Wednesday, December 31, 2008

2008 Round Up, part 1 (creative output)

'Tis the time for looking back at the year, and for me it's a great excuse to add up lots of numbers and count things, which just makes me happy. And to make lists for 2009, which is just more bliss. (Everyone has his quirks.)

I wanted to look at my creative output first, the actual writing that I put out. The business side lends itself to stats and year-end sums, but putting down words on paper is what the writing life is really supposed to be about.

2008 was an especially productive year for me, writing-wise. I was especially diligent about making sure I got up early to write (not so much in December, but the rest of the year, I was very good) and trying to make sure that when the kids were in school, I didn't give away too much writing time to meetings and errands.

What I wrote in 2008:
Four new ten-minute plays. Two of which may never see the light of day, but at least they were written. Two of which, Confirmed Sighting and Recognition, turned out pretty well. Recognition was part of the T Plays festival produced here in Boston, and Confirmed Sighting just won the UMBC international playwriting competition and will be produced in Baltimore in March.

I also rewrote my ten-minute play, Stick Up for Mars, which turned out well and was produced this summer.

I completely rewrote my new novel, enough that it was almost like writing an entirely new one. Then I revised it again. It runs about 84,000 words right now. This kept me busy all year. I think it's pretty close now, finally (I started the first draft in December 2005), and I hope to be sending it out in February.

I wrote a new full-length play, Constant State of Panic, using a bunch of scenes (half of a first act) that I'd never been able to finish. This play still has a ways to go, but it's almost ready to start looking for a few staged readings and workshops. I'm so glad to finally have a complete draft of this play after it's been haunting me for so many years.

I helped write a short film script, as part of the 48 hour film project.

I wrote a bunch of blog posts. (Hey, those are writing, too, you know.)

That's it. I'd be happy to write that much in 2009. And especially if I manage to keep writing stuff that I like and can find an audience.

Monday, December 22, 2008

glad they still like me

It's always a good thing when people say nice things about you, especially if they happen to publish your books. Lynn Price said some very nice things about Tornado Siren over at her Behler Blog. (She even posted the first two chapters, so folks can get a sneak preview.) The book's been out for a while now, so it's not just the standard PR, book plug sort of thing. As I try to put the last few chunks of work into the new manuscript, it's reassuring to be reminded that people liked the first one.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Money 101 for screenwriters from John August

Over on John August's blog, he's posted a great explanation of how (and how much) screenwriters get paid. Definitely a must for anyone who dreams of screenwriting for a living someday. (His entire blog is a "must read" for all aspiring screenwriters, actually.

Okay, time to start thinking about shoveling some snow.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Sad State of Publishing: Snowman wisdom

Art mentioned this blog in his comment to my previous post, but I thought I'd put up a link:

Bob Eckstein's got a great sense of humor and some very interesting numbers about his book, The History of the Snowman.

I can definitely relate to how hard it is to get people into the stores to hear you talk about your book. And he's been chatting on Good Morning America and had photo shoots with People Magazine. Must be nice. (I aspire to have his level of problems and disappointments.) And even then, it's hard to get people to come into the store and get them to buy your book.

The post is definitely a good reminder of how much work it is to publish and sell a book. (And even then, it's not going to keep me from trying to publish and sell my next one.)

He has a good web site, too. If you're an author with a book coming out soon, it's definitely worth taking a look:

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

joining the StageSource board

I've been officially added to the board of StageSource as of this week. StageSource is a pretty amazing organization that serves theatre practitioners throughout New England (and especially in Boston). They currently have more than 2,000 individual members and 250 theatres and theatre organizations. They sponsor a theatre conference every two years and various other projects. I've already been working with them on a playwright event scheduled for April (Playwriting in 3D--conversations with designers and playwrights) of 2009.

Even though it means more work and more meetings (which is a little scary, I confess), I'm excited to be a part of the board. Their setup is a little unusual--the board is comprised of a wide range of theatre folk (I'm one of the playwright representatives) as well as civilians, who work together with a paid staff and executive director. For me, it's a chance to get to know many theatre artists in Bostom whom I truly admire. Hopefully I'll be a useful addition to the group. One thing I want to do is to continue to find ways to make sure that StageSource becomes even more useful to its playwright members, so that any playwright in Boston/New England would be a fool not to join.

I've lived in a lot of different cities, and I feel like Boston is served remarkably well by StageSource, much more so than most people here realize. I'm glad to have a chance to contribute to keeping it strong.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Good News: Confirmed Sighting wins UMBC In10 Competition

Just found out some very good news: my newest ten-minute play, Confirmed Sighting, has won the UMBC (University of Maryland, Baltimore College) In10 International Playwriting Competition. It'll be produced in early March, and I'll make a point of going down and seeing it. The play is about two young women from very different backgrounds who see an ivory-billed woodpecker (once thought extinct).

This is a pretty well-regarded competition (I've heard very good things from past winners) and lots of people enter, so it feels particularly satisfying to win. Plus it comes with a $1,000 prize! Not bad at all (this a huge prize, in the world of playwriting competitions). I'm also particularly pleased that this newest play has found some traction--it's easy to lose confidence and wonder if my work will continue to have appeal (especially as I struggle my way through rewrites of my newest full-length play). This provides a nice surge of confidence.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Points Off The Board

On the down side, I heard last week from Smith & Kraus that they've selected too many plays for their Best Ten-Minute Plays 2009 anthology, in which I was supposed to have two plays included: Den of Iniquity and Measuring Matthew. They've decided to cut back, so Den will not be included. On the bright side, Measuring Matthew will be still be in there, but I hate to see productions or publications go away.

On the plus side, I got a very nice, unexpected note from the director of Christmas Breaks in Wisconsin. Receiving a nice appreciation out of the blue is definitely a good pick-me-up.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Didn't trip on my feet (Tornado Siren reading report)

The reading last night from Tornado Siren at Brookline Booksmith. I'm especially grateful to half a dozen friends who showed up on a weeknight and squirmed through the First Light crowds on the sidewalks to find us down in the basement. Counting all the bodies in the room, there were more than a dozen people on hand to listen to me ramble about the book and read a few of the most exciting pages (where Victoria sees Ben for the first time and manages to get herself swept up in a tornado). It felt like it went pretty well, and I even sold a book.

I stayed to provide support to my fellow writers, who lined up at the podium every fifteen minutes for a couple hours. We had quite a variety--historical fiction, a book on eating disorders, Boston political geography, the history of daylight savings time (more interesting that you might think), spirituality and religion in the classroom, a story about a Japanese brothel. Though the crowds were pretty active up on the street level, not many folks managed to filter their way downstairs to us. Never easy to drag folks to a book reading, especially if you're not already famous, I'm afraid. (I just want to be Nick Hornby, is that too much to ask?) Still, we had fun, and sold a couple books here and there.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Reading from Tornado Siren at Brookline Booksmith on 12/4/08

Tomorrow, as part of Brookline's First Light Celebration, I'll read from Tornado Siren at Brookline Booksmith. Local authors will be reading from their books from 5pm - 8pm. I'm on stage (in the basement) at 6:30pm, if all goes as planned. I'll have fifteen minutes to make people fall madly in love with the novel. No sweat.

If you're in the area, please stop by. There are lots of good books being highlighted. (And we don't want to feel lonely down there, with just a bunch of us writers.) This set of readings is organized by the Brookline Authors Group, which has been meeting for about a year now, and has put together a cable video series on books, as well as other events.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Beyond Dinner (Tracy's new blog)

My wife, Tracy, has a new blog: Beyond Dinner. (One woman's exploration of sustainable food systems.) She's writing about gardening, farming, eating, cooking, and the systems that bind all of that together. She's just started--be sure to check it out.

Blank Horizon (but not quite)

I was planning to write about the scary feeling that comes up whenever I don't have anything lined up in the way of productions or publications, since that's kind of where I'm at. (It can feel pretty bleak.) Christmas Breaks is opening in Wisconsin, but I don't really have anything to do with that one. I do have a reading of Tornado Siren scheduled for December 4th at Brookline Booksmith (6:30pm) as part of a holiday festival (just 15 minutes) here in Brookline. I also found out that a broadcast of my radio play Love & Lightning that was scheduled for this week by Shoestring Radio Theatre in San Francisco has been postponed to March, and they'll also broadcast Tundra Games. So, it's not exactly like nothing is happening with my work. (And I'm sure more will be scheduled soon.)

