Friday, February 29, 2008

Playwright Marketing Binge (#12) starts tomorrow

Twice a year, a bunch of playwrights take up a simple challenge: submit a play day, every day, for 30 days. A supportive online community of playwrights has grown up around the event. Tomorrow we start Binge #12. It's a great way to make your marketing chores a lot more fun. (There are 380 people on the Yahoo group now.)

You can join us at The Binge.

What I'm Reading: Non-Fiction Binge

This past month or so, thanks to lots of doctor's appointments and some compelling text, I read a lot more books than I usually do. I went through a whole fun non-fiction binge of four terrific books.

Spelling Love with an X (A Mother, a Son, and the Gene that Binds Them) by Clare Dunsford. I'd read parts of this before, because Clare is in my writer's group, but I was glad to finally get to read the whole thing. She's a terrific writer and tells about her journey, as a mother of a son with fragile x syndrome, in a way that's both compelling and literary. Not an easy challenge, but she pulls it off. My own son has various special needs, and though they're not the same as Clare's son, JP's, I can relate closely to her experiences with doctors and diagnoses and special education classes. And the shift from an over-educated, middle-class sense of certainty and security about the future of our children, to having to stumble through life one day at a time, being forced to look at this moment and love our children for who they are right this instant. I'm grateful to Clare for writing this book and know I will return to it again in the future.

The Blind Side by Michael Lewis. Yet another book about boys with challenges that made me think about my own son. The boy in this case is a 6'6", 340 pound black teenager, basically abandoned to the streets of inner city Memphis, who ends up basically being adopted by a white, rich, evangelical Christian family with deep ties to college athletics (Ole Miss). (We adopted our son at a young age, unlike the boy in Lewis' book, but our son is black, we are white, and he's on track to be 6'4" and big enough to play football.) Lewis is an astounding writer, blending in details about professional football and the rise of importance of the position of left tackle , with the story of a gifted athlete who becomes highly sought after by college scouts nationwide and a family who takes him into their home and tries to protect and educate him. It's a fast read. I'm definitely going to read Michael Lewis' other books as soon as possible. I've been hearing great things about Moneyball for a long time now.

Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer. Another book about sons, really. Just as compelling as Blind Side, but Krakauer's style is so different--much more lyrical-- as he tries to puzzle out the mystery of why young Chris McCandless apparently trudged into the wilds of Alaska, poorly equipped, and starved to death. The story ends up being a lot more complex than it seems at first, and it's especially interesting to watch Krakauer pursue it, because he clearly sees himself in McCandless and feels a strong paternal protectiveness for the young man and his choices. I have no idea how they turned this into a movie, because part of what makes the book work is the disjointed narrative of Krakauer trying to pull together all the pieces, and telling us about similar adventurers in the past (and his own escapades). Still, I'll probably watch the movie, and I can't wait to read Into Thin Air.

Michael Pollan's In Defense of Food doesn't really have anything to do with sons (I tried to find a tie-in, but no luck). In a way, it doesn't cover a lot of new ground (I LOVED his Omnivore's Dilemma), but it does hit the high points about some important ways to think about food and eating (it's basically an expansion of his essay in the NY Times Magazine from last year). His main points are simple: Eat Food, Not too Much, Eat Mostly Plants. If you stick with that, you're likely to stay healthy and avoid a huge amount of stress from trying to figure out how to interpret the latest mishmash of dietary studies and fads. Luckily for us, our family has already been eating this way for the past year, so this book serves more as a support and confirmation of our efforts, rather than a challenge. It's a quick, sensible read--if you're concerned about your health and confused about how eating might fit in, this book is the place to start.

Oh, I also read Worms Eat My Garbage by Mary Appelhof. If you want to start a worm bin, this is worth getting from the library.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

pinkie update

Good news--I got the pin out of my pinkie today. They knocked me out to put it in, but only used a local to take it out. I was a little nervous about that, with images of the doctor with his knee on my chest and a big pair of pliers. It wasn't quite that dramatic, though it was a lot more involved than I expected--gown, real operating room, bunch of nurses, lots of waiting, the same questions over and over and over again, etc.

