Monday, December 31, 2007

Writing by the Numbers: 2007 stats

New Year's is one of my favorite times of year--it gives me a good excuse to look at how I was doing, submission-wise (and otherwise) for my writing, and to set new goals for new year.

Here is how 2007 worked out, by the numbers:

I did a major rewrite of my new novel.
I wrote a book proposal (with a friend).
I wrote two new short plays.
I created this blog in March and have posted 172 times. (That should count at writing, yes?)

Play script submissions: 81. 14 were accepted so far (17%), 19 rejected. (Lots more still out there.)
Play queries: 69. 10 led to requests for scripts (14%)

queries to film producers: 44. 0 responses so far. (I was using the ScriptPIMP site, and it really crapped out on me this time.)

queries for book proposals: 2. Both were requested.

book proposal submissions: 3. 1 rejected so far.

queries for articles: 1. And it was rejected.

Productions/Audience for 2007:

I had 10 productions and readings (of 8 different plays, in New York, Chicago, and Boston), but those 10 productions only yielded 21 performances (i.e. one-night stands and festivals). Seven were of short plays or one-acts, one was a radio broadcast of a radio play, and the other two were of a full-length and a collection of short plays. (My goal was 52 performances, so I came up quite a bit short of goal this year.)

Approximately 750 people attended these performances (so audiences were small).

My published scripts sold about 1,000 copies, and yielded a handful of other productions. So if you add those in, my total attendance for the year was easily over 2,000. (My goal was 4,800. Yikes.)

I won one award (Pumpkin Patch won SlamBoston in November) and took a couple semi-finalist and finalist slots.

Lots of good news on the publishing front. Blinders was published by Original Works, Pumpkin Patch just got picked up by Playscripts, my collection Tightly Bound was published by Brooklyn, and four short plays (Measuring Matthew, Pumpkin Patch, Stop Rain, and Den of Iniquity) are all going to appear in Smith & Kraus "Best of" anthologies.


My goal this year was to bring in at least $4,800 from my writing-related activities (and now I'm including freelance editing and web gigs in this total). For once, I actually met and passed my goal. The productions mentioned above brought in a whopping $847, but the published plays brought in more than $1,000, and freelance editing, web work, and a one-time teaching stint, filled in the rest. (I sold a couple copies of Tornado Siren, my novel, but it didn't add much to the bottom line.) Next year, I'm going to need to make more money, but I'm on track for that to happen now, which is a relief.

That's about it. Not a bad year, though there's certainly room for improvement. The good news is that I just picked up a production of a radio play, Tundra Games, by Ciona Taylor productions. It should be a podcast in February. And I've got a short play production lined up in Boston for February, so at least something will happen in 2008.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

The Lion King vs. the ancient Greeks

Through great generosity on the part of my in-laws, this past week I got to go see The Lion King with Tracy and Noah. Noah just turned 8 years old and is the perfect age for the show. I'd heard a lot about the show over the years, and though I've always been a bit skeptical about the idea of adapting a cartoon movie into a Broadway show, I went eagerly anticipating Julie Taymor's highly theatrical staging.

Even having some idea of what to expect, I was still thoroughly impressed and enchanted by what she and the production team achieved. The use of masks and puppets inspired me somewhere deep, especially the way puppets and live actors were interlinked. (The giraffes are really, really cool.) They recreated many scenes from the film fairly exactly, but the most impressive was the canyon scene where Mufasa gets killed by the wildebeests. They mirrored the film's visuals, but it was even more intense live on stage. (The immense amount of money they spent on this show was well-spent. I do want to say, though, that last year, I saw an equally impressive theatrical creation by the Beau Jest Moving Theater here in Boston, in their Samurai 7.0, on a tiny fraction of the budget (one of my favorite shows ever, directed by Davis Robinson). It ain't the $$$, it's the vision.)

One pleasant surprise was that they managed to plug some of the narrative holes that exist in the movie version, especially around Nala.

Timon and Pumba stuck out in the stage version, seeming especially cartoon-like, especially in terms of appearance, while the rest of the production was more impressionistic and suggestive. I suppose it was done to give the smallest kids something they'd recognize, but it felt jarring to me.

Another positive surprise was how the entire play, especially stylistically, felt connected to an African sensibility (especially to my ignorant, Western POV). In the film, the only thing that really felt that way was the opening song, but in the stage version, it permeates throughout.

My son was captivated throughout the show, which is an accomplishment. However, when it was all over, I came to see the Ancient Greeks' wisdom in never showing murder or suicide on stage. In both the film and stage versions of the Lion King story, Scar falls off Pride Rock and is killed by the hyenas. In the film version, this killing is suggested by shadows. However, in the Broadway version, we actually see him fall (thanks to wires) and then see the hyenas striking at him as a group (stylistically), killing him, as he sinks below the stage. Noah was traumatized by this--for more than an hour after we left the theatre, all he could talk about was how angry he was at the hyenas for killing scar. He was inconsolable and totally sympathetic to Scar after witnessing his death. (He is easily obsessed, I admit.) I couldn't help wondering if maybe the Greeks were onto something. I think we underestimate the power of violence on stage at our peril.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

What I'm Reading: Nightstand Report

Over the past month, with work and the holidays, I've been a very slow reader. My nightstand pile is growing, rather than shrinking, though not for any lack of interest in the books on my part. Since it might take nearly forever to report on the books after I've actually read them, I'll at least mention them now. I've been trying to alternate fiction and non-fiction, but you'll see that my pile is heavily weighted with non-fiction act the moment.

The China Study by T. Colin Campbell and Thomas M. Campbell. I've been promising my wife, Tracy, that I'd read this for quite a while. She was so impressed by it that she bought copies for everyone in our family. I've already started it and it's already very compelling. At its heart are the results of dietary study that shows that despite positive mythology that began with scientists in the 19th century and was actively promoted by the meat industry, eating protein from animals is not good for your health, and actually can promote cancer. A diet rich in vegetables and whole grains is apparently the way to go.

Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer. Just got this one for Christmas. I've wanted to read something by Krakauer for a while, so here's my chance.

The Bubble of American Supremacy and The Age of Fallibility both by George Soros. These are there purely out of curiosity. Tracy's an academic librarian and received this because apparently Mr. Soros is rich enough to send out thousands of copies of his book to librarians across the country. I'm interested to learn why this guy feels strongly enough about his thoughts to write a book (or pay someone to write a book), rather than buy a broadcast network or newspaper and trick people about it (a la Rupert Murdoch).

Spelling Love with an X by Clare Dunsford. This book is by one of the writers in my fiction writer's group--I've read pretty good chunks of it, and it's great. I've been waiting for an open slot of time and concentration, because I want to really take it all in. The subtitle--A mother, A Son and the Gene that Binds them gives you a sense of what it's about. She's a terrific writer and handles the subject of parenthood and fragile x syndrome with poetry and wisdom.

Last Night at the Lobster by Stewart O'Nan. Here's the one novel in the pile (and it's a short one). I heard Stewart give a reading of it at Brookline Booksmith a month or so ago. I was totally blown away by O'Nan's book, A Prayer for the Dying, and I can't wait for this new one, though it's going to be totally different.

A Cabinetmaker's Notebook by James Krenov. I'm reading this as some research for my new novel, but I'm sort of taking a break from that project at the moment, so I'm not sure when I'll get to this book, though it looks to be the perfect sort of thing, and just what I like to read. I fear that I've renewed this from the library about as many times as I can. Might be time to just pick up a used copy online.

Boston's Abolitionists by Kerri Greenidge. I've taken the African American Freedom Trail tour around Beacon Hill three or four times. The author of this book used to give those tours, and she's also the sister of one of the writers in Rhombus, my playwright's group. I have a feeling that once I read this, I'll have a few ideas for a few new plays.

Mind Performance Hacks (Tips & Tools for Overclocking Your Brain) by Ron Hale-Evans. Tracy read this and liked it (as if she wasn't smart enough already). If I don't read it, I'll never have a chance of keeping up with her.

The Fourth Bear by Jasper Fforde. This is actually not in the pile, since my father-in-law has it in Connecticut. I want to read it soon, but the argument was made that perhaps he, and an entire army of other readers, might finish it before I'm able to get to it. Jasper is always good for a laugh, and I loved the first book in this series, The Big Over Easy.