Most importantly, I can see some writing time coming my way in December and January (I think), which should let me get drafts finished of my new play and my new novel.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

changeable lens

For those of you who are interested in maps and stats, definitely check out Worldmapper, a site that puts together various world maps, based on proportions of various statistics in different countries.

While you're there, check out the Books Published (per capita) map. China's bigger than I expected in this one.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

My Fantasy Life: Boston Theatre Endowment

The discussion on Monday about the poor economic model of theatre in America brought back an idea that I'd had before but never really explored in depth: the idea of a Boston Theatre Endowment. There are foundations in our area that currently fund some theatrical work, but none devoted exclusively to funding theatres and theatres artists. In my ideal world, we'd set up a Boston Theatre Endowment that would do just that.

Part of this is just an acknowledgement that the economics of theatre, especially smaller, non-commercial theatre, just don't add up. In an economic world where growth and increased productivity is key to survival, working in an artform where it still takes the same amount of people to put on a play as it did a century ago, for the same sized audience, is not going to work without outside help.

The Boston arts community has proven that it's capable of raising large sums of money to build new theatre buildings. But what about money for the people who are to work on the stages of those theatres?

My fantasy also acknowledges the fact that the NEA is unlikely to return to strength, and unlikely to fund individual artists in a meaningful way (at least in my lifetime).

A significant amount of energy is spent raising money for small and mid-sized theatres around town. But most of these theatres have a relatively limited life cycle. They're around for a few years, the money raised got used for their productions, and is now gone.

What if some of that fundraising energy was put into raising money for a permanent endowment that handed out half its earnings to individual theatre artists and half to theatre companies? And the money received by theatres could only be used to pay artists--this would enable some small theatre companies to move up the food chain a little and have access to Equity actors that are normally too expensive.

For the individual artist grants, I'd want to see significant funds given out, rather than $1000 here or there, maybe $10,000, and maybe a handful of large grants ($30,000), so some of these people could really focus on their art for a stretch of time. They could be Boston's theatrical MacArthur awards, if you will.

The MFA raised what, $500 million for their new wing? Good for them. The new Arsenal Center for the Arts cost $7.5 million. The BCA cost a pretty good chunk. Various parties are putting $70 million into renovating the Paramount. It's great to have all these buildings, but we have a town where most actors can't afford to pay their rent by acting on these stages. What if we had a $10 million Boston Theatre Endowment, paying out $500,000 in grants to artists and small theatres every year? $20 million in the bank, giving out $1 million in grants every year? Fundraising for the Endowment could be a continuous process, trying to get it to keep growing.

I know the conventional wisdom is that buildings get built because it's easier to get people to donate when they know they'll see their name on something concrete. Too bad. Because the impact from funding artists directly would have the potential to affect hundreds of artists, hundreds of productions, and thousands and thousands of theatre-goers.

Anyway, that's my latest theatre fantasy. (There's no reason why this couldn't work for other cities. But I think it's important to have the Endowment focus on a local region, because theatre is an inherently local artform.)

Digital TV (very cool) (certain to ruin my life)

We're aware of the big switcheroo is coming in February (all broadcast TV will be only available in digital), so we were about to get a converter, but Tracy had a friend at work who gave us a spare (thanks!). We've never been willing to spring for the money for cable, so we get a handful of channels, very fuzzily, thanks to rabbit ears.

Plugged in the new box. Wow. Clear picture and lots of channels. Even a local weather channel. Something like four or five different PBS channels. It's like having cable, only free. Now when I watch the Patriots on Sundays I might actually be able to see the football on the screen.

The only problem, of course, is that it's likely to ruin my life. Before, there was really not much point in watching TV, besides a few favorite things that felt worth watching through the static. But now, it's all clear and bright, and even Entertainment Tonight is sparkly and ready to go. There's a home and garden PBS channel on all the time, so maybe I can learn to make Norm Abram's latest bookcase or armoire.

Of course, it's all just temporary, because the whole notion of broadcast television is doomed. In a few years, we'll all access TV through the internet, because it doesn't make any sense for content to be only available at one specific hour on one specific night. We've already seen most of the networks gradually open up and offer shows online. In the meantime, I guess I'll be able to rot my brain over the air, though.

thoughts on directors

No, I'm not writing to complain. A few of my best friends are directors (and I even direct sometimes, too, though rarely).

One thing that really struck me in the symposium on Monday was when directors spoke up and said that they were pretty much doing it all by the seat of their pants, and that they weren't sure what everyone in the room was talking about when actors talked about various problems within the process, because they never get to see other directors at work.

This makes sense in some ways because I know how busy directors are, and when they move from job to job, they barely have time to eat and sleep, let alone drop in on rehearsals by other directors. On the other hand, theatre is certain to suffer if directors, both old and new, are not taking the time to observe how other people attack the same job. Again, it comes back to my same concern--how do we improve what we do, unless we are consciously trying to define and evaluate how we make plays for/with audiences and how we can do it better.

There are, of course, certain difficulties with other directors sitting in--ego and innate competitiveness between the two directors, and an understandable shyness about sharing what can be an extremely intimate process. Observers can be deathly when it comes to vulnerable human beings up on stage feeling willing to expose themselves and make mistakes, to look stupid and slow and ugly, if necessary.

This may be something that StageSource can address here in Boston, to try to set up some sort of director-to-director exchange (it may already exist for all I know). It's certainly something that directors themselves could do on their own. It would certainly require a fair amount of trust on the part of everyone concerned. But, to be honest, Boston is a small theatre town (as are most cities) and most of the directors and actors all know each other anyway. The actors are all aware of how various directors work. Maybe the directors should suck it up and see what they can learn about themselves.

(on a side note:)
Personally, I adore rehearsals. I like watching how directors work with actors, and I love watching actors stumble through discovering the story and characters of any play (especially mine). I watch directors intently, trying to understand how they do what they do. The question was raised a bit over the weekend about how much time the writer should spend in the rehearsal hall. While I think it's important for the playwright to get out of the room, for everyone's sake, I'm always reluctant to leave, because I just like being there.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Brain Overflow (and gratitude)

The last two days of a theatre symposium here in Boston have definitely left my mind a little overflowing. The topic was Actor as Collaborator, and featured actresses Olympia Dukakis and Lynn Cohen as leaders/instigators of the discussion. The talk dealt a lot with the feeling of marginalization (and infantilization) that actors are feeling in the theatrical process, a lot of the time (not in every case). Though the focus was on actors, directors, playwrights, designers and others were invited to be part of the conversation (100 people were invited, plus students from Emerson).

Some of the talk was emotional, with people sharing horror stories from their careers. Some students expressed their confusion about what path to take out of school--starting something small and underground or heading to commercial theatre. On Monday, we sat in a big circle, of probably more than 60 people, and went around for hours, with each person having a chance to speak. A lot of it was just about getting ideas and pent up emotions out there, but what I really appreciated was the strong sense that no matter who was speaking, the assembled crowed really listened and thought about what was being said (which gets hard after multiple hours of this).

Late in the day on Monday, we split into breakout groups, and I was in the playwright/actor group. We had about ten people, split evenly between actors and writers. The conversation was warm and generous, and confirmed yet again how much I enjoy working with and talking to actors. I think we all recognized the importance of the director in the process, but all hope for the ability and opportunity to work more closely together in the future. We talked a bit about how collaboration depends upon possessing a common vocabulary and a respect for each other's artistic process. In Rhombus, our rule is always "impressions not suggestions," which I think could be amended to say "impressions and questions, not suggestions." Trying to rewrite someone else's play is a tough impulse to resist, and the same applies for playwrights wanting to give actors easy answers (thereby short-circuiting their discovery process).

So much was said on both days, it all tends to sort of blend together into a buzz in my brain. I was struck over and over again how much we all want to work together better. However, when I spoke on Sunday, I brought up that one thing I feel is lacking in our process is a better formal (or at least semi-formal) process for when the show is over to assess how we did. It's extremely rare to be invited to a post-production post-mortem, where the entire group of people who were involved in the production gather to say, "the way we did this really worked for me." Or else that it didn't and why. Directors don't say to the actors, "how did this work for you, when I did so and so?" Or does the director ask the playwright, "How was our communication? How could it be better next time?"