A few things I've learned:

--It always takes a little longer to recover than I expect. I figured I'd be able to play soccer on Sunday. The doc nixed that (if I'd known I was getting stitches, I guess I could have figured out that one for myself).

--When the doctor tells you that something is going to hurt, that means it's going to hurt a lot. The two injections into the base of the finger hurt, but not so bad. However, the two injections into the end of the finger--wow. The good news is that once those were over, I didn't feel a thing. And he didn't need to yank very hard to get the pin out. (I'm very grateful to the nurse who listened to me prattle on and on so I didn't have to feel them cutting and yanking.)

--It's hard to type without all your fingers, and it's really hard to type when a few of the others are still numb from whatever the heck they put in there.

I've been reading a bunch of great books lately and will blog about them, once I get all the feeling back in my fingers.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

The Sky is Falling reading in NYC on Tuesday at 7pm

My short comedy, The Sky is Falling, will be read in the Cold Cuts reading series at the Algonquin Theatre, 123 E 24th Street (between Park and Lexington), this Tuesday, February 26th, at 7pm. The reading is free.

The Sky is Falling is a fun little play about two sisters, one of whom is preparing to be taken into the alien space ships for the Rapture.

(I can't be there, so if anyone goes to the reading, I'd love a report on how it goes.)

Thursday, February 21, 2008

What the World Eats

Check out this interesting photo essay in Time magazine that shows what different families around the world eat each week, and how much they spend.

I'm feeling inspired to take such a photo of what we buy every week. There would be lots of veggies.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Marsha Norman's a smart cookie

Definitely check out this essay by Marsha Norman, and be sure to read the comments, too, which really help round the out issue out a bit.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Grab Bag Update

here's the short update on all the recent goings on:

  1. The worms are doing pretty well. We still don't have very many of them yet, since they take while to multiply, but they are eating (slowly) what we put in the container. We just bought 2 more bins and plan to buy a lot more worms to start them off this time, 500-1,000 worms per bin. We figured out that we generate as much as 12 pounds of plant waste a week. Plus we were looking at seed catalogs for our 12'x27' garden today--we're going to need lots of compost.
  2. Plays on Tap went very well. The show on opening night was sold out, and the actors did a great job. My pieces, Lies, Lies, Lies, is really a good one to start the evening--we got a ton of laughs, which surprised the actors a little. (Michael Pfaff and Becca A. Lewis have great chemistry.) I heard Saturday was sold out, too. (So if you go, make sure you buy your tickets ahead of time.) (Seriously.)
  3. I've finished (for now) two of my four freelance gigs, which feels pretty good. One of them required a fair bit of work these past two weekends, so I'm looking forward to hanging out and relaxing with the kids this week during their winter break. One of the jobs was on two different photography web sites--check 'em out: and (I'm still tweaking them, but the images are great (and you can order them)).
  4. I get the pin out of my finger in just over two weeks. I think I've adapted pretty well to typing without a pinkie on that hand so far.
  5. I am still making some writing progress on the new novel, but I've fallen off the Writing Purge challenge these past few days. I've just been spending my writing time/energy on paid work. But I see a good opening coming up in my schedule in a few weeks, with only 1 or 2 freelance gigs at a time, and not ones that require every minute.

That's all the news fit to blog. (More on the books I've been reading soon.)

Friday, February 15, 2008

Chamleon's Secret to Long Life

I was recently exchanging e-mails with fellow playwright Steve Hunter, about the playwrights group that we helped start in 1993, Chameleon Stage. After fifteen years, it's still going strong. I left in 1997, so I can't take any credit for its longevity. For a while, Chameleon was a full-blown theatre company, producing site-specific work, radio plays, serial plays, and even plays in theatres, but over time, it's become more development oriented, sticking with the core bi-monthly meetings (where actors are brought in to read parts of works in progress) and putting together staged readings of full-length plays developed in the workshop. To have a group like this last so long is, it seems to be, quite an accomplishment.