Ah, it's almost a new year, and I'll have plenty of new resolve to read my way through the pile.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Notes from the underground: part 1

I have not completely vanished from the face of the earth, though from my blogging frequency there's no evidence to support this. Instead, I've just been crazy busy trying to juggle three different freelance gigs. This means I've been trying to work every possible minute, in order to stay caught up.

I'm not particularly used to working and getting paid directly for my time. For quite a few years I've written on spec, my real estate adventures (being a landlord, converting a house into condos) were all on spec, and then I spent time taking care of the kids, helping promote theatre productions, and run community gardens (none of which paid anything). Especially after so many years of working as a playwright, where money takes a while to trickle in (if ever), it's kind of nice to get paid a decent wage, promptly. Especially in a month with $600 of car repairs and Christmas presents to buy. And it's not so bad to fantasize a little more seriously about us taking an actual trip somewhere some day. Or saving for Kira's college fund, or Noah's braces.

The odd thing, though, is that getting paid for your time makes you work a little less hard at enjoying how you spend that time. When the time is mine and only mine, I have a strong incentive to ensure that I get the most satisfaction from how I spend it (for the past two years, I found writing a novel very satisfying). Otherwise, I'm just cheating myself. There's nothing to be had other than satisfaction (which is more accurate than "pleasure"--I'm not sure writing or creating works of art is necessarily pleasurable, but it certainly is engaging and satisfying).

The paid work that I'm doing at the moment is pretty engaging, but that feels more like luck than intention or necessity. My time spent away from work gets a little warped, because I can think, "Sure, I can blog for fifteen minutes, or I can get back to work and earn another ten bucks. And I could use ten dollars." (The jobs I'm doing at the moment aren't the kind where I get to get paid to daydream and surf the internet.)

Luckily, I've been able to squeeze in 6-9 hours of paid work every day this week, despite needing to pick up the kids from school, cook dinner, help with homework, shovel snow, and do a little bit of sledding after the blizzard.

Anyway, my brain is a little fried at the moment. I need to get some rest, so I can get up at 5:30 and get in a few hours before the house gets hopping tomorrow.

A few brief thoughts first:

There's nothing quite like sledding on a foot of fresh snow. Noah and I went to a huge hill at Larz Anderson park yesterday and had a blast. Sledding is something that I would do even if I didn't have kids. A good sled run is a moment of pure joy for me.hooded merganser

I had the delight of seeing a hooded merganser this morning while I was out walking the dog. What a treat to see a bird different from the usual Canada geese and mallard ducks.

My kids assembled our Christmas tree all by themselves today. You don't really picture them doing this when they're babies.

I feel grateful to be married to a woman with whom it's fun to do just about anything, including Christmas shopping. We've been married for almost twenty years, and I'm glad we're not sick of each other yet.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Fox has broken my heart

Stupid Fox network. Stupid, stupid, stupid. They cancelled the show Firefly after only airing ten episodes (14 were shot). Yeah, this all happened in 2002, so I'm a little behind the curve. Tracy and I recently borrowed the boxed set of the series , after hearing positive things about it from so many friends.

I was unimpressed by the two-hour pilot. It seemed like Joss Whedon was taking himself way too seriously, and the whole space western thing seemed like an awkward beast to me. But by the second or third episode I was totally hooked. The plots were definitely meant for grown-ups, with some fun but complicated relationships between the characters, which I liked, and a good mix of humor and seriousness. The writing was sharp and the chemistry between the actors sparkled. I've read that Whedon intended the series to run for seven years, and even in the first half of a season, you can see seeds being planted. I was actually surprised at how fast we got to know the characters, which made the sudden end of the series feel all the more jarring.

Most TV series that vanish do so for good reason, but every once in a while, you can't help but think the network executives passed up something really cool. Firefly is one of those times, one of those things I see, and say, I wish I could have worked on that. Damn shame. Watch it if you get the chance.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

When Bad News is Good News

I was waiting to hear about an assignment from a temp agency today. I'd gotten a call last week, when I just had a little bit of freelance work lined up, and it's wasn't certain, but it looked like the agency needed a whole bunch of people to work 20 hours a week, all through Christmas, including Christmas week. The pay wasn't great, but it was four solid weeks of work, so maybe I'd earn enough so I would get some writing time in January. Squeezing in all those work hours alongside the other two projects would be tough, but possible.

Then at the start of this week, I got a message from a company that I've been waiting for, for some high level business writing/editing work. A job that could pay very well, and if I did a good job, might become moderately steady. It's not a done deal yet, but they might want me for a project in late December/January.

All of a sudden, it looked like I might have a severe excess of desired work. With strong cooperation and understanding from my family, and a lot of self-discipline and not too much sleep or fun, I could manage to meet my commitments and earn the money. Worth doing, but it'd make the holiday season a lot more challenging.

Today, I got the bad news that I didn't get the temp agency assignment. I'll miss earning the money, but I also breathed a sigh of relief. I'll be a lot more available to my other projects, as well as to my family. I should still make more than enough to cover what I need and some extra. And maybe I'll even squeeze in a little of my own writing this month, after all.

P.S. I did finish that ten-minute play that I started last weekend. It felt awfully good to finally write a new play, and to bring it in to my playwrights' group. After bringing them bits of my novel for two years, it was comforting to use the right tool for the job once and have them work on an actual play with me.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Actual Writing

All of last week, I was pretty busy with paying gigs, and various other excuses for not doing any writing. But my playwriting group, Rhombus, meets on Monday, and I'm supposed to actually bring something for the actors to read. That's one of the things that I love about our group--each writer (there are six of us) is expected to bring material to every meeting.

Unfortunately, I'm sort of between projects, and most of those are novels, and I've decided not to bring long fiction to the group (if I can help it). I've been feeling rusty about writing plays and didn't have a great burning idea. Luckily, I've been writing plays long enough to cut myself a little slack. I knew I didn't need to come up with anything brilliant. I just needed to come up with something. Two hours of ass-in-the-chair time helped that happen.

I find, when I'm a little stuck, it helps to not try to conjure greatness out of the void. Parameters are my friend. I knew that I need one more short play for my Collected Obsessions collection. I could look at the other plays, and try not to overlap, try to fill in the missing pieces in terms of style. By thinking about it this way, I knew that I wanted a two-woman comedy, that doesn't take place in an office or a house, and that the women couldn't be sisters or neighbors or romantically involved.

Maybe that doesn't conjure the great romantic notion of a writer sitting at his desk and stirring at the pot of genius. That's okay. I just needed the start to a scene, a chance to loosen up my playwriting muscles after a long stretch (I wrote short play over Memorial Day weekend for May Day Play Day, but that's been it for a while) of inactivity.

The good news is that I wrote a three-page start of a pretty goofy short play. I don't really care if it's good yet, but I'm glad to have it started.

have fun and feed the hungry

I know lots of you know about this already, but if you haven't tried it, give it a shot. It's pretty addictive--I just earned 3400 grains of rice, after making it up to level 48 (for a very short while).

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

How to Name Your Plays (Freeman)

Adam pointed this out on his web site. Very funny guide:

The Art of Not Knowing What the Hell You're Doing

I haven't blogged much lately, partly because of the Holidays, kids' birthdays, and life in general. Part of it has been that I've still been looking for work, or waiting to see if my looking has panned out. Some of it has, and I've gotten two small web design and writing jobs--one for my dad and one for a friend. The web stuff is basic, but I want to do a good job, and my skills are almost up to the basic level. I've been working hard at brushing up my html and adding some css knowledge, with a big stack of books on my desk, and a zillion web searches. The writing assignment is a challenge--trying to turn a very long and complicated legal case into something that makes sense to a general audience.

There are people whose greatest desire is to become an expert. They delve deeper and deeper into a topic, getting that PhD and beyond. Sometimes I really want to be one of those people. It sounds comfortable, reassuring, a way of approaching life with a certain confidence and serenity. (Or so it would seem from here.)