An essential lack in our theatrical process is this conscious intention to learn from our successes and mistakes, in order to intentionally mold the process that we use to create theatre. Effective collaboration requires more than just everyone dumping in ingredients when the soup is being assembled. Often folks are pressed for time and money and have already moved on to the next show, but our artform suffers for neglecting this final, crucial step. What I want is a theatre scene in Boston where audience members can't wait to tell their neighbors, "you must go see this show!"

Anyway, that's something that's been on my mind lately, and it mixed together with all the other theatrical goulash of the weekend.

One last point: Jaan Whitehead, a member of Anne Bogart's board (among many other smart things she's done) talked a bit about the economics of theatre in our society, and the fundamental conflict that the arts in our society face with market capitalism and popular democracy. Basically she reminded us, in very clear language, that the economic model for theatre in our culture stinks. I knew this, but I liked the way she explained it.

Several other actors in the audience talked a fair bit about finally coming to terms with the fact that they need day jobs in order to practice their art--and we're talking about incredibly talented, well-respected actors in the Boston theatre scene. Their comments, and the whole weekend, reminded me how much I appreciate my life, and all that I'm able to do artistically, even though it may not make me much money. I wouldn't trade it. I owe the assembled horde of actors and theatre folk a big thanks for that reminder.

Friday, November 14, 2008

I Have Not Vanished from the Face of the Earth

Really. I'm still here, but I've been on a freelance project for the past two weeks that is taking up all of my writing time. The money is good, so that's very helpful. I think I've got at least another week to go, maybe a little more, and then it'll be time to get back to my new novel. (My goal of finishing in January doesn't look attainable anymore--maybe February. And somehow I need to get something put together for Monday's Rhombus playwright meeting. Yikes.)

I'm headed to a theatre symposium on Sunday and Monday, nominally about actors and their role in theatre, and I guess I'm supposed to help provide some of the voice of the playwright.

I have a zillion ideas to write about in this blog, once I find a little breathing space (like the unequal role of the playwright in the theatrical collaborative process, the value of looking for quality actors in one's own back yard, and more).

Had a great meeting earlier this week with a few lighting and sound designers, in preparation for a workshop that I'm helping put together with StageSource, called Playwriting in 3D, which will seek to help writers better understand the role and desires of designers when it comes to working on new plays. With any luck it'll happen in April. (More to come about all of this.)

I met a writer yesterday, the sister of a friend, who regularly writes 2,500 words a day. Maybe as many as four books in a year. Wow. Just call me Mr. Glacial. I'm lucky if, when I actually get writing time, I can get through 1,000 words a day, and even then this current book is on its third major tear-down rewrite. I'll just try to accept that we all have different processes.

(In case you're wondering, the worms are thriving, and the garden is still producing greens.)

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Off to New York: The Sky is Falling

Tomorrow, bright and early (not actually bright, since the sun won't be up yet--6:30am) I'll board a bus for NYC. I have freelance work meeting all afternoon, and then I'm off to see the 7pm show of The Sky is Falling, which is part of EATFest at the Roy Arias Theatre Center, Off-Broadway Theatre, 300 West 43rd St, 5th floor, November 4-16. EAT puts on a really terrific festival (I had a play in it last year, too)--The Sky is Falling is in Series A, running Tuesday and Wednesday at 7 pm, Saturday at 7:30 pm, Sunday at 4:30 pm.

The Sky is Falling is a funny and poignant play about two sisters who finally reunite, just as one of them is about to go off into space for the Rapture (or so she claims). It's really a fun show and I'm excited to see it. I go with especially high hopes because I've had such good interactions with my director.

For some people, a five-hour bus ride doesn't sound that appealing, but for me, it's good concentrated reading and writing time. Normally I don't bring my laptop, but I have a freelance assignment I can work on a little bit, while still having some good reading and napping time left over. The napping might be especially important since I plan on watching election returns until pretty late tonight.


It was a beautiful day here in Boston. 60s and sunny, perfect fall day. I got to the polls around 11:15 and it took 55 minutes to get my voting in, which didn't feel too bad. It was the longest I'd ever waited to vote, by far, in Massachusetts, or anywhere else we've lived. This morning the lines were longer, up to 90 minutes (this is in Brookline). This afternoon, around 3pm, there were no lines anymore.

Folks in line were clearly excited about the vote, and no one spent much time complaining about the vote. Someone ahead of me gave up, but maybe she came back later.

At a social gathering a few weeks ago, a drunken argument was made to me that votes should be apportioned by the amount of taxes one pays. Perhaps, instead, voters who have to wait in line for four or five hours (as has happened in LA and Georgia), or who have to trudge through floods and snow, should get an extra bonus points on their votes. I felt like I didn't have to suffer much to vote today, but I did get a little satisfaction from at least having to wait a little. Often, voting can be discouraging, because no one is there, and I worry that no one really takes this all very seriously. Today's crowd definitely gave me cause for optimism.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Good News: Christmas Breaks in Wisconsin

I just found out some good news for the holiday season. Christmas Breaks will be part of Christmas with a Twist, produced by the Lake Geneva Theatre Company at the The Abbey Resort in Wisconsin, November 28 - December 21. I'm on the bill with David Sedaris' Santaland Diaries and Not a Creature was Stirring by Christopher Durang.

What I'm Reading: Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson

Three Cups of Tea: One Man's Mission to Promote Peace . . . One School at a Time Three Cups of Tea: One Man's Mission to Promote Peace . . . One School at a Time by Greg Mortenson

My review

rating: 4 of 5 stars
A fairly well-written book about a pretty amazing guy. Greg Mortenson's quest to create schools in rural Pakistan and Afghanistan is one that really taught me a lot about what one man can accomplish (or at least start in motion). His patience and sensitivity has a chance of accomplishing what bombs cannot--trying to bring peace (or more peace) to a region rent by war.

Tracy read this book and suggested that I read it. She was so inspired that she bought several copies and started giving them away. I was just as inspired and moved as she was. I may not start traveling to the wilds of Pakistan next week, but it's definitely the kind of book that really makes you think about what you're doing with your life.

View all my reviews.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Back Home Again

My whirlwind research trip was a success. At least I think so, we'll see how much I actually end up changing in my manuscript. Mostly, it was pretty cool to spend two days driving around the countryside of upstate New York and Vermont at the time of peak fall colors.

I rented a little Toyota Yaris that zipped up the mountains pretty well and got great gas mileage (35 mpg or more), which meant it was almost cheaper to rent this car than to have paid for the gas if I'd driven our minivan.

I made stops in Schenectady, Schroon Lake, Ticonderoga, and Saranac Lake on the first day. Then went back home, through Ticonderoga again and Middlebury, Vermont. My little micro-cassette tape recorder was the perfect tool while driving--I recorded about 50 minutes of notes in the car and while walking around (trying not too look too weird, muttering into a little recorder). At stops, I'd also take written notes on various locations and towns, and also took a fair amount of video notes. I drove about 750 miles over the two days.

I definitely came across a few times where what I'd written in the draft of my book was completely wrong and will need to be changed. So that made the whole trip worthwhile right there. Plus, I found myself extremely focused on the story of the novel during the drive, and it's not often that I get to spend a good 15-20 hours in a row thinking about it.

Staying with my high school friends Ray and Patty was a high point of the trip. And I found folks along the way helpful, once I explained what I was doing--a woman at a hospital in Ticonderoga let me look in at the CT scanner, a clerk at a tiny little motel let me video tape an empty hotel room. Cops answered questions about how they'd respond to a missing person request. Though in the post-9-11 world, some people are a little weirded out by strangers. The clerk at a Super 8 motel wouldn't tape the inside of their lobby--I guess I could be a domestic terrorist or something.

On the way home, I stopped at this amazing tavern (see above) in Brandon, VT, the Watershed Tavern. It has nothing at all to do with my book, but the view out the windows of this waterfall was stunning. And the food was good, too.

As always, I'm grateful that writing books gives me an excuse for an occasional road trip where I get to poke around the countryside and visit old friends and meet new people. (Sure would be nice if this book goes on to sell a huge number of copies, so I can keep taking more jaunts.)

