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.