Apparently, I'm not one of those people. Instead, it seems like I'm always neck deep in some project that I don't really know how to do and don't know anyone who is likely to show me. I remember my first temp job, 20 years ago--I'd passed the tests by studying from the manuals (they were printed back then), but I'd never used the software on an actual computer. When I got to my first job, it took me half an hour just to figure out how to turn on the machine. (I ended up working there for more than a year.) The tasks that I don't know how to do, and up doing, vary--from being a landlord to repairing century-old double-hung windows, from producing radio dramas to writing novels. The list goes on (this year--coaching soccer, putting together PVC drainage pipes, subbing for a playwriting class...)

I don't know the exact nature of the appeal--the adrenaline, the challenge, the transition from feeling prickly, uncomfortable in my own skin to finally being grounded again. Being a writer fits in perfectly--because there's always a chance to try something that I just don't know how to do, or to write about something that I know nothing about (history of the Bible, Johannes Kepler and Tycho Brahe).

There are pluses and minuses to having a concerted lack of expertise. On the downside, it's hard to get paid much or often. People usually want to hire someone who is an expert at a given task. Same applies to teaching gigs. And those cool NPR talk shows, where they chat with people who seem to know every obscure detail about the topic at hand--they're not looking for jacks-of-all-trades.

The upside is that I never get bored. Some of the skills I learn end up being useful in tasks farther down the road. And I have a chance to fail, often. This might not sound like a big positive on the surface, but in a way, it's what makes life worth living, isn't it? (Not that the failures don't bring with them a hefty bag full of depression.)

I've just finished getting comments from my readers (thanks, guys!) on my new novel. This is only my second novel, and I definitely don't know what the hell I'm doing. I'm trying a double first-person narrative, scattered over a period of twenty years, in both the present and past tense. It is not brilliant (my readers were kind but firm about this). It might not even quite be good. Yet. I've been working on it for two years, and I'm not sure that I'm ready to launch back into it, or if I need a little break first (my opinion on this changes by the hour). I have an idea for how I might fix it, but I'm not sure that I completely know how. I guess I wouldn't have it any other way.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

The Price of Sugar

When my friend Dan was out here last week, we got to see a terrific new documentary film, The Price of Sugar, which was edited and co-written by another friend of mine, Peter Rhodes. The film is a powerful look at the sugar plantations in the Dominican Republic and their use of Haitians for near-slave labor. Dan blogs about it very nicely on his blog. The film raises a lot of important questions about injustice, race, and the state of the world's poor. And makes you want to be a lot more thoughtful before you run out to buy sugar. (For the record, I found some fair trade sugar at Whole Foods.) The film also tells the story of a very interesting Catholic priest who is putting his life on the line to try to help the Haitians, in the face of strong opposition from the wealthy family who owns one of the plantations. I've been a critic of the Church for many of its policies, but it seems like they've done some important things for the Haitians in the Dominican Republic.

Don't be surprised to see this on the shortlist for the Academy Awards.

Good News: Lies, Lies, Lies at BCA in 2008

I just found out that CentaStage will produce my short play, Lies, Lies, Lies, at the Boston Center for the Arts, as part of 8 short plays set in bars and restaurants. I don't have all the details yet, but Joe Antoun will direct, and the show will run for 11 performances, opening February 15th.

CentaStage gave me my Boston debut when we moved back here in 2000, with my play Christmas Breaks as part of The Xmas Files. I'm excited to have a chance to work with them again. Lies, Lies, Lies is a funny play for me--it's my most popular play with Brooklyn Publishers--more than 1,200 students have bought copies of the script to use in competition, but it's only had one professional production (last year in Virginia) and I've never seen it on stage.

The other good part about this news is that it gives me something ahead on the schedule. After the Pumpkin Patch show last week, the calendar looked awfully empty. It's reassuring to know I've got something lined up in the not-too-distant future. No many how many productions I get, I always worry that the time is ripe for a big dry spell.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Good News: Pumpkin Patch wins SlamBoston

Tracy and I got out to the Boston Center for the Arts to see Pumpkin Patch in SlamBoston last night (it's nice having a teenager who can babysit for her little brother now). The evening was completely sold out--I had friends who showed up and got on the waiting list and didn't get in. The full house and the slam nature of the event started the night out with a palpable electricity--exactly the sensation that I want from an audience whenever I go to the theatre.

My show went sixth out of eight. The scripts were a mix, in terms of quality, but they were better than the average fare at a short-play festival. The time limit was supposed to be 14 minutes, but at least three of the plays ran over 18-minutes, which was a bit problematic (for them). Pumpkin Patch came in between 8 and 9 minutes, which was appreciated by the audience. Judging was done by five judges from the audience, who rated each play on a scale from 1-10 (they were encouraged to be generous, so the numbers tended to be in the 9s).

The performance was everything I wanted it to be. The audience really hooked into it, especially since the preceding play was pretty low key, without much interaction between the characters. My play is full of conflict. At first, we got a lot more laughs than I expected. Part of it was just the energy of the evening, and part of it was appreciation on the part of the crowd for the absurdity of the conversation between the characters. Then, when the racial undertones bubbled up to the surface, you could hear the crowd catch its breath and lean forward, as they followed the tone shift.

The big explosion of action that happens near the end of the play, when the white woman smashes the pumpkins was totally intense. We had three styrofoam "funkins" that I got at the craft store--they looked great, completely realistic. But we didn't have the budget for a practice smash, so the actress, Eliza Lay, had to try it for the first time live in performance. She smashed the first one easily, and managed to demolish the other two (with a brief scary moment, when one of them started to squirt away). Eliza really let loose. The spurt of onstage action and violence grabbed the audience completely, and the ending felt worked well, with actress Ebony Mills making some strong choices. (Kortney Adams did a great job directing this piece.)

When it was over, it was clear that the piece was one of the stronger one of the evening, but there was tough competition. I particularly liked Linda Suzuki's play, Just Sex, which felt both witty and true, and had a fantastic performance from Philana Gnatowski.

Anyway, when the evening was over, our production squeaked out ahead (and we won glory and cold, hard cash). It was especially rewarding to have my play staged so well for an appreciative audience (I just wish it could run longer). It was one of those nights that reminds me why I do this crazy theatre thing

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Why Theatres are Stupid

Earlier this week, I bought a ticket for my wife to go see my play Pumpkin Patch in SlamBoston. $17 ticket, but that's okay (I had a comp for my own seat). However, when I went online to buy the ticket, there was a surcharge of $4.50. (That's more than 25%.) What?

So I called the box office number instead, so I could buy my ticket by phone. The woman said they'd charge me the same surcharge. If I came down to the box office in person, then I could buy the ticket for the straight $17. She told me that there were plenty of tickets left, so it'd probably be okay to wait. (Luckily we didn't wait--since the show sold out completely and not everyone on the waiting list got seats.)

This is stupid.

On-line box office services are very exciting, especially for small theatres, because they reduce labor costs, they enable small theaters to accept credit card purchases, and they reduce no-shows. In the old days, when we used to have reservation lines on our answering machines, patrons would reserve seats but not pay. No-shows, depending on the weather, might range from 30-50% for small companies. With on-line box office set ups, patrons buy tickets ahead of time and companies don't lose money on no-shows. This is using technology to improve the method of doing business. Ticketing is more accurate (rather than notes scribbled on the back of envelopes). Tracking is possible. The company can start building a mailing list. All very cool. Theatres want patrons to buy their tickets online.

Unfortunately, they don't act that way. Instead they penalize the behavior that they're seeking. Companies need to train their patrons to buy online, pay ahead, and show up for shows. Music promoters have long understood how to train their audiences--tickets are cheaper in advance, more expensive at the door.

This is basic stuff. I know that venues sometimes force the use of the in-house box office and tack on large fees. On-line services, like TheatreMania, can take a couple bucks per ticket. But that's part of the cost of doing business. It costs more to have no-shows, or to drive people away from theatre because they don't want to pay surcharges and don't want to risk showing up without a reservation or ticket.

Technological innovations are supposed to make processes more efficient and cheaper, folks. Theatres, especially small theatres, need to pay attention.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Typing Tundra

Late last night I got it into my head that I wanted to submit my radio play Tundra Games for an opp that seemed the perfect match. I looked everywhere, but there was clearly no script on my computer—I lost it and Love and Lightning a few years ago in a hard drive crash, and I’ve needed to enter them ever since.