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Research Road Trip

Tomorrow I'm heading out on a brief research road trip for my novel, with stops in Schenectady, Schroon Lake, Ticonderoga (all in NY), possibly Middlebury, VT, and then up to Saranac Lake, New York, where I'll stay with some old high school friends. I need to be up by 5am and head to the airport to pick up a rental car.

Looks like I'll have some good weather for the trip, which will mirror stops taken by my characters, at this exact same time of year. Some of these places I've never been, and some it's just been a long time.

I'm nervous. It's a lot to try to cram into two days (one up and one back down again), but I'm curious to see if my guesses/memories were right about these places, and to see what I might see or experience me that will inspire interesting changes to the draft I've written. I've already gone back through the relevant 60 pages, highlighting the sections that I need to examine. I hope I've got it all sufficiently in my head for it to mesh together right.

I'm taking my new digital video camera, so I can record the places for future reference. I've been so busy lately, the camera's just been sitting in the bag, so I'm glad to have an chance to use it.

It's nice that writing a novel can give me an excuse to see the fall colors and visit old friends. If I had the money, I'd travel even more for this particular novel, but I can't afford tickets to Tacoma, Kansas City, Eugene, Champaign, or Denver.

A lot of times, such trips end up just influencing a few lines or paragraphs, but there's a richness that can come from it. It should be a useful adventure.

Off to pack!

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Why Be a Billionaire?

Now, I don't have any great interest in being super rich. I guess it could buy fancy stuff and travel, but I suppose it would come with a lot of hassles. And I don't much need a fancier car or a bigger house (okay, I wouldn't mind a place with two bathrooms, because I have a teenager who spends a fair amount of time fixing her hair in the morning).

But Jay Walker has used his money to build a really, really cool library. If I had a billion dollars, I could definitely go for something just like this. Check out the article in Wired.

Gone Green (Thanks NStar)

Okay, now I know there are many folks out there who believe strongly in the wisdom of private corporations to solve all our ills (aka Republicans). Now, I sometimes I think this comes from people who have never actually worked for a large corporations and who have never noticed the fact that in most big companies, the fact that anything gets accomplished seems like a minor miracle. An example of extreme productivity, they are not.

The latest example of corporate genius arrived in my mailbox yesterday. NStar, our electric company, recently offered us the chance to commit to consuming electricity generated exclusively by renewable sources--wind, solar, geothermal, or hydro. For an extra $5 per month, we could feel we were doing the "green" thing. We're liberal, lefty, tree-hugger types, so we bit.

So yesterday, a long cardboard tube arrives in the mail from NStar. It cost $1.64 in first class postage to mail it to me. What could be in this special mailing? A special solar panel for my window? A small little windmill to generate extra power. Compact fluorescent light bulb?

Nope. A little green flag and a stick. And a letter that reads:

Dear Customer,
Thank you for choosing NSTAR Green!

Your decision has demonstrated leadership in your community and a real concern for the environment.

In addition, you are supporting the development of renewable energy sources. Your participation in this program helps reduce fossil fuel consumption and greenhouse gas emissions today, while ensuring the future viability of the renewable energy industry.

As further evidence of your commitment to the environment, we encourage you to display the enclosed flag to demonstrate to your neighbors your enthusiastic pride in this initiative!

So some genius thought that the first $5 of extra money we paid towards renewable energy would be better spent on an idiotic little green flag and the postage and packaging required to move it through the mail. Unbelievable. It's been a useful toy for Noah to wave around the house and pretend that he's in the Olympics, and I guarantee that the wooden dowel will soon be used as a pirate's sword, until the wrong person gets poked and it's taken away.

I'm a grown up. I don't need a little flag, and maybe NStar should try to grasp the concept that conserving energy and resources is as important as the way that energy is generated. A little sense doesn't seem like to much to ask.

Friday, October 3, 2008

update: good/bad

I'm still making excellent progress on my novel revisions. I have a deadline--I need to get Part I, about 90 pages, to my fiction group by October 12th or so, so they can read it for our October 30th meeting. Nothing like a deadline to focus the mind.

Unfortunately, my play, Recognition, did not make it through to the final week of the T Plays. You should still go see it, if you haven't. The final set will make for a very fun evening. I had a great time making my play for the production. And after bringing it to my Rhombus playwrights group on Monday, I was able to make more changes and I feel like it's in excellent shape, and I'm sending it out now.

Speaking of sending out plays--we finished the Submission Binge #13 this week. Many, many hundreds of plays were submitted by the group (I myself sent 33 plays and 11 queries in the month) and lots of information was swapped, good news shared. I managed to get through the Binge (the challenge is to submit a play ever day for 30 days) without missing a single day, and I even kept on going for an extra two days. (Who knows, if I send something out tonight, that'll make 33 days in a row.) It's nice to have a chance for a breather, but I miss the constant positive chatter of the group (though it's still pretty active, even between Binges).

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Tina Fey as Palin

Okay, you've probably all seen this, but I thought I'd put it up anyway. As far as I can tell, the only positive of Palin getting elected would be getting to watch Tina Fey play her. But I can live without it.

T Plays Open Tonight

I was at rehearsal for my T play, Recognition, on Sunday night (before heading home on my bicycle in a surprise downpour--3 miles from Beacon Hill to my house--like swimming home) and it went well. The whole process is compressed for this festival, but that's fine. I think the script turned out better than I'd hoped--you never know with the high pressure deadlines, but when they work, they really work.

Anyway, tonight is opening night. 8pm, Factory Theatre, 791 Tremont Street in Boston. I can't go tonight because I have to coach soccer (and am already missing an open house at Kira's school), but I'll be there tomorrow night. Can't wait.

Essay from Tim Wise on white privilege

Tim Wise has written a thought-provoking essay on white privilege and the current presidential race. I'm a big fan of Tim's and I think this one is right on the money.

Check it out here: This is Your Nation on White Privilege .

Whenever I co-facilitate the White People Challenging Racism class, it's always hard for people to really get their heads around how white privilege works. Having Barack Obama in the race, as Tim shows us, helps make it all a lot clearer.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

The T Plays--made my deadline

So I managed to get my T play written this afternoon. Tracy had actually given me an idea when we were driving to Kira's soccer game this morning--telling me about something that had happened to her on the T a while ago. The idea really stuck with me--I just couldn't shake it.

I got to the T at noon and met up with the young reporter from BU, who promised to just sit and hang out and not talk to me while I was writing, which worked out great. Before she arrived, just while waiting on the platform, I was able sketch out a few possible notes.

The D Line outbound from Brookline was nearly empty, which was just what I needed. I was able to work on a stronger set out outlines and questions for a good half of the ride, and then actually started writing. Being on the T was very helpful to try to understand the physical way I wanted this script to play itself out. And with it empty, I could just stare at the seats and imagine my characters in place, as they shifted around from seat to seat. The train filled back up on our way back into the city (we were way out in the suburbs when we got to Riverside), but I was totally focused on getting the characters and their voices down on paper. I took a few details from the riders around me, but not a ton.

Back in town, the reporter had to jet off to another gig, but I was about halfway done with the draft. I hopped back on board the D line for another ride all the way to the end, and by 2 o'clock, I had a whole draft, about 9 pages, which should come in around 10 minutes (our target). I rode for another hour, making revisions, thinking more about how people ride the T. Then I went home and typed it up, let it sit a little, and I've just turned it in (an hour ahead of deadline).

In some ways, I wish that I'd grabbed an idea from this particular T ride, but I'm happy with the play that I got, and it was definitely an interesting and intense experience to write it on the train. We have a read through tonight at 9:15 after the show, and I'm curious to see how it turns out. I haven't met one of the actresses yet, so I'm hoping I've got their ages about right. If not, I'll have to make some modifications. I'll have a chance to make more changes before rehearsal tomorrow.

Right now I'm pretty exhausted, but glad that I managed to write a draft of a play that I like.

Friday, September 19, 2008

at the starting line--T Plays

As soon as I grab some lunch, I'll head out to the Green Line and try to write my T play. There's a young reporter from BU who will be shadowing me--hopefully I can turn off my extrovert mind and focus on the task at hand. I'm already trying to make the mental shift from soccer coach (we won this morning, 4-3, in a thrilling game) to playwright.

