living an active, pain-free life in one’s seventies. This 21st century wise woman attributes her well-being to her lifestyle of nutrition, essential oils, spending time with nature…and passing along these gemstones of knowledge to others.

“It’s my mission to share that awesome healing power with others,” Skala said. “It’s wonderfully satisfying to realize how beautiful and bountiful nature can be.”

Classes will be taught at Energetic Wellness 501 E. 5th Street, Ste. 500C, Edmond. For more information about our free classes, email sandy@essentialoilsokc.com.

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How I Wrote the Book “Oklahoma City Zoo: 1960-2013”

by Amy Dee Stephens

My second zoo history book, Oklahoma City Zoo: 1960-2013, hit stores last week! I’ve known I would write “Part 2 in the series” for many years, but I kept putting it off as my attention was focused on other things. Last fall, Arcadia Publishing contacted me and asked if I would write another book because my first one had successfully sold over 2,000 copies (a good number for a local history book). That was the impetus I needed; it was time to write that book.

Oklahoma City Zoo: 1960-2013, released August 19, 2014.

Oklahoma City Zoo: 1960-2013, released August 19, 2014.

Who Agrees to Write a Book in 6 Weeks?

I had a lot of overtime built up at work, so I took off about 45 days in the winter to write. Being used to writing magazine articles on a short deadline, having weeks sounded do-able. I signed the contract on Halloween, and started a few days later.

Taking off to write a book sounds great—right? But it was such a hectic time. My grandma, Myrtle Davidson,

went into hospice and passed away, and my husband had surgery, so I had a hard time fitting the book in! I had chosen a mid-December deadline in order to push myself to get it done before the holidays. Many times afterward I chastised myself for being so ridiculous. I stayed up ‘til midnight, one, or two a.m. nearly every night. After logging 250 hours in six weeks, I turned the completed manuscript in on December 18th.

Photographic Treasures

Although the writing was important, another major factor to this book was gathering good-quality photos for each story. First, I sorted through 10,000 photographs in the zoo’s collection. About 100 of these will be in the book, but I didn’t have much representing the 1960s and 1970s.

A fortunate event occurred when I visited the Oklahoma History Center to inquire about any historical images they might have. Within a few hours, an archivist made a very kind allowance—he took me downstairs to the basement where hundreds of unprocessed boxes of Daily Oklahoman photos were stacked. The newspaper had recently donated their archives to the history center, but staff has barely started to scan the images.

With a little searching, we found four boxes under Oklahoma City Parks; Lincoln Park. I donned white gloves, and for two days I sorted through precious photos dating between the 1920s and early 1980s. Only fellow historians could understand how exciting it was to go through such treasures! The staff quickly scanned these in, and I suddenly had another 100 high-quality images to add to the book.

Selecting the Cover

Finding the right cover photo was challenging. Why? Besides picking an appealing photo, there had to be empty space at the top to allow for the title— almost impossible! Who takes a photo with great material only on the bottom third? My publisher dropped a number of photos into their template—but none of them popped for me. I wanted both animals and people in the photo, something that felt old-fashioned, and an image that wouldn’t make all zoo people run screaming because of antiquated practices (such as dressing chimps up in clothing). I’d found lots of cute kids with goats from the Children’s Zoo, but they felt too farm-ish.

Finally, I found this picture of five men lifting a Galapagos tortoise. It had nice action, looked dated (being from 1961 and including one man smoking a pipe), and it had an obvious “zoo” animal. One of the men happened to be a significant Oklahoman named Bob Jenni, who worked at the zoo and later became a wildlife filmmaker who opened his own wildlife center. It was perfect.

This last-minute photo substitution was special to my family.  Photo by Amy Stephens.

This last-minute photo substitution was special to my family. Photo by Amy Stephens.

Tweaks and Proofs

By spring, I started receiving proof copies of the book to review. I could tell I’d written it in a sleep-deprived state, as I found some obvious errors. Luckily, the publisher allowed me to make corrections. Since I’ve worked at the zoo for 16 years—the last chapters of the book were mostly written from memory. I was able to include events of importance to me—and a few of my family members even made appearances in the photographs. One image about Cat Forest wasn’t working well with the text, and at the last minute, I thought of the perfect image—a family photo of my late step-son visiting Cat Forest a few months before he died. The substitution was made, and I didn’t tell anyone until the first copy arrived in the mail. When I showed it to my family, we all got a little teary eyed.