I finally found a copy in a published book from MRTW (Midwest Radio Theatre Workshop) from 1993 (yes, I've been writing scripts for a very long time). Surprisingly, it was great fun typing up the play. It’s a brutal and funny script—the conflict and back and forth is so clear. There’s no finesse, but it’s really a sharp piece—very crisp. It’s still good to go, after almost 15 years. I just wish there were more places that might be interested, but there’s no market for radio drama. Too bad.

I wonder if sometimes I’m at my best writing for radio—it’s pure ear, and that’s one of my strengths—but I turned away from it long ago, because there was nothing to do with the stuff. The money was worse than theatre, and it had only a small audience, though the stuff I did write has been produced and broadcast a few times. Now, with podcasts, it might all come back. I only ever wrote four radio plays, but I learned it fast, because the for the very first one, I won a grant to produce my play and scripts by three of my friends. I had no idea what I was doing, but I learned the hard way, and producing taught me clearly what works and what doesn't on radio. It was a great example of how the hands on stuff is so important for writers. I found the same thing was true for theatre--self-producing my first full-length play off-off Broadway was more valuable than a handful of classes.

Tundra Games got sent out this morning. Maybe it'll find a new life.

(Summary: Two professional killers lose the evidence of their hit and their improvisation gets ugly. A dark, dark comedy of snowmobiles, severed fingers, and revenge served ice cold.)

SlamBoston on Tuesday

Pumpkin Patch will be part of SlamBoston on Tuesday, 8pm, at the BCA (Boston Center for the Arts) at 8pm. I'm pretty excited--Kortney Adams is directing a cast that I really like. Should be fun. You can buy tickets online at the BCA site. ($17) Should be a fun evening. Fellow Boston theatre blogger, Art Hennessey is directing one of the shows. It's a one-night only show, so I hope it turns out well. It's a competition of some sort--I can't remember exactly how the judging works. I figure we've got a small chance, because we're a drama. Comedies tend to get a big reaction in short fests like these, so it's hard to compete with them.

The pumpkins are always an issue with this play, but I found some really good looking ones. We'll just have to see how they perform on stage.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Good News: Best Ten-Minute Plays and Bulgaria

It's an odd phenomenon that rejections and acceptances seem to come in waves/heaps/piles/puddles. I just found out that two of my short plays, Den of Iniquity (which was just in NYC in EATFest and in Chicago) and Measuring Matthew, will be included in Smith & Kraus's upcoming anthology, Best Ten-Minute Plays 2008, 3 or More Actors. It's a thrill to be included (I had two plays in the 2007, 2-actor version, too).

At the same time, I also received some positive responses to queries I sent about a book proposal, a request from a community theatre for a script of Tightly Bound, and an e-mail from an actress/producer/agent in Bulgaria (yes, Bulgaria) with an offer to translate my full-length play, Hearing Voices, into Bulgarian (of course) and represent it, in the Bulgarian theatre scene.

Now I'm feeling greedy, of course, and I'm still checking my e-mail box, hoping this little spurt of good fortune hasn't petered out quite yet. We'll see.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Long Tail (and writing plays and books)

I recently read the book, The Long Tail (Why the future of Business is Selling Less of More) by Chris Anderson (editor and founder of Wired magazine). Basically, it's about how technology (especially the internet) is changing the way markets work (including or especially cultural markets) by 1) democratizing the tools of production, 2) democratizing the tools of distribution, and 3) connecting supply and demand.

The first element means more and more types of products to be created. The second means that more of them can be more easily offered to the public. And the third makes it possible for the public to find and get what they want. By doing this, business ends up needed to rely less on having huge "hits" when they have a product and can make a good chunk of their money by providing products for niche markets. Think of Amazon, Netflix, eBay, Rhapsody, iTunes.

Ah, but what does any of this have to do about writing?

Lots, actually.

First off, look at how modern technology has affected the means of producing written works. Not long ago, it was pretty laborious to write a novel or play. Working with a typewriter is painstaking work, and even the old word processors took a fair bit of effort. Then the submission process to agents, publishers, or theatres took hard work and patience, even to handle the physical aspects. There were no e-mail submissions. You had to photocopy everything, not just run off copies on your laser printer. (Anderson talks a lot in the book about how easy it is for people to make short films or recorded music.) All of this provided a barrier to the creation of new written works. It wasn't a huge barrier, but definitely restricted supply. Now, however, it's easier than ever to write and send manuscripts. As it gets easier, more and more people are able and interested in doing it. Not only that, but in terms of publishing a novel, there are huge opportunities for self and POD publishing and distribution.

The good part of this is that more people are able to express themselves creatively than ever before. The bad news for writers who want to make a living at writing, is that there is a glut of material and people who are writing. Book publishers and play producers have less incentive to make good deals with writers than ever before, and less incentive to treat professional writers fairly.

Unfortunately, in his book, Anderson doesn't at all talk about the impact of the Long Tail on the creators of products. If companies shift to selling fewer copies of more items, it means that workers end up making less. Now writers need to write more, because niche marketing is going to demand more creations, each of which will have a limited market.

The possible upside for writers comes from his point #2, democratization of distribution. If, rather than relying on large publishing companies to select which books (or plays) most people are likely to consume, effective filters (through recommendations, search engines, social networking) are what drive sales, then creators can come out ahead, because even though they'll reach smaller audiences, they'll get a larger percentage of each sale. At the moment, that's not happening, because publishers are taking most of the money out of the middle of the sales chain (much of it for production). In the future, if more writers end up selling completely directly to readers, then that's a whole different ballgame.

The whole Long Tail effect seems pretty clear on book publishing, but I'm still trying to understand better how it relates to plays. I see its effect with regard to play publishers (look at the rise of publishers like, with their strong online interface), but in the actual realm of producing plays, the long tail doesn't seem to come into play. Though technology allows for more plays to be written, it doesn't allow for more of them to actually be physically be produced. This bottleneck is harmful to playwrights (and there's not much we can do about it). Basically, it's a reminder to write plays if you love to write them, but understand that your chances of getting productions, especially decently paying productions, will continue to decline.

Indeed, the economics of producing plays is fairly dismal. It still takes the same number of people to put on a play now (basically) as it did a hundred years ago. There's precious little room for increased efficiency in the process. You can only reach so many people at a time in one small space. And although ticket prices for theatre have risen, but there's constant competition with mass mediums, that can operate more efficiently. As was pointed out in a recent issue of The Dramatist, royalty rates paid by theatres to produce published plays have scarcely risen in a generation. But playwrights have to pay rents, food prices and healthcare costs that have all skyrocketed in the past 30 years. And all of this has happened while public funding for the arts and artists has dropped dramatically. Remember when the NEA actually gave grants directly to playwrights? Big grants, ones that might help you live for a year or two. Playwriting isn't dying, there are plenty of people interested in writing plays, but the days of people making their living from it are over. Unfortunately, I'm not sure that's a great thing for theatre, because it takes a lot of time spent both writing at home and rewriting in rehearsal, to mold great playwrights, and I think we'll see less ultimately development of professional craftsmanship with writers of theatre.

I used to think that playwriting classes and programs were mildly immoral, because they were teaching people to do something at which they could no longer make a living. However, part of this book got me thinking about revising that opinion. It's a good thing that lots of people want to pursue their passion and write plays. Good for them. I still don't think it's a good thing to charge them tens of thousands of dollars for MFAs, but I think it is actually a decent act to help people learn to write plays. Hell, maybe I'll even teach a class. Because I know why they want to do it. But I know (and have known) better than to expect to earn my bread from writing plays anymore.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Craft Work

Yesterday, I went to an open house of the North Bennet Street School, to do some research for my new novel. The school teaches a whole variety of classes in fine craftsmanship-- bookbinding, jewelry making, violin making and repair, piano making, but I was mostly interested in cabinet and furniture making. In the full-time program, a handful of students spend two years learning to make handmade furniture, in a tradition that reaches back for centuries. The students I talked to had come from all walks of life--computer programmers, a coffin maker, a high school student, a stay-at-home mom--to dedicate themselves to making objects out of wood that are both practical and beautiful. They were happy to show me their tools and talk about what it takes to cut 140 dovetail joints by hand for a single piece, or to explain how hot sand shading works for inlay.