I got to watch the shows last night and have some ideas about what I want and what I don't, and even a few slips of possible ways to go. Time is an issue, of course. I'd like to write for an hour and just think and listen and see if anything new really jolts me, or if I might shape one of these other thoughts.

I saw the first round of shows last night, and they were all well done. It's nice to have such strong company (I won't say competition, even though, well, you know...)

Okay, I have 6.5 hours to write and type and send it in. Off I go.

The T Plays

This weekend is going to be crazy busy, because I'm taking part in the T Plays this weekend, where five writers get on the T (Boston's subway) and ride all afternoon, while writing a play that takes place on the T, inspired by the ride. We'll have a read through tomorrow night, and th plays will go up on Wednesday of next week!

I'll be riding the Green Line tomorrow (as soon as I'm done coaching Kira's soccer game). I'll have from noon - 6pm to write and type up my play and turn it in. (Yikes!) I'll try to post again tomorrow and write about how it's going.

The results of the last week are on stage this weekend, at the Factory Theatre. Here's the info:

September 17th – October 4th, 2008

  • week I: Wednesday – Saturday, September 17 – 20 @ 8PM
  • week II: Thursday – Saturday, September 25 – 27 @ 8PM
  • matinee: Sunday, September 28 @ 3PM
  • week III: Thursday – Saturday, October 2 – 4 @ 8PM
The Factory Theater
791 Tremont Street, Boston, MA 02118
Tickets: $15 or get a "T Plays Pass" for $30 to see one show each week
Reserve: 866-811-4111 or
Info: 617-240-6317 or email:

Over our first two weeks we’ll present 10 World Premieres. Each Saturday five playwrights will board the subway knowing only the number of characters and the setting (the very subway they are on). At the end of the round trip they turn their freshly written script over to the director and actors. Three days later the shows go up!

The second week we do it all over again with new writers, directors and actors.

But there’s more! Every night we’ll be asking the audience to vote on their favorites. Our closing week October 2 – 4 we’ll be presenting the winners in our “Audience Favorites” Final Week.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Avast, Aargh, and Keel Hauling

I know that many of us are in something of a tizzy these days, what with the prospect of the world's largest superpower potentially being helmed by a man (advanced in age, and with a history of health problems) whose sudden demise might cause a woman with a penchant for wisecracks, assault rifles, the rapture, and personal political payback to be thrust into the presidency. That the American voters might go from electing someone they can have a beer with to electing someone they could picture being part of the hockey carpool isn't especially comforting, and may be causing some of us to look at Canadian real estate web sites.

But when the times get tough, the tough have to sometimes let off a little steam. Thus, perhaps some of us hand-wringers currently experiencing night sweats should consider taking part in International Talk Like a Pirate Day this Friday, September 19th. Nothing helps release tension like a good Aaargh! or an Avast Me Hearties!

My son Noah is a big fan of pirates, so I'm certain we'll be on board. Let it all out, friends. Before it's too late.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Good News: more radio time

Just got some good news that my radio play, Love and Lightning, will be rebroadcast this November in San Francisco, by the Shoestring Radio Theatre, on KUSF (90.3 FM). It's a dark, but fun, comedy about a man struck by lightning while out bicycle riding with a woman who was certain he was going to propose marriage to her (he wasn't). I'm glad it'll have a chance to reach an audience again.

Someday, when I have a little more time (okay, most of my fantasies in life involve magically finding more time), I want to try to get versions of my radio plays digitized and available as podcasts on my web site. (Right next to my short films.) They've all been broadcast at some point or other, but I know online they could potentially reach even more people. At some point (after my magic wands adds an extra third and fourth hour to the day, and the energy use them for more than sleeping), I'd like to re-record some of them with my favorite Boston actors.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

novel progress: draft complete

Finished up the current rewrite of my new novel this morning. The ending sort of snuck up on me--I'd thought it was going to happen in about 20 more pages, but then suddenly, the characters got themselves to a point where the story just needed to end. It makes me feel a little dizzy, actually.

I'm not quite sure what to make of it. But if I know one thing, it's that endings are definitely not written in stone, and it's pretty likely this one will change, once I start revising.

I've been writing this draft longhand, to try to shake things up, so now I've got about 140 handwritten pages that need to be typed up (editing as I go, of course). I'm curious to see what I've got. I tend to keep pushing ahead all the time when I'm writing a draft like this, so rereading it will feel oddly fresh for me. I've spent a lot of time with these characters, and I'm glad that I'll get to visit with them for a while longer.

My goal is still to have a draft ready to send out by January, though that seems ambitious at the moment. (Especially since this fall is very, very very busy with productions, freelance work, soccer coaching, some travel, etc.) Still, I've got my 5am-6:45am slot every day (which I actually gave up yesterday, in order to do a freelance gig, but I won't do that often).

Sunday, August 31, 2008

About to (Playwright) Binge

The Playwright Binge start up again tomorrow, for our 13th Binge. This is an online group of writers (mostly playwrights) who take up the challenge of submitting a play once a day, every day, for thirty days.

I started this group almost seven years ago, with about a dozen people playing along. Now we've got more than 400 playwrights from around the world signed up, and it's turned into a very supportive, year-round community. During the actual binges (we do this twice a year), folks post what they've sent to the list, where they sent it, and why. They're pretty good about sharing info, too.

Theatres of the world beware--here we come!

Sunday, August 24, 2008

update: novel progress

Finished Part II of the new novel on Thursday. I'm probably about 250 pages into this current rewrite. I just have one more big section to go and then this draft will be done, and then it'll be time to get back to editing and revising all over again. My early morning schedule has been paying off--I wrote about 100 pages in the past 30 days, 56 in August alone. I just need to keep that up for the next 50-70 pages (I think that's how much I have to go). In my fantasy world, I'll have this novel done and ready to go out by the end of this year (though the fall seems so busy that I'm a little scared).

I'm guessing this week will be all noodling time, planning for Part III, and that's hard to do at 5am, because I'm only half awake, but that's the time I have, so I'd better use it.

A Union Man?

I just joined the National Writers Union (assuming they accept my application). I've never belonged to a union before. Technically it's associated with the AFL-CIO and the UAW (local # 1981). Now when I rail about the recent decline in the power of American Labor I theoretically won't be quite so lame. I've actually committed money to helping folks who will advocate in my best interests. (Sounds like a good idea, doesn't it?) Collective action for the common good--what a concept.

I have a friend who helps run the Boston chapter and she's encouraged me to join for years. They offer job postings and contract advice and seminars for members. All stuff I can use.

I have to confess that as a student, I got a bit bamboozled by the Reagan era anti-union tsunami that swept the nation, and saw unions as relics of the past, mostly interested in protecting people with excessive rules and not allowing flexibility and initiative. Most of the press still presents unions that way (ah, who owns the papers and TV stations, after all?) Then I started doing a little reading and had my eyes opened as to the extreme (and violent) struggle that went on between organized labor and capital at the end of the 19th and in the first half of the 20th century. It's easy to take for granted all the protections and benefits that the labor struggle has provided to so many. Taken for granted enough that we're starting to see them gradually erode.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Life Imitating Art. And not. Pumpkin Patch vs. Cabbage Patch

My play Pumpkin Patch is now available from Playscripts, which is very exciting. (Everyone should immediately go buy a copy. It's in a collection of plays, so you'd actually get all kinds of good plays, even though you're really just after this one really good Gabridge play.)

The play is about two people in a community garden--one of whom is the coordinator and catches a woman stealing pumpkins. There's a big dust up, drama all around. No one comes out looking particularly good. I like it because it's a play where people get to smash things on stage, which is fun for everyone.

So today, my son and I rode our bikes to our community garden. It was the first time we'd had two days of sunshine in a row in almost forever. We had a great ride (in our family, we tried to determine everyone's superpowers. Noah's is riding his bike. Mine is that I'm very good at falling asleep--watching TV, reading books, typing on the computer, watching plays). Sun shining overhead. Not too hot. Birds singing. Flowers blooming.

I took my little preliminary tour of our 12' x 27' plot, just to admire it and check for problems, before starting to harvest cucumbers and tomatoes. And I stopped right at the path's edge. There was a hole in the ground where there used to be two very pretty heads of cabbage growing. There was one left of the three that we'd grown, but two had been stolen.