Here's what Steve had to say about the possible reasons why:
it's the mutual respect we have for each other, rising to a great affection, the forebearance to injure or taunt, the lack of insistence on being right about a criticism or observation (if the person receiving ignores the advice), all of which adds up to a non-competitive and very helpful atmosphere.
It sounds simple on the surface, I guess. The people in the group are there to help, but not to win (not that some of us aren't sometimes competitive). Keeping this in practice for fifteen years is worth a round of applause, I think.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Lies, Lies, Lies opens tomorrow

My short romantic comedy, Lies, Lies, Lies, opens tomorrow at the Boston Center for the Arts, produced by CentaStage, directed by Joe Antoun. It's part of Plays on Tap, a group of 8 short plays (by Boston writers), all of which take place in a bar or restaurant. It'll run from February 15 - March 1, and you can buy tickets ($25) here.

I got to see a rehearsal about two weeks ago, and I was delighted. Lies, Lies, Lies has been used by more students in drama and forensics competitions than any other of my plays (it's sold more than 1,300 copies since 2002), but I've never actually seen it on stage. Over time, I'd sort of written it off in my mind as a light, fluffy piece. But when I got to hear the actors in rehearsal, I also was reminded, pleasantly, that it has some very fun complexity to it (it's about two people who meet and agree to only tell each other lies). It offers a very interesting look at the ways people communicate and connect, which is perfect for a short little stage play. Now I realize that the high school kids didn't just like it because it was easy (it's actually not) and funny (it is), but because it's interesting and worthwhile. A very good reminder not to underestimate your audience.

Here's hoping we get good crowds.

Friday, February 1, 2008

Tornado Siren highs and lows

I was doing some googling the other day and discovered that it's possible to buy a used copy of Tornado Siren for as little as $2.21 at alibris. There's even a signed copy going for $2.28 (so apparently my signature is worth 7 cents. Who knew?)

However, on the same site, you can also buy a copy of the book for $199.44. (New.) I'm curious as to how they arrive at this price, and a little sad that if they were able to convince someone to pay this hunk of cash, I don't think I'd get a cut. So, I want folks to know that if you're looking to pay that much for one of my books, contact me directly. I will undercut any exorbitant price on any of my books or plays by 10%. Or, if you're really trying to pay the most possible, I will agree to take 10% above whatever price you find on the internet.

If you're too cheap to shell out cash for the book, it is actually owned by a few libraries. At least ten that I've been able to find, thanks to WorldCat (though they don't have every one that I know about) : Brookline, MIT, Cambridge, Corunna Michigan (I have family there), Gainesville Florida (thanks, Mom), Oklahoma City (which makes sense), Phoenix (which seems random), Amherst Virginia, and Meridian Idaho (which makes me happy for some reason).

If you don't see your city listed, then you know what to do--make that request from your system today (pretty please). (Tornado Siren, Patrick Gabridge, ISBN #1-933016-36-1)

Purge Starts Today

Last year, a bunch of writers from the Playwright Binge, led by Mark Harvey Levine, started a Playwright Purge group. They take the challenge of trying to write something, even just a few lines, every day for 30 days. It sounds simple, I know, and a lot easier than the write a novel in 30 days plan, but it's still a fun group and a good way to try to inject a little discipline into our writing lives. I've really been struggling to find the time lately, and I think this will help. My most basic goal is to write something every day, but ideally I want to put in at least an hour.

For one day, at least, it's worked. I spent an hour this morning working on a new start to the new novel. I actually got to use the new notebook that I bought last week--I think I'm going to switch to longhand for this draft, at least for now. Just to shake things up a bit. It's funny the kinds of tricks writers use to motivate ourselves, or to shift things just a little bit. This narrative is a double first person story, so I'm actually writing each character's section in different colored ink, to try to make me more conscious of my efforts to differentiate their voices. Sounds goofy, I know, but I'm curious to see if it'll help.

Here's hoping for a productive February.