Usually, when I see cool stuff like this, I'm left feeling, "wow, that's really cool, I want to do that." And I already like working with wood--I've finished basements and rooms and have made bookcases and shelves and other pieces. But talking to these folks, I understood how it was a deep calling for them. And, what was interesting to me, I understood that I already have my calling. I'm lucky that way. Crafting a novel is not at all unlike someone building a carved chest or an intricate kneehole desk--each involved a detailed series of fine steps, steps that cannot be abridged. Mistakes are made and corrected. In the end, the final result is always imperfect, but perfection was never the goal.

Talking to the students and feeling their passion for their work inspired me to rededicate myself to mastering every aspect of my writing. And I appreciate the philosophy at North Bennet Street of fully understanding each step in the process. First semester students spend the first few weeks learning about wood, how to choose it and how it behaves. They also learn how to sharpen their tools. Hour after hour of sharpening.

Sometimes I think that I have approached my learning to write too haphazardly. I need to spend more time understanding the classics, as well as finding more books that I love and taking the time to disassemble them, to that I completely understand how and why they work.

The students talked about how time spent in the shop disappears while they're working. One of them said that's how he knows he's made the right choice. I feel the same way about my work.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

what writing life?

"Hey, Pat," you might say, "isn't this the Writing Life x3 blog? Where the stuff about writing?"

Fair enough. Yeah, yeah, the social justice stuff, Iraq war, blah, blah blah, is clogging up the works. The truth is that October was a very, very slow month for me, in terms of getting actual writing done. Partly this is because I finished a draft of the new novel at the end of September, then gave it to two readers, plus my wife, Tracy, to get their feedback, so I'm sort of waiting to hear from them before I get back to rewrites.

Couldn't you work on something else? What about the next novel (#3)? (Insidious influence note: this format shows that clearly I've been affected by Laura Axelrod's recent posts.)

I was thinking about that. But then I'd get started, and have to go back to revise #2 and lose my momentum on on #3. Or else have trouble going back and finishing #2 (which I really need to do by the end of the year or die trying.) I was going to work on doing some fill-in research on #2, but didn't really get to it.

How about something smaller? Like a short play? What did you do besides watch Daily Show clips all day?

Well, I guess I got sidetracked by this whole looking for a paying job thing. It's amazing how much time it takes, and that as much as I want to be go-go-go about it, there's a certain amount of waiting and patience required. I applied to a ton of different gigs and companies and sent in proposals. I did a bunch of work around the house, too. Oh, and I had productions in New York (which I got to attend and they did a good job) and Chicago. And I read a bunch of books, too, which was very helpful.

But in November?

Ah. Good question. Looks like more job hunting (but I'm getting some interviews and meetings now, which is cool). And tomorrow I'm actually taking a research field trip for novel #2 to a woodworking studio, which hopefully will inspire me to get off my ass and finish the rest of my research. And I should hear from my readers in a couple weeks and then start another round of revisions (I'm not planning on them saying, "Oh, Pat, it's brilliant, don't change a word, just send it to agents now." I know better.) (Not that deep, deep down inside, that isn't my secret fantasy.)

Sometimes a fallow month, writing-wise, is awfully helpful, despite being painful. I've got a lot of ideas kicking around in my head now, and I'm itching to get back to writing my novels again. I'm sure my family is ready for me to start rewriting and writing, because I get a little nuts when I'm not writing. I think I'll be back to normal soon. Really.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

My Letter to the Editor

Okay, so last week I put out a public challenge to myself to actually start taking some action about the Iraq War. I took step number one on Saturday, attending the peace rally. Today, I took step number two, and wrote a letter to the editor complaining about the poor coverage of the peace rally in Sunday's paper. I'm sending an actual piece of paper through the mail (I'm sure there's a tutorial on-line somewhere for those of you who only ever send emails) with a stamp and everything.

Here's what I wrote. I doubt they'll publish it, but someone will read it. If a hundred people sent letters like this one, they might actually pay attention.

Letters to the Editor
The Boston Globe
P.O. Box 55819
Boston, MA 02205

Dear Editor,

What a disappointment that coverage of Saturday’s peace rally at the Boston Common was buried in the Sunday Globe, all the way on page B6. The rally was part of a nationwide public outcry for peace, with more than 100,000 people taking to the streets in 11 cities across the U.S., yet your paper felt that it was less important than HOV lanes, Michelle Obama balancing campaigning and family, and malpractice by one particular doctor.

Our country has lost more than 3,800 soldiers and the Iraqis have suffered tens of thousands of civilian deaths in this conflict. The cost of the war is estimated to be more than $3,000 per person in the U.S. Clearly the push for peace and an end to the war is one that has deep impact and importance. Yet, if peaceful, large-scale protests are barely covered in the newspapers, how can we expect our government to take the public repugnance for this war seriously. Many people are unaware that a significant peace movement exists in this country—not because there isn’t one, but because its actions and demands are not carried in the media.

Newspapers are struggling to maintain their readership. Perhaps if they concentrated more on providing better coverage of news that impacts us all, their numbers would increase.


Patrick Gabridge

P.S. If you're interested in casualty figures, consider visiting

Peer Pressure and Political Action (and a belt system)

Dan's most recent post at Musings of a Minor Mennonite gave me a good laugh. Maybe what we need for more attendance at rallies for peace is a lot more peer pressure and competition.

Maybe social activists should have some sort of belt system, like for Tae Kwon Do (this list came from North Austin Tae Kwon Do).

Novice Students

White Belt The color white signifies innocence, as that of the beginning student who has no previous knowledge of Tae Kwon Do.

Orange Belt – The color orange signifies the changes of Autumn, as the student's mind and body begin to develop and grow as a result of the new Tae Kwon Do experience.

Yellow Belt – The color yellow signifies the earth. The beginning student begins to create a firm foundation in Tae Kwon Do technique, just as a seed begins to expand its root system deep in the earth as it begins to grow.

Intermediate Students

Green Belt – The color green represents growth, like that of the green plant as it sprouts out of the ground. The student has built a firm foundation and now begins to grow in the art of Tae Kwon Do.

Blue Belt The color blue represents the sky. Reminding the student to reach for the heavens and continue their Tae Kwon Do journey.

Purple Belt – The color purple represents the changing sky of dawn, as once again the student undergoes a new change and prepares for the transition to advanced student.

Advanced Students

Brown Belt – The color brown represents the ripening or maturing process as that of the advanced Tae Kwon Do student whose techniques are beginning to mature.

Red Belt – The color of blood signifies danger and is a warning to the student to temper her newly found skills and techniques with control and wisdom.

Senior Students

Black – The opposite of white signifies maturity and dignity, as that of a senior student of Tae Kwon Do who has learned the basic curriculum of Tae Kwon Do and is ready to become a true student of Tae Kwon Do.

We don't need much modification. So, perhaps Howard Zinn is a black belt. Maybe I'm still fighting my way up towards a green belt.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Charity v Justice

Dan over at Musings of a Minor Mennonite has some great words about the distinction between charity and justice. (Plus a good reminder that everything has already been said before.

End of News?

I was intrigued by this article in Vanity Fair about the end of news. It's interesting to think of news (as in news from the news business) as a trick designed to hold our attention, and that with the current easy access to information/data from a variety of sources, we aren't so interested anymore. The author's answer,, is an interesting way of building a news aggregator.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Hide in Plain Sight

I did make it to the Peace Rally in Boston yesterday, despite bad weather and having to squeeze it in between grocery shopping and taking my daughter to a birthday party. (I was late leaving the house because I had to hear the details of the first middle school dance of the year, at which she apparently slow danced with a boy. Am I really ready to have a teenager?) Because of the weather, I ended up leaving Tracy and the kids at home, rather than dragging them with me.

I made it just in time to join the crowd for the march from Boston Common to Copley Square and back again. From what I could tell, there were more people there than when I marched a few years ago (about the same subject--isn't that sad). The paper said there were about 10,000 people there, which sounds about right.

It a diverse mix of young granola-types and aging protesters from the 60s, along with families with kids, a group of Iraq veterans against the war, a college group from Clark College in Worcester, Socialists, Jewish-Christian groups, Code Pink, Quakers. Aa group called Raging Grannies, sang on the sidewalk as the crowd filed past. A brass band played rousing tunes--when the march was over, they generated a sort of impromptu mosh pit of folks dancing about to the sounds of tubas and trumpets.