I ranted and railed. What kind of person steals from a garden? Why did they have to take two? I mean, if they were really, really hungry, I could have spared one. But they took a long time to grow. Two? There was a twisted off tap root from one of the cabbages, still fresh. The thief had been there this morning.

"Call 9-1-1," my son advised. He's eight. I had to explain the police might be busy solving other crimes with higher priorities than my missing cabbages. He was a little put off by this, but then gave a big pirate roar and said that if he was a policeman he'd catch the thief and put him in a jail with bees. So the thief would get stung. This sort of punishment can come to mind, I suppose, when there are bees buzzing about, busy pollinating squash.

In Pumpkin Patch, the garden coordinator's mantra is "Don't Plant Pumpkins!" That's what she tell her gardeners, because she knows they'll have their hearts broken. "Plant zucchinis, plant green beans, but don't plant melons, don't plant pumpkins." She's both right and wrong, of course. The gardeners will get their hearts broken, but if they don't plant pumpkins, then nobody gets any pumpkins, and everybody loses. (Confession: when I was coordinator of this garden, I used to issue the same warning, but slightly more gently.)

I never thought to have her say, "Don't plant cabbages." Who steals cabbages?

Unlike in my play, there was no scoundrel at the garden with a bag full of two perfectly round heads of cabbage. Just me, shaking my head and muttering.

The nice thing was that for once, I'd already written and thought about all this. A lot. At least enough to write about it and to be involved with two productions of the play. So I had plenty of practice making up scenarios for why someone would do this and how they should act. Who knew being a writer might actually pay off someday.

I picked the remaining cabbage. (At least they left me this, right?) It could have grown bigger, but it's beautiful and big enough for a meal for our family. (Watch out, kids.) I picked a few tomatoes showing pink, too, because I find tomatoes more tempting than cabbages, myself, and my faith in humanity was just a little tarnished.

But I'll plant more cabbages next year. And today, once I was done harvesting and then planting new seeds of chard, spinach, lettuce, and beets for my fall crop, I weeded the garden of some friends. They're busy and have two small kids and the plot was desperately overgrown with grass and bindweed and other good sized chokers. So I filled up bucket after bucket of weeds until you could see the eggplants again and smell the dill and thyme.

There wasn't anything I could do to get my cabbages back, or keep them from vanishing next time, but I could at least make sure that somebody will have a pleasant surprise the next time they visit the garden. That helped a lot.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Anne Lamott on the process

I'm rereading Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott, which is awfully helpful (and if you're a writer, I can't recommend it enough), while I'm in the midst of major rewrite #3 and trying not to think about whether this novel will ever be any good.

Here's a quote that seemed just what I think about the process at the moment:

Writing is about hypnotizing yourself into believing in yourself, getting some work done, then unhypnotizing yourself and going over the material coldly. There will be many mistakes, many things to take out and other that need to be added. You just aren't always going to make the right decision.

That pretty much sums it up for me. Right now, I'm desperately trying to stay hypnotized and avoid breaking the spell. Sometimes I feel a little out of it, I have to confess, because my subconscious is whirring away trying to figure out what the hell is coming next in each scene. A fine cold eye is definitely not what I need right now.

Just call me Michael Phelps

The Olympics are always a good writing time for me (if I don’t get sucked too much into watching them), because I find myself thinking: Look at those people. Pure dedication. Constant training and sacrifice. These athletes work in the gym every morning at 7am, then swim in the pool for eight hours a day, or bike a hundred miles, or do flips across a gym mat all day. If they can do that, I can sit down at my desk at 5am every morning and write for a few hours (without complaining). I want to be in the writing Olympics, I want my work widely published and produced, and if that’s going to happen, I’ve got to train like these people.

I’m sure that these two weeks are probably the biggest surge of the year for gym memberships and sales of running shoes (maybe except for New Year’s week). Maybe it’s the same way for the number of pages written in the dark early morning. And like most gym memberships, attendance at the desk will fade off over time (especially once Lost starts coming at at 10pm). But hopefully, for some of us at least, the habits will stick.

(I have manged to write 7 pages in the dark hours in the past two days, by the way.)

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Boston Theatre Conference 2008

I'm back from today's Boston Theatre Conference, run by StageSource, both energized and totally exhausted. I knew it was going to be a good day when a) it didn't rain on me during the five-mile bike ride to get there (though I felt a sprinkle) and b) the first person I met was a college theatre professor who was interested in taking a look at my play, God's Voice.

The Arsenal Center for the Arts in Watertown today was crackling with positive energy. Jeff Poulos, StageSource Executive Director (who rocks!) said there were 260 people there (and he'd hoped for 150). We came from all aspects of theatre--writers, directors, actors, designers, administrators. The overriding theme was "Raising Our Standard" with much of the discussion around ways to increase collaboration between institutions and between artists.

After the plenary discussion, we split into breakout sessions. I was moderator for the playwright group. We had about 40 people pack the room, and for the most part we were able to follow my "no whining" rule. We hit a lot of different topics, from playwright groups, to funding sources, to possible thoughts around training sessions. We didn't come away with any major new initiatives, but it was also good for the bunch of us to be in a room together and get to know each other a little better. (Art Hennessey was there, too, and I'm sure he'll come up with a good post about it all on his blog.)

Lunch featured another lively discussion (I like how they paired us into multi-disciplinary groups) about the climate in Boston for theatre. Then after that, there was an inspiring mainstage discussion with the new heads of the ART, Diane Paulus, and the Huntington, Peter DuBois, and relatively new (3 years) head of Trinity Rep, Curt Columbus. The presence of these three might bode very well for theatre in our area. Curt Columbus talked a lot about how he's weaving his theatre into the fabric of his community--he was both funny and just totally seems to understand the good parts of theatre. I'd work with him in a heartbeat. Wow.

It was a busy, busy day (there was even another session after all that), with lots of networking and chatting with old friends. The kind of day that makes me see what I love about theatre and theatre people.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

dancing around the world

Where The Hell is Matt video

My daughter showed me this today. Fun, inspiring, and it's found an audience, that's for sure.

I'd never heard of it before, but it's had more than 8 million views on YouTube, and apparently now he's been on TV and has a book deal in the works. Very interesting to see what grabs people's attention.

It definitely makes me want to travel, more now than ever. There's just the small matter of $$. Maybe I'd better do a good job with my new novel and maybe it'll actually sell.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Fun blog about writing a novel

Lynn Price on her Behler blog pointed out this very funny blog about the stages of writing a novel. Definitely gave me a good laugh.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

the upside--to writing and getting older

It can be easy to get caught up in the downside of playwriting--poor pay, long response times from theatres, a decreasing number of venues (it seems) for full-length work. General discouragement is in plentiful supply.

However, I was looking at a list from my publisher (Brooklyn Publishers) the other day and saw that my one-act play, The Elevator, has been produced twice this year by various high schools. This is the very first play I ever wrote, and it was produced by the Pendragon Theatre in 1987. It's a fine little piece about two people who get stuck together in an elevator. I wrote it on a whim and submitted it to them, since I'd worked with them backstage and as an actor, in our tiny little town of Saranac Lake, NY. The bill for the evening featured me, Elaine May, and Tennesee Williams. (It later went on to be produced in New York City and Denver.)

That production is part of why I'm a playwright and writer today. I was still in college and it helped give me the taste of watching my work live on stage, that first time of butterflies in my stomach as the lights went down and then back up on the actors on the set for my play.

I never would have thought, at the age of 20, that this same play would still be getting productions 21 years later. It's particularly gratifying to know that I wrote something that can still interest and entertain performers and audiences after all this time. I'm certainly a long way from being a well-known writer, but it's nice to know that you don't have to be famous for your work to have a long and productive life. There aren't many fields where you can create something that still sticks around after a generation has passed--I feel lucky to be a writer.

Friday, August 1, 2008

progress report--lots of new pages in July

I'm continuing to make solid progress on the rewrite of the new novel. The last two weeks have been particularly productive--I've written 56 new pages, which is just what I was hoping for. Because Noah's been in camp, I've been able to get up at 5am, write until 7am, get him up and walk him to camp, and then write from 9am-11am. Four solid hours is enough to write about five pages of new material, and I've been doing that every weekday for the past two weeks. (In my fantasies, I write this way all year long, which would mean I could write about 1,000 pages in a year. Wouldn't that be nice.)