It’s A Wrap

One day, the editor and I were making little word tweaks, and the next day I got an email that the book was “going to print in the morning.” It seemed so sudden. And so final. For the record—I wouldn’t recommend writing a historical book in 6-weeks. Although the subject was familiar and close to my heart, it took a long time to wade through 50+ years of research to pinpoint the most important themes. I also didn’t have the luxury of mulling over things, like I did with my first book, Oklahoma City Zoo: 1902-1959, which I wrote over a 2-year period. I’m proud of the final product, and doubt it would be much different if I had taken a little longer– but with my self-inflicted deadline, I didn’t have time to savor the process.

In less than a year, the book went from “okay, I’ll write a book” to “for sale in stores.” That’s pretty great! I hope to do another one someday—but next time, I plan to allow myself a little bit more time.

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An Embarrassing Moment at the Nancy Drew Sleuth Convention

I love listening to old-time radio programs from the 1930s and 1940s. I was super excited to experience the Scott Paulson “Nancy Drew’s Tiki Terror Radio Drama” on Thursday night at the Nancy Drew Sleuth Convention. In fact, I contacted Scott to see if he needed an additional reader (yes, I touted my degree emphasis in musical performance and my daily experience in front of an audience). He was won over and said I could have a role in the script.

I practiced my Judy Garland-esque voice, trying to eliminate my Okie accent. I wore my favorite sparkly sweater and 1940s up-do. And when he handed me the script, a few minutes before show-time, he said, “You work at a zoo, right? I have the perfect part for you.”

What could it be, I wondered excitedly?

My moment in the radio spotlight with Scott Paulson.

My moment in the radio spotlight with Scott Paulson.

“You get to be the monkey.”

Yep. The monkey.

I said, “Thank you, sir. I’ll do my best.” I took a deep breath and cringed as I opened the script. My worst fears were confirmed. I would be “eeking” my way through the entire show. Thirty-four times, I would step up to the microphone and screech out an obnoxious “EEK EEK!!!”

Goodbye Judy Garland.

I exited the room and went to the hotel stairwell to mentally prepare for my unexpected role. My pep talk to myself went something like this, “Might as well be a good monkey. I hear monkeys nearly every day. I can do this. Be the monkey.”

I practiced a few quiet shrieks and tried some voice inflection. Yes, I could definitely pull off a semi-authentic-sounding primate. Moments later, I was sitting in a chair near the stage, ready to make my debut on page 7. One cue, I stepped up to the microphone and smiled at the audience. They had no idea what was coming.

Performing as the radio "monkey."

Performing as the radio “monkey.”

George: This pillow is so soft and inviting!

Nancy: That’s more than a pillow, George. It’s a monkey.

George: Ahh!!!

Monkey: EEE! eeEE! eeEE!

The reaction was palpable and I knew I’d nailed it.  I saw a few people jump in surprise.  For the rest of the script, I “eeked” my little heart out. I had sad “eeks,” questioning “eeks,” and accusing “eeks” as the script dictated.

The questions received at the end of the show cracked me up. “Did you audition for that part?” “Have you done this show before?” “Do you have experience making monkey noises?” They were totally serious!

So, embarrassed might not be the right word, because once I embraced the part—it was fine. The initial disappointment at not having a glamourous role was probably my biggest hang-up, but I confess to feeling proud when both Scott Paulson and the Nancy Drew play producer, John Maclay, had nice things to say about my primate portrayal. After all, they are professionals.

My reputation among the Nancy Drew Sleuths changed that night. I was fairly unknown among these people before that moment. Now, it seems I’ll forever be remembered for being the monkey. Although I wore mostly dresses at the conference, I might as well have been in my zoo uniform from that point on. I made the oblivious choice of ordering a banana with my lunch the next day—and everyone noticed.

Be the monkey, Amy. “EEEK!”

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At the Nancy Drew Sleuth Convention

Amy and Nancy, acting all 1930s!

Amy and Nancy, acting all 1930s!

This June, I attended a fun and frivolous fan event in San Diego for readers of the Nancy Drew Series. The Nancy Drew Sleuth Convention had exactly the right mix of nostalgia, mysterious clues, a surprising amount of education, and several opportunities to dress up in period clothing—what more could a girl want? Add in about 75 nice folks who like reading books, a few experts and some celebrities, and it was all I could hope for.

Highlights included a 1930s murder mystery, a tour of the Keeline Family’s private collection, a mystery scavenger hunt at the San Diego Zoo, a radio program performance, and a 1970s night celebrating the Nancy Drew/Hardy Boys television show. Actors Pamela Sue Martin (Nancy Drew) and Parker Stevenson (Frank Hardy), along with show producers Joyce Brotman and Arlene Sidaris were the guest speakers.