The cops were present but relaxed. They clearly weren't expecting any trouble. Mostly they seemed to be there to make sure that the parade of people went down the proper streets and didn't get themselves run over by crazy Boston drivers.

It didn't take me long to find a friend--Jennifer (who founded the group White People Challenging Racism, with whom I teach anti-racism classes) marched alongside me and we chatted about marches and politics the whole way.

There didn't seem to be much reaction on the streets as we marched past. A few people watched. Some joined in. But it's not like there was any organized counter-protest that I could see.

I wasn't there for all the speeches, but based on the list of who spoke, it was clear that the march lacked the presence of a powerful political leader who made make the protesters feel like anybody cared much about what was being done or said. As far as I can tell, the most senior politician to speak was a Boston city councilor. Okay. Where were our U.S. Senators?

I was left feeling that I'd at least done something. But maybe it's fortunate that I also don't feel like it's likely to make a big difference in the outcome. Not this one thing. But it was encouraging to see 10,000 other people willing to take time out of their days, away from college football and Red Sox pre-game shows, to let the world know they think this war is a bad idea. If all of those 10,000 people keep at it, keep raising their voices, maybe it'll make a difference.

I checked the Boston Globe this morning to try to find coverage of the march. The first page featured a big photo of the Red Sox game from last night, of course. I don't have a problem with that. The column of news roundup gave no mention of the rally. The other front page stories were: Michelle Obama revels in Family Role, a piece about mostly unused HOV (High Occupancy Vehicle) lanes in the Big Dig, and a story about a suburban physician who did bad things to seven patients.

Hmm. No protest coverage.

Well, how about the local "City & Region" section? The headlines on the front page are:

"Wired for Excitement" about a non-scientific look at one Red Sox's physical response to Game 1 of the World Series (I kid you not);

"Hub expatriates declare allegiance to Red Sox Nation" about Boston fans who are in Denver;

"Train takes a detour into the past" about a family who took a ride on the newly reopened Greenbush commuter spur to Scituate (their father worked for the railroad for 50 years);

"Baby dies in apparent drowning" about a nine-month old baby who drowned in a bucket of cleaning solution in Quincy; and

"Man glad for arrest in killing of his son" about an arrest that happened on Friday in a senseless killing from more than a year ago.

No mention on page 1. Or 2. Or 3. They did make an effort, though. On page 6 of the City Section, they ran an article with the headline" '10,000 in Boston rally against war" They do mention that the rally was part of 11 protests held across the country, but don't talk at all about what happened in those cities. Total coverage: about half of a column page, buried deep in the city section, with a low-key photo of three performers--nothing of the crowd. No wonder people feel like no one gives a crap about the war. The media acts like it's not important, that people marching in the streets doesn't matter. They'll definitely get a letter/e-mail from me. Not that they might care. No wonder the newspapers keep losing readership--they're too busy trying to keep us entertained to tell us what's happening.

Maybe next time we should march in front of the Globe's headquarters.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Calling All Daily Show Liberals (you know who you are)

I'm one, too. We tune in to Jon Stewart (online or on TV) and laugh as he makes fun of the administration and the press and the lunacy of our current political situation. Maybe we post clips on our blogs, or links to important articles about the latest element of this fiasco. When we get together, we rail about the corruption and lies and doublespeak of the Bush administration. Even the media is complicit, we huff, and we're forced to rely on Comedy Central, of all places, for a balanced perspective.

It's time to get off our asses. Frank Rich wrote a great column in the October 14, Sunday NY Times: "The 'Good Germans' Among Us." In it, he concludes:

Our humanity has been compromised by those who use Gestapo tactics in our war. The longer we stand idly by while they do so, the more we resemble those "good Germans" who professed ignorance of their own Gestapo. It's up to us to wake up our somnambulant Congress to challenge administration policy every day. Let the war's last supporters filibuster all night if they want to. There is nothing left to lose except whatever remains of our country's good name.

It's no longer enough to complain. I know it's easy to be cynical and feel like no actions taken by ordinary citizens count. The administration doesn't care. Congress is already bought and paid for. But taking no action guarantees nothing will change, and the message given to those in power is that we don't really care. We don't care if they torture in our name, if they hire mercenaries, we don't care how many innocent civilians die for a war that never has made a lick of sense.

We issue meme challenges all the time about irrelevant things, but this time I issue this challenge to myself and anyone who reads it:

Make a list of five actions you’ll take to help stop the war and hold the Bush administration accountable. Maybe I should call this a chain letter rather than a meme, because a memedoesn't threaten you with disaster if you break it. I could call this a meme with teeth. Break the meme and bad things will happen. People will die. Not you. Probably not anyone you know. But to a stranger in some rathole sweaty pit in Baghdad, a humvee, a canal, Guantanamo, or a dark cell in an former Russian republic.

The actions I'm going to take are these:
1. Attend the big peace really tomorrow, Saturday, October 27, on the Boston Common. This is part of nationwide effort in eleven cities. Visit this site to see if your city is one of them. I've only been to one peace rally before (it apparently didn't stop the war, did it). This time, I'm planning to bring my whole family. I want the kids to see free speech and peaceful protest in action. I want them to start thinking about action.

An event like this doesn't make much difference if only the usual suspects attend. But if new people, who don't usually do this sort of thing, show up, the numbers will swell and the people in power will understand that something is up.

2. After attending the rally, I'll observe the news coverage that night and the following day. If the coverage is weak or non-existent, then I'll write to the newspaper or TV station and complain.

3. I will write to my congressman and demand that he press to end the war and demand tougher investigations into the immense corruption that's happened in Iraq. I'm a taxpayer and I want to know where my money went. The tough part of living in Massachusetts is that our legislators are already pretty liberal (my congressman is Barney Frank), but that also makes me complacent, and I need to work harder to express my opinion.

4. I'll e-mail or call or write to my Senators (again pretty liberal--Ted Kennedy and John Kerry) and make the same demands.

5. Something else (I'll figure it out).

The sad thing is that I’m issuing this as an open call rather than a proper meme (partly because I think most people secretly detest memes and I already created one this year). But really it's because I’m gutless and more scared of public political disapproval than makes sense. I don’t mind annoying someone by telling them to write something nice about themselves (how brave of me), but I’m scared to challenge someone to take political action. What a wuss. Is it just me, or have we become a nation of cowards, because it’s no longer polite to actually engage each other, friends or strangers, in actual political conversation?

So what the hell. I tag Dan, Malachy, Laura, and Adam. (These are safe tags. I respect them and don’t think they’ll get pissy at me.)

Friday, October 19, 2007

Nick Hornby

Last night I skipped out of coaching (I'm just the assistant coach) my daughter's soccer practice, to go see one of my favorite writers at Brookline Booksmith--Nick Hornby. The event was actually held at the nearby school, and it was sold out--about 250 of us filled the auditorium (@ $5 a head).

Raymond Chandler famously said, "If you liked a book, don't meet the author." But Nick was as funny and witty as you'd expect him to be. And a terrific reader--he read for 20-25 minutes, though I think I prefer it when authors read from the beginning, rather than the middle of a book, because I don't like for them to give anything away.

The questions afterwards weren't particularly inspired, though it was interesting to get Hornby's thoughts on a possible takeover of Arsenal by a Russian oligarch (he's definitely against it). There was the requisite "what's your advice for young writers?" question. He wasn't particularly inspiring on this point--at first he just said, "Get an agent." Oh, thanks. But then he said "If you can quit, then you should. And if you can't, then you're a writer." Sound advice, but nothing new.

He did talk a bit about his process, which was interesting to me. He said he spends weeks or months trying to get a handle on the character's voice in his head, all before he starts writing. Then once he's got it, the book comes out as sort of an extended monologue. This is part of the appeal of his writing to me, the fluidity of these monologues (Long Way Down wove four different voices into one book). Part of the reason I wrote Tornado Siren in first person was that it felt like the smallest jump from writing plays. My new novel has two different first person narratives, but again, I feel like I can use my playwriting skills in a different medium. (I seem to recall elsewhere that Hornby was interested in writing plays as a young writer.)

I'm glad I went, and I'm already enjoying the new book, Slam. (I've got eight hours of bus rides in the next 48 hours, so I have a good chance of finishing it soon.)