Unfortunately, today was the last day of camp, so from now until after Labor Day, I'll only have from 5am-7am to write, but if I can keep it up, I'll be able to maintain my momentum. I'll need to keep being strict about no e-mail, no opening the internet browser, and no writing to-do lists until after my writing is done for the day. If I can get write 2 pages a day until school starts, I'll be satisfied.

I'll be joining a bunch of writers at the Playwright Purge, which is an online group that takes the challenge of trying to write something every day for a month. It's a fun group and a good way to stay productive.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Anatomy of a Distraction (or If You Give a Writer a Search Engine...)

Here's why when you're actually trying to get some writing done, you should not open up your web browser. Once the pandora's box is open... Usually I'm really good, but Google Maps shouldn't count, right? I was in the middle of writing a scene set in Eugene, Oregon, and I needed to see a map of the area. No atlas handy to my desk, but the computer is on (though I'm writing by hand). So here's how it goes:

Google map of Eugene. Reminds me that it's not as close to the coast as I thought.

Oh, I think, how odd. There don't seem to be any major cities on the West Coast, between San Francisco and Seattle. This requires a search. In Wikipedia. Turns out there are no good deep water ports that connect to interior agricultural areas. Hence, unlike the East Coast, which is full of cities and harbors, the West Coast is pretty bare.

Which gets me thinking. Hey, wouldn't that be a cool bike ride. Ride along the coastal highway, no big cities. Which leads me to find a blog about a guy who blogged about biking the Oregon coast in 2006. Sounds fun. Turns out it's a pretty busy road, because so many tourists think it's beautiful.

And I get to thinking about big long trips, and his blog just happens to mention, which is a blog by a couple who are bicycling from the top of Canada to the tip of Patagonia. They started in June 2006, and now they're in Peru, having ridden more than 12,000 miles.

I've always had a fascination with long journeys on foot (hence my novel Tornado Siren) or by bike or by canoe. So far, I haven't gotten very far on my bike, but maybe later this summer or next year... Paddling the length of a major river has great appeal. Mississippi anyone? The Charles is close by and short, I guess I could start there. So many possibilities.

All of this led to considerable daydreaming and not prodigious writing, until I got the stupid browser closed. I promise myself I'll be strong (though a little refresher research on gravitational attraction just happened to lead to Einstein's special relativity, which then led to Kepler's Problem, and I'm interested in anything about Kepler, so...)

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

What I'm Reading: Writers Workshop in a Book

I got Writers Workshop in a Book entirely because I love the Fear of Finishing essay by Mark Childress and wanted to see if the other essays in the book would be as helpful. They were.

I know some readers have been disappointed because they thought this was going to be a sort of step-by-step instruction book about how to write. It's nothing at all like that. Instead, it's a collection of essays by writers who have been around for a while, and are willing to talk about things as specific as point of view or writing historical fiction, or as general as anxiety about writing your second book (from Amy Tan).

For me, this was all like sitting around the couch with a bunch of mentors and just listening to what they had to say. It helped me keep plunging ahead with my own second novel. I have a feeling this will be a book that I'll go back to again.

I'm especially jealous of my friend Jessica, who is planning to attend the workshop in the flesh next month. Maybe someday I'll get there (these things just aren't practical when you've got kids). An added treat for me was the afterword, by Oakley Hall, where he talks about how the workshop actually got started. It's the kind of grassroots venture that I'd love to start myself someday. Maybe on the east coast. With a big huge garden, where the writers and I can plant and pick organic produce, and maybe a theatre for workshopping plays. Maybe.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Good News: Counting Rita to be in Best Ten-Minute Plays

I just heard from Smith & Kraus that they want to include Counting Rita in the upcoming Best Ten-Minute Plays 2009, Two Actors. This will be my third year in a row with a play in one of their anthologies, which feels especially gratifying. I really enjoyed the production in the Boston Marathon earlier this year (the one that made it eligible for the anthology) and I hope the anthology will help make it even more popular.

Anthologies haven't led to many productions for me, but I do have folks from all over the world contact me (rarely) with questions about the plays. And I love the idea of a couple thousand people reading the script.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

update on new novel

I'm still making good progress on the rewrites to my new novel. Getting up at 5am, and making sure I get in a couple hours every day has helped a lot over the past few weeks. In an odd process, I've been handwriting everything, even when that entails copying stuff over from the old draft on the computer. These past few days I've been typing up all the handwritten stuff. Right now, I'm up to 96 pages (about 27,500 words), and it feels pretty good. I was able to cut out a lot of the boring bits in the old first 250 pages of the novel. I think I have a pretty solid first 100 pages of a book now.

We're off on a little mini-vacation (the kids are going to the beach with Grandma in Rhode Island, while Tracy and I get to celebrate our 20th wedding anniversary with three nights in Mystic, CT, with just the two of us!). When I get back, it'll be time to dive into Part II of the book, which I think will take most of the rest of the summer.

Monday, June 30, 2008

Tornado Siren: Wordle Version

Tracy showed me this cool web app, Wordle, that takes a bunch of text and essentially turns it into word art, using the frequency of words in the text. Here's what my novel, Tornado Siren, looks like, in Wordle:

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Good News: The Sky is Falling will be in Fall EATFest

I got some good news via e-mail yesterday--my one-act, The Sky is Falling will be part of Emerging Artists Theatre's Fall EATFest, November4-16, in New York. They staged Den of Iniquity last year, and it was a very well run production. I'm excited to have a show on the schedule for the fall and glad to have an excuse to head down to NYC for a visit.

The Sky is Falling is a show that I wrote as part of May Day Play Day here in Boston, a 24-hour play festival. This new production will be a good chance to tweak and refine the script a little bit. The play has a cast of 3 or 4 women and was just a ton of fun when we did it in Boston. Here's the summary:

Samantha is informed by her guru that the rapture will arrive tomorrow, and she and the elect will be taken from the earth in space ships. Samantha’s sister and her grandmother aren’t surprised by the apocalyptic news—they’ve heard it from her before. But they go along for a wild night of farewells and a surprising visitation.

It's a fun comedy, but there's also something underneath that a lot more serious, about sisters and how hard it can be to connect with our own family.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Back to the 5am shift

The kids are out of school for the summer now. I'm actually lucky this summer (writing-wise), because Noah has a six-week program every day, 8:30-1:30, starting next week. He'll get to have some fun, and I'll still have some writing time. This week, though, I'm back to writing at 5 a.m. I've done it for two days in a row so far, with good results on the rewrites of the new novel (8 pages so far this week). Noah's up by 7am, but two hours is definitely a good start to the day. I just need to keep it up the rest of this week, and then I'll be back on the same 5am schedule all of August, though the start of September.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Worm Update: harvest

After all these months of feeding our worms, today we finally harvested almost 9 pounds of castings (worm compost) (worm poop), from Bin A. Some gardeners call it black gold. I can't wait to spread some of it around our community garden plot. My tomato plants look like they could use some food, and I just planted some new seeds that could use a boost, too.

Our other two bins are almost ready to go, too. They'd had a hard time taking off, but a transplant of worms from Bin A helped boost the population. In about 3-4 weeks, we should have another 10-20 pounds of castings, just when the garden will really be hungry for high octane organic fertilizer. We've added a little of this stuff to house plants, and it's worked very well (we have a very happy rosemary plant now).

The bins haven't been consuming much of our vegetable waste, just a few pounds every week and a half or so, but the worms are thriving, so I think we're going to see if we can feed them a little more.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Video Editing Frustration

Okay, so I've had a pretty busy spring, but I finally got some time where I could download the Adobe Premiere Elements 4 software that I bought, in order to start doing some test edits from some silly stuff I shot with my new digital video camera. I open the box and realize that there's a $20 rebate, so I quickly cut up the box and send in my receipt, because the deadline is almost here.

Then I try to load the software (I did this in the wrong order, I now realize). Big problem. It won't run on my laptop, because I don't have a fast enough processor (I have a Pentium III, and it needs a Pentium 4 or better). Crap. The family desktop computer does have a Pentium 4, so I could download it and edit it there, right? Ah, unfortunately, my desktop only has USB ports and my camera output is via a firewire cable. Surely, I could just buy a cable that will convert the output, right? $120 for a cable that will go from firewire to USB.