Amy with Parker Stevenson who acted as Frank Haredy on the Hardy Boys television show in the 1970s.

Amy with Parker Stevenson who acted as Frank Haredy on the Hardy Boys television show in the 1970s.

They discussed details about the show, especially fan reactions, and how the Hardy Boys episodes received higher ratings than Nancy Drew because, as Joyce said, “Girls want to watch boys on television and boys want to watch boys.”

Readers of the books, who had certain images in their heads about what the characters should look like, didn’t always agree with the producers about the actors who were selected for the show—especially the secondary characters (Ned looked too nerdy, George wasn’t pretty enough, etc.).

Amy with actress Pamela Sue Martin, who played Nancy on the 1970s Nancy Drew television show.

Amy with actress Pamela Sue Martin, who played Nancy on the 1970s Nancy Drew television show.

According to Arlene, the fans sent them so much feedback that they did affect change. Time and budget also dictated the show’s direction. The actors worked a straight 24 hours just to film the show’s “Haunted House” pilot, shot on location at Universal Studios, on the set of Psycho. Hannah Gruen’s character was hired, but then cut in order to give fans more time with the main characters.

Ratings spiked when Shaun Cassidy, as Joe Hardy, started singing on the show.  Parker mentioned that the two of them instantly clicked, and that Shaun was fun to work with and “his timing is wonderful.” When Pamela and Parker were asked if they would consider filming a 40-year reunion show, Pamela said no, Parker said yes, and Shaun no longer makes appearances and instead, focuses on his career as a writer and producer.

Amy with Arlene and Joyce, producers of the Nancy Drew/Hardy Boys television show.

Amy with Arlene and Joyce, producers of the Nancy Drew/Hardy Boys television show.

During the autograph session, I had a few moments to speak with each of them. To Pamela, I mentioned that I had watched several Nancy Drew episodes while deciding on a 70s costume to wear—and in all the scenes she wore neck scarves. She showed me a publicity photograph of her favorite green scarf that she kept for years. She was pleasant, although during the Question and Answer session, she very obviously didn’t want to talk about the negative aspect around why she left the show, stating that, “I don’t make a habit of looking back.”

Hanging out with the Hardy Boys!

Hanging out with the Hardy Boys!

Parker seemed genuine, polite, and unchanged from his television personality. As he and Pamela entered the banquet hall that night, the event coordinator verified their seating accommodations, and Parker was overheard saying something to the effect of, “Where would you like me to sit, Ma’am? This is your event.” He came across as a true gentleman. Parker also said he might consider acting again now that his kids are older, and he wouldn’t be as constrained by the long hours.

The celebrity visit was notable and worth documenting, but I also enjoyed the three days of lectures offered by 20 experts. This particular year, Nancy Drew shared the spotlight with other mystery series books, including Tom Swift, Fighters of Freedom, Connie Blair, Judy Bolton, Penny Parker and modern-day Jex Malone. The session featured a surprising range of topics, including a visit with the designers of the Nancy Drew gaming software, producer notes about a recent Nancy Drew play, and a profile of actress Bonita Granville, who played Nancy Drew in the 1938 and 1939 movies.

Again, I must comment on the enjoyment-factor of this convention. The coordinator, Jennifer Fisher, put so much detail into every aspect–from the custom-made table decorations to thoughtful gifts and door prizes. Jennifer, who has over 4,000 Nancy Drew collectibles herself, began Nancy Drew Sleuths as an online forum http://www.nancydrewsleuth.com in 2000 on the 70th anniversary of Nancy Drew. In 2007, she published the book Clues for Real Life: The Classic Wit and Wisdom of Nancy Drew. In San Diego, she shared her expertise about Mildred Wirt Benson, the original Carolyn Keene.

I will mention that my nostalgic feelings from reading the yellow-spine Nancy Drew books as a child was not my only reason for visiting San Diego. During the zoo scavenger hunt, I treasured a nice visit with my former zoo director from Oklahoma City, Dwight Scott, who recently took the post as San Diego Zoo director.

Amy with Gayla Peevey Henderson.  Photo by Cliff Henderson.

Amy with Gayla Peevey Henderson. Photo by Cliff Henderson.

I also spent a day with Gayla Peevey Henderson, who sang “I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas” as a child in 1953, but who has become a dear friend of mine over the last few years. Dwight and Gayla made my trip complete.

If you are a Nancy Drew fan, consider going to next year’s sleuth convention. I gained a new perspective about the books, the on-going legacy of Nancy Drew, and my own feelings about reading mystery books.

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