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Den of Iniquity in New York and Chicago (NY here I come)

My short comedy, Den of Iniquity, will be part of a two-day festival in Chicago, A Table and Chairs, October 21 and 22. The festival will feature nine short plays by writers from across the country, with the plays directed by some Chicago's up-and-coming new directors. In Den of Iniquity, Gerald sneaks off from his wife and kids to a shady part of town, to an illicit studio, where people come to try an addictive pleasure. Gerald scrambles to hide his desires when his wife Maggie comes pounding on the door. The festival runs at the Bailiwick Repertory Theater, 1229 W. Belmont Ave., Chicago, 8pm. Call 773-282-0344. Tickets are only $10.

Den of Iniquity will also appear in New York (it actually opened last night) as part of the Emerging Artists Theatre's Fall EATFest, from October 16-November 4. My play is in Series B, which runs Wednesdays at 7pm, Saturdays at 8pm, and Sundays at 5pm. Ian Streicher will direct the play.

I will be in New York to see the show on Saturday, October 20th. (Gotta love $30 round trip bus tickets from Boston to NYC.) The festival plays at the Producer's Club, 358 West 44th Street, 3rd Floor. Tickets are $18 ($10 w/ student i.d.) You can buy tickets by calling 866-811-4111 or at or

I wish I could see both productions, back-to-back. I've done that once before, with my play Insomnia, and it was a really instructive experience to see how the timing and interpretations shift the audience's experience of the play.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

The Handyman Can

Today I spent all day on home repair/maintenance projects. Most of the time, I was assembling PVC pipes to reroute water from our downspouts into a newly cleared drain (I also put sealant on a brick wall). It was beautiful fall day, a perfect day to be outside working with my hands. As projects go, it was ideal--I had to do some mental puzzle solving, but I arrived at the right answer; I got to use my cool Ryobi 18v cordless reciprocating saw; putting together the pipes feels a little bit like playing with legos; if I messed up, I probably wouldn't get hurt or cost us or the condo association much money; it was a task that was new for me, and I like trying new things.

It was one of those days when I think to myself, maybe I should forget the whole freelance editing/article work and hire myself out as a handyman to make the money I need. I have decent skills for a variety of small home repair and maintenance projects. I like working with my hands. The pay probably isn't too bad. I wouldn't use up my writing energy on writing projects for other people. I might meet some interesting people to write about.

Of course the reality is that it's not quite the same as working on your own house, and just like writing, it requires time to build up a clientèle. It's physically taxing-- I'm totally beat, trying to keep my eyes opens as I write this. My experience is mostly at an amateur level. The list can go on, I'm sure.

Still, on a day like today, it seems very appealing.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

NBC has ruined my life

Tracy and I borrowed the first season of the NBC show Heroes on DVD from a friend last week. Now we're totally hooked. We'll start the evening planning to watch just one episode, but at the end of each one, we look at each other--"How about another?"

This is really my preferred way to watch television--on DVD, at my leisure, rather than on the network's schedule (and I love having no commercials). An hour-long drama fits much better into our fairly short evenings, better than a movie (though that's all psychological, because if we watch two or three episodes...) (We don't have cable, so it's nice to watch a show that doesn't involve fiddling with the antenna.)

At the moment, I'm enjoying the show too much to step back and be objective about how good it really is or isn't. I just know that I'm interested in the characters and totally hooked by the story. We take a certain delight in trying to predict what's going to happen in each episode and who's going to get killed. I like the feeling of being so engrossed by this massive tale. (I could be getting work done on some these nights, at least in theory, but that's just not going to happen until we finish the first season.)

I had lunch on Friday with my good friend Dan, and for a while we talked about television, and he postulated that at the moment, some of the best dramatic writing anywhere is happening on television, rather than film or theatre. I think he's right. The one-hour drama format has turned into the venue for our modern epic storytelling. The writers are able to develop characters over stories that stretch over 22 hours, but they are only able to do it if they're able to completely rivet the attention of their audiences. Is it great poetry? Not always. But it is memorable and has a cultural resonance that might make it live a lot longer than we expect.

Anyway, I've got to run. Tracy's just fired up the DVD. Time for another episode. (or two) (or three).

Interesting Thoughts on Failure from John August

I've been enjoying following John August's blog (he's a screenwriter and now a director of The Nines), and he mentioned this terrific article about failure that he wrote for Men's Health Magazine. Check it out.

I haven't been blogging much lately because I've been looking for work, which takes more time than one might think. At the moment, it involves a fair amount of trying new things, connecting with new people, and sometimes (often) failing. In some ways, I'm pretty used to that, because I'm a writer, and I'm used to sending out 10 scripts and only getting one acceptance out them. This is just a different version of that game, but in the process I'm learning a lot about the way businesses work and editing and all sorts of stuff.

Friday, October 5, 2007

Good News: Chicago

A bit of good news. A friend is staging a bunch of short plays in Chicago (the plays had to utilize one chair and one table) later this month (at the Bailiwick Theatre) and my play Den of Iniquity is supposed to be part of the line-up. I should know more details by the end of next week. It always feels good to land another production. This is the same play that opens in NYC on October 16th, as part of the Fall EATFest. (I'll put up more details about that in the next day or two).

Too bad I can't make it to Chicago--it's so interesting to see two different versions of the same play running at the same time (I've seen this before with Insomnia). I'll have to rely on friends for reports.

I am my own (house) wife

As I attempt to transition from writing novels and scripts to also trying to make a little money, I feel very much like a typical housewife trying to enter the workforce. In some ways, of course, this is exactly the case, because I've been a stay-at-home dad for the past 13 years (while also doing a few other things). Now I'm trying to find a way to earn cash, though I still need to be available for my kids and to handle basic household duties.

In theory, of course, my wife and I could hire people to handle these chores and childcare, but there's a inherent circular conundrum to working a job in order to earn enough money to pay someone to watch your kids and cook your dinner and clean your house in order for you to work your job. And I face the classic housewife's problem that the tasks that I've been performing for the past 13 years, which involve a great deal of carting around children, multi-tasking doctor's appointments, play dates, grocery shopping, laundry, reading stories, bandaging skinned knees. Though I understand how the ability to do all these things would be useful to an employer, it's not clear the rest of the world sees it that way. They prefer employees with skills that are bit easier to document and who come with references written by people who have finished elementary school or are not married to me. Plus most of them don't want to hire someone only for a few hours a day.

What's interesting is that I've doubled-up the housewife syndrome, by having spent my previous years primarily writing plays and novels (and making theatre). In many ways, I've nurtured and sustained these works not entirely unlike I've done for my children. I've done my best to develop them into fully-formed works of art that are now somewhat on their own in the world, interacting with readers, audiences, actors and directors. They don't need me so much anymore. And much like raising my children, experience writing for theatre (and writing novels) is not inherently commercial. Folks who are looking to hire freelance writers for actual paying gigs look at my years spent writing fiction and drama with some puzzlement. "Yes, we suppose he can write, but he doesn't have relevant clips, or references from actual employers." (And I look back at them, suddenly worried that maybe they're right and I won't know how to handle whatever they throw at me.)

I'll find a way to squeeze my way into some sort of freelance work, or some sort of paying gig doing something. Somehow. But like the other former stay-at-home moms and dads, it's going to be a slippery, half-lit path, with lots of stumbles, stubbed toes, and more than a few lost trails. And it's going to take longer than I hoped or expected. (I have a feeling there are more than a few other writers in the blogosphere who can vouch for the same challenges of moving from writing fiction to writing to try to help support the family.)

( So far, I've been very fortunate to get lots of input and support from my friends. I've gotten some very useful tips, advice, and more.)

P.S. I have been putting a little time into, but no luck yet. I've made ten bids so far. It seems a system that inherently favors the employers. The secret bidding on the part of freelancers, seems like it will deeply suppress wages (we don't know where the basement is for work rates). Most of the projects described by employers looking for writers or editors are too sketchily described for me to put together an intelligent cost estimate. I'm guessing that most of the employers are looking for a deep bargain, or are barely qualified to hire anyone to do anything. We'll see.