Now I'm trying to figure out if I should just edit with the Microsoft MovieMaker software that I have, or some other free-ish software, or should I try to get a new more powerful laptop? That could run me $500 or more, though. (Which I don't have at the moment.) Ouch. I'll have to muddle through with the free software now and start saving my pennies.

(Will I soon find myself longing for the days of Super 8 film?)

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

To Do or Not To Do (Lists)

I'm finally making some progress on the rewrite of my new novel. It took me a while to get my head into the right place where I was ready to start up again. And it took a little longer to get onto a new schedule that was productive (at least for this week--the kids finish school on Friday, so I'll need to tweak a bit).

My secret this week has been making sure that when I arrive at my desk to write my e-mail application is closed down, my web browser is closed, and I don't make a to-do list. This seemed counter-intuitive to me at first, because a) I'm a compulsive list-maker, so any list is a good list, and b) I'm trying to get more done, so having a list should make me more organized and get more done. Right?

Normally I keep a to-do list on a 3x5 card, and that covers my desired chores/goals for two days. I long ago figured out that it's impossible to accopmlish more in one day than will fit on a 3x5 card. I tried using a software program for a to-do list, but it just added one more thing to do to my already long list. My daily habit is to start a new 3x5 card, and then write in my journal, and then get to my actual writing. Sounds good, yes? However, what I figured out is that composing my to-do list before I started writing put me in completely the wrong mind-set. It got my head into the daily list of clutter and chores, and not at all around writing. Plus, creating the list always ended up taking more than just two minutes, because I'd be at the computer, so I might do one or two really easy tasks or have research a phone number first. And, once the list was complete, I'd have it on my desk, so that while I was writing, if I suddenly remembered something else I needed to do, there it was--I could just write it down. But that also meant that my subconscious was always analyzing what I should be doing and how to get more done and in what order, all when it was supposed to be cranking around character and language.

So this week, I've waited for e-mail, internet, and to-do lists until after I finished my writing for the day. What I find is that I'm able to write longer and with better concentration. My list of chores isn't waiting for me--I can create it when it's the time to actually start thinking about such things. And I've made writing top priority, which is the only way it gets done, because otherwise there are a million tasks waiting to push it to the back of the line.

I'm going to get less done, but that's all right, because I'll do a lot more writing. (I don't think this will work for night time writers--I write in the early morning, so this works for me.)

Friday, June 13, 2008

I started guitar lessons. This could be me (someday).

Last night I had my first guitar lesson. Actually, my daughter is getting lessons, but they're letting me sit in, too. Probably about fifteen years ago, I taught myself a few songs from "teach yourself guitar" books, but that was about it.

Our teacher's great--full of enthusiasm and overflowing with music--his fingers are always playing some riff. And he talks about scales and polychromatics, or something, and I have no idea what he's saying, but it sounds cool.

Because I used to try a little finger picking, he's got me learning the first few bars of Blackbird (a la Paul McCartney). It's tough, but I'm getting better (it's only been 24 hours). And, just as he warned, my fingers hurt. I figure the more I practice, the quicker I'll build calluses.

I've always thought that to be a really well-rounded theatre person, you should be able to either sing or play an instrument, be able to act, write, direct, and design a set or hang lights. Or at least design a and print a program and put together a marketing campaign for a production. I've got most of those covered, but I'm still short on the instrument (singing is a lost cause).

I've been talking about getting lessons for years, but never had the time or money. But Kira's not doing summer camp, and requested instead to get guitar lessons and insisted that she'll practice all the time. (We'll see.) I have had music lessons before--when I was in fourth grade, I took lessons on the recorder from a German woman in our subdivision. I have no idea why. I can't imagine a 10-year-old kid saying, "Hey, mom and dad, I just have to play the recorder! All the kids are doing it! It'll be the most fun ever!" But maybe I did. And I played clarinet in the 7th grade orchestra and absolutely hated it, as well as my teacher. I did not have any great musical aptitude (and probably still don't) and avoided practice at all costs.

Since then, I've accumulated a few musical instruments (trumpet, harmonica, guitar), but mostly they've served as decoration or closet filler.

This time, maybe it'll be different. Who knows? I might never be as good as the twelve-year old kid in this video, but he's giving me something to shoot for.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Why Writing a Play is like Building a Bookcase

A few weeks ago, I finished building a built-in book case in my office. I was struck by how the activity of writing a new play and building a carpentry project are similar (and a few ways they're different), at least for me.
  1. I really like making stuff. It doesn't matter whether it's with wood or words, there's a process and a result. In the case of the bookcase, the result feels a little more concrete.
  2. I don't always need a big complicated outline. In this case, I was able to draw a sketch on an index card and that was enough to build. The case is simple and strong, built in solid maple that has a certain glow. Just like the tone of language affects the perception of a play, the choice of wood makes a big difference.
  3. Sometimes I'm not ready to build yet. I bought the boards and they sat on our basement floor for a month or two until the moment was right. The same thing often happens with plays--I'll have an idea, maybe do some research, but I don't have the right space in my life to write it yet. Rushing ahead doesn't work.
  4. I'm not formally trained. I've seen some of the work by the students at the North Bennett Street School in Boston's North End, and I'm blown away. They are true craftsmen and artists, who know their tools intimately. I'm not at that level in my carpentry, not by a long shot. In terms of writing plays, I do a lot by instinct and from experience of 20 years of writing scripts. Sometimes wonder how my work would turn out if I had gone to graduate school. In the end, though, my book case serves me quite well, it looks good and hold books, and I enjoyed making it. That might be mostly what I need from the plays I create, too.
  5. The project needs to come together in a certain sequence. All the boards need to be cut to the proper length, assembled dry, adjusted, glued, nailed or screwed, then patience is required for each step of finishing--sanding, sealing, and over and over again until the surface is just right. Plays work much the same--from outline, to rough draft, to big cuts, to polishes after each reading and production.
  6. I never build the same piece twice. I'm always looking for a new challenge or to fill a new need in what I build from wood. I enjoy solving problems as they arise.
  7. I tend not to get paid for my work. (Actually, this isn't totally true either of playwriting or of carpentry.) For the carpentry, this feels natural. For the playwriting, it's a struggle.
  8. Though I have an audience (my wife and family and anyone who visits), ultimately, the piece needs to be done such that I'm satisfied with it. I will know every flaw, even if they're not readily visible to others. And I will learn to live with those flaws, because they're a part of the project. Perfection is not my goal, neither in writing nor in carpentry.
  9. Sometimes it's beautiful.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Now in Print: Stop Rain and Pumpkin Patch in Best Ten-Minute Plays

My author copies of 2007 The Best Ten-Minute Plays, 2 Actors arrived from Smith and Kraus yesterday. There's something especially gratifying about having my work appear in an actual book that has a little heft to it. I have two plays included in this anthology, Pumpkin Patch and Stop Rain, and both are plays that I happen to especially like. The books looks and feels great (and friend and actor Kevin LaVelle is on the cover).

I've had books in S&K anthologies in the past (most recently in 2000) and nothing much, production-wise, has come from them. But, whether it's rational or not, I have hopes that this time it'll lead to more productions. It's been a long time. These are different plays. The format they're using is a little different. We'll see.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Good News: Stick Up For Mars will be in Ten by Ten

Just when I had that sinking feeling of, "Hey, I have no productions on the schedule, no one will ever produce my plays again," some good news came via e-mail. The ArtsCenter in Carrboro, NC, will produce my new ten-minute play, Stick Up For Mars, in their Ten by Ten in the Triangle festival, July 10-20.

I've been in the festival a number of times (Insomnia in '05, and Measuring Matthew and Ship of Fools in '04) and I've gotten good feedback, plus they pay ($100) and they bring in big audiences (maybe 1,000 for the run, or more), which helps me feel good about my annual numbers. Unfortunately, I won't be able to make it down to see the show, which stinks, because I've never seen it before. Oh, well, with any luck the play will end up with a bunch more productions. It's a comedy about two women on the first manned mission to mars--after a year of being cooped up in space together, their obsessions are driving each other insane. I'm planning to include it in a new collection of short plays I'm putting together, Collected Obsessions.