Monday, October 1, 2007

Playwriting by the Numbers: Good News/Bad News

For a guy like me (a numerical obsessive), having a play published by Playscripts is a good thing. I get an e-mail every time Christmas Breaks sells a copy (it's now in an anthology, Great Short Plays, Volume 1). This happens at least a couple times a week (but don't get too excited, I make ten cents with every sale). I also get an e-mail if performances are licensed. This is better news--I get 60% of the royalties paid. Playscripts interface allows playwrights to check on the status of all scripts orders at any time, as well as how much the next royalty check will be.

The good news is that I got an e-mail last week saying that a company in Florida licensed 7 performances, which should bring me a little more than $100. Yet another good thing about Playscripts is that they pay you when you reach a certain threshold in a given month (usually $100, in two months you only need to earn $20), rather than only paying you once or twice a year.

This is good news, since I'm starting up my new push for freelance work, hoping to earn a minimum of $300 a month. So this month, I'll be part of the way there from playwriting, which is really cool.

The bad news is that those 7 performances licensed this past month are not common. This is an unusually good month. I'd need to license 21 performances a month (and really closer to 30, to cover taxes) in order to reach my minimal needs.

Productions of my newly published Tightly Bound collection would bring in about $50 per performance, so if I had one production every month (say 9 performances per run), I'd be in great shape. But the tough thing is that productions of unknown full-length plays, published or not, are very hard to come by. My sense is that, although it's gotten easier to get productions of short plays over the past few years, it's gotten harder to get productions of full-length plays. (I'd love to know if there's data out there about this.) I wish I could count on my plays to bring in the money I need, but I know better.

I spent the morning working on Plan C for raising money, signing up for a profile on where I hope to be able to make some bids for freelance work. I discovered that the free basic level account is basically worthless, so I've invested $75 for one quarter of more complete access. Now I just need to earn that money back. The first few assignments will be the toughest to win, since my freelance experience is on the thin side. I'll catch up. I'm going to need to make as many bids as possible. There are some interesting projects out there. We'll see what happens.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

I'm So Lame (meme)

I got tagged by a meme by Johnna at BlindSquirrel. From a meme written by Marisa

(this is apparently karmic payback, because she created her blog after responding to my five strengths blog--which is still oozing around the blogosphere, into at least 8 generations)

List 5 things that certain people (who are not deserving of being your friend anyway) may consider to be "totally lame," but you are, despite the possible stigma, totally proud of. Own it. Tag 5 others:

Hm. Okay.

1. I love the song "18 Wheels on a Big Rig" by Trout Fishing in America. And especially because of the part where they count the wheels of the truck in roman numerals (really fast).

2. I have watched every season of "Survivor."

3. I eat vegetarian, and actually pretty much vegan, as does our family. I really like leafy green vegetables, especially collards and kale. My daughter's friends don't know what to make of us. (They don't exactly beat down our door for dinner invitations.)

4. I really like numbers and to keep track of stuff (numerically). I have a big Microsoft Access database where I track all my writing submissions, so that I can tell you very quickly that I've submitted 1,268 plays since 1990 (with 174 acceptances), along with percentages of rejection, no response, etc.

5. (This one's tough for me to admit.) I sometimes listen to my daughter's Aly & A.J. album (Into the Rush), even though she's long since moved past it. (She's only 12 years old and has much hipper taste in music than I do.)

Oh, there's so much more. (My wife might bring up the powder blue tuxedo I wore to my high school prom, but I tell you, it was the fashion.)

I tag Novel Eye, Dan at Musings of a Minor Mennonite, Laura at Gasp!, and ghost light.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Confession #47: Temporal Deficiency

Yes, I must confess, I am temporally deficient, especially when it comes to home repair projects. My wife, Tracy, will confirm this. Emphatically. (Repeatedly.) (Justifiably.) Thus, this week's project, painting the exterior of our condo's nine basement windows took longer than I expected.

I figured, oh, no problem, there's not much wood to them, and half the paint has already been worn away (the windows are in pretty bad shape). I'll be done in a couple hours. It's a one-weekend project. It never really works that way . Instead, the paint scraping took a lot longer (and a lot more energy) than expected. Then there was sanding. And vacuuming. And washing. Caulking. Repairing the window glazing. Minor repairs. Taping. Finally painting (I still have one coat to go).

It's not like I'm a bumbling newbie to home repair. I've owned eight houses and done lots of work on all of them, so this is common ground. Yet, for some reason, this great groundswell of optimism (and self-delusion) tends to swirl around me when it's time to guess how long a project will take.

So far, I've always been great about making writing deadlines, but as I try to land more writing freelance jobs, I'm going to need to make sure I get my time estimator gene whipped into shape. I'd had big plans this week for the new freelance job exploration, but a lot of that got eaten up by painting and school projects. Next week will be different. (Right?) I've also been fighting a bit of an emotional slump--but I that's closely related to finishing up the draft of my new novel last week. Even though there's still more work to be done, the emotional release of a major draft completion often leads to a blue period. Being a bit at sea for how to handle the new job/freelance stuff makes it trickier, but I have a feeling it was all unavoidable. Next week is a new week.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Habits and Dithering

I started my new job yesterday. Not a job in the traditional sense, but a job of trying to earn money from writing stuff (and thus avoiding getting a traditional job job). I got up at 5:30, so that I'd have time for breakfast, shower, dishes, dog walking, and getting the kids off to school, and get a good start by 8:30. Most of the day was spent thinking of strategy and doing research. Sure it'd be nice to jump right into landing freelance writing assignments, but it did make sense to think a little bit first.

The funny thing is that this sort of financial worry and response is actually something of a habit (this was very kindly not pointed out to me by my wife). I opened up a notebook yesterday that I've been planning to use on this new venture, one that I've used before in this very sort of situation.

In 2004, I started looking at making freelance money, and wrote up notes on strategy and a nice list of potential topics for articles (which I typed up yesterday, a mere three years later). In 2004 I got sidetracked by a bunch of theatre productions--I had two local full-length productions of my plays in early 2005 (and was supposed to have one in the fall, too), which totally too every ounce of time and creative energy. (And I did get paid--though not $500 per month).

In 2006, I started down the same path, but was pre-occupied with converting our three-family house to condos, selling them, and buying a new house, and then settling into our new neighborhood. This time I actually did write up a query and submitted it to two magazines (both rejected). Then I went on to write a non-fiction book proposal and finish the first draft of my new novel.

But this time I really mean it. All my pondering and note taking yesterday still left me a bit torn between courses of action. I'm pretty sure the best long-term plan is to try to place some articles in magazines, focusing on topics that I need to research already for projects that I'm either about to write, or currently writing, or about to try to market. This way I gain knowledge and establish some credibility around those topics, and make media contacts that might help me later (build a "platform").

The bad part about this strategy is that the money part of it is so uncertain--I'll have to go back to query writing and researching, waiting for responses, rejections, etc. My available clips are of only modest value, so I'll have to work my way up to larger publications (the ones that pay the most). The competition is pretty stiff. It all feels like a pretty big mountain to climb, and I feel ignorant about my actual chances and what I can expect to make in a given amount of time.

The other option, as generously pointed out by readers of this blog, is to bid on freelance jobs on sites like or I'm fascinated by these sites--what a cool idea. I'm sure the competition is pretty fierce on these sites, too, but it seems like there is less up front effort to secure any particular job. (As far as I can tell from a brief look.)

The downside is that I don't get to control the type of content/project as well. So the writing is likely to be less fun, and less likely to be useful in my other projects (though I could be wrong).

Maybe the answer is the try to do a bit of both. Spend two days working on article queries and research. Two days on trying to land other sorts of freelance assignments. I figured I have about 90 hours of work time available in my current schedule. If I can earn $20 an hour, I can make what I need in half of the time available and have the rest leftover for finishing my novel and doing more of my own writing. (Speaking of the new novel--on Friday I made my deadline and sent the latest draft off to two friends for their comments. It felt very good to make that deadline, and also left me feeling a bit lost.)

Either way, I have to actually keep plugging ahead and make it happen and put in the time. Of course today was completely consumed by a project on the house--scraping, sanding, caulking and repairing the glazing on our basement windows. I've been putting it off for a while, but the warm weather won't last much longer and I need daylight to do it. I should start painting the windows tomorrow, if all goes well, and still have time left for my "job." This week is one of those weeks where I don't have anything near enough hours to do all the tasks that I'm supposed to complete. (My turn writing the school PTO newsletter is this week. Yikes.)