Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Early Christmas Present: 2009 The Best 10-Minute Plays (for 2 or more actors) w/ Counting Rita

Received a nice package in the mail yesterday, just in time for Christmas:  Smith and Kraus' The Best 10-Minute Plays (for 2 or more actors), edited by Lawrence Harbison, arrived yesterday.  My play, Counting Rita, is one of the scripts included.  I've had quite a few plays included in S&K's "Best of" series so far, but I never get tired of it.  There's just something nice about having an actual book in my hand with my writing inside.  I really liked being able to set it on the desk in front of my 15-year-old daughter last night and say, "Hey, one of my plays is here.  You might want to check it out."  (She's tough to impress, but she did at least seem mildly interested).

This year, they've combined a few of the books they usually put out (there used to be a book just for two-handers, and another for larger casts), so it's a pretty big volume, 429 pages.  It contains plays by playwrights you might know, like Eduadro Machado and Don Nigro, but mostly has plays by terrific writers that you've never heard of (but maybe you should).  I know a lot folks with plays in this issue (many from the Binge list), including Kathleen Warnock, Robin Rice Lichtig, John Shanahan, Jack Neary, Monica Raymond, Adam Szymkowicz, and Roanna Yamagiwa Alfaro.

My play, Counting Rita, is licensed through Brooklyn Publishers (they offer a free preview on their site).  It's a fun two-woman comedy, about betrayal and counting.  Sarah wants to figure out exactly how many lies Rita will tell before she admits to the truth.  (Just one of many plays which might put some of my obsessive tendencies on display.)   It had a terrific production in the 2008 Boston Theatre Marathon from Mill 6.  The nice thing about the script (in addition to being fun and funny) is that it's very easy to stage, and can work for both adult performers/audiences, as well as high school performers/audiences.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

fun posts on agent/signing

Here are two fun (and also potentially useful) posts from a writer and her agent (slightly different takes) on how it the submission/signing process works:

First Shannon Morgan's take.

And then Chris Richman's take (her agent).

I'm still doing everything I can to get to that point. When it happens, we'll see how my own account varies from theirs (if at all).

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

the lessons from rejection letters

Editorial Anonymous has a fun post today on "The Subtle Art of Form Rejections." Definitely worth a laugh, but also an important reminder for all of us sending out queries not to try to read too much into every rejection.

(In case you're wondering, I haven't vanished from the face of the earth. I've had some good meetings lately, and I'm submitting and waiting on a number of different projects. Rehearsals have started in DC for Constant State of Panic, and by all accounts are going very well.)

Monday, November 23, 2009

Reading the Mind of God (my Kepler play)--not forgotten

Last night I got a very cool e-mail. Just out of the blue, a retired scientist from Indianapolis wrote to me, asking about my play, Reading the Mind of God. (It's about the difficult relationship between the astronomers Johannes Kepler and Tycho Brahe in the year 1600.) He saw the production done by the Phoenix Theatre in Indy in 1997. That's right, he saw the play more than 12 years ago, yet still finds himself thinking about it. Thinking about it enough that he tracked me down to see where he could find a copy. (It's unpublished, so I'm the only source. Though I'd like to see it published, actually, since colleges occasionally use it in classes).

Reading the Mind of God was something of a breakout play for me, with several very exciting productions, though it never was widely produced (a cast of 8 can get in the way). I'm sometimes a little sad that it doesn't get done more (and sure wish I could find a home for it in Boston--is there any city where people would better understand the sort of grad student/professor vibe of this play?). So knowing that audiences (or, we can at least say, one audience member) still remembers the play and wants to revisit it after all these years--well, that feels pretty great.

In the end, I guess it's one of the reasons why writing and producing plays is worthwhile. We do make an impact, in ways that last for year and years. As a young writer, this lasting residual effect never occurred to me. Theatre seemed so ephemeral. But that's the beauty of a such a human artform--the persistence of memory, long after the lights are off, the sets are struck, and the actors have moved on.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Reassembling Sasha published by

I got some more good news recently: my newest one-act comedy, Reassembling Sasha, is now published by

YouthPLAYS is a new publishing company/coalition put together by playwrights Jon Dorf and Ed Shockley, who both have a ton of experience in the youth market. The business model is slightly different from other publishers, slightly greener--you can read a complete perusal script for free on the web site. And if you choose to produce one of their plays, you get a pdf document, so you can print out your own copies--you don't need to order them and they don't need to be shipped--all the school/theatre pays for is the performance rights.

The rights may appear to be more expensive than other publishers ($60 for first performance) but that's misleading, because normally a school has to pay for scripts for each actor, as $5 each. For a large cast like this, that's an additional $60 or more. So with YouthPLAYS schools actually end up saving money.

Reassembling Sasha is a fun comedy about identity, with lots of good roles for young women. Though I have many plays that are used by students (more than 30), this is actually the first one that I've written specifically with a high school audience and performers in mind. Here are the details:

Comedy. 25-35 minutes. 1-3 males, 7-9 females.


Professor Sasha Marlowe has created a fantastic machine that can split a person into their constituent parts, but maybe she shouldn't have tested it on herself. The seven different elements that make up Sasha are running loose and aren't all eager to go back to being part of a single workaholic person. And what happens if she gets put back together and one of the parts is missing? A comic look at trying to find a balance between all our different strengths and weaknesses (and a riff on the seven deadly sins).

If you want to take a look, you can visit the YouthPLAYS site and read it here.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Reality Check Micro Writer's Conference--aka the Blind Leading the Blind

I’m thinking about putting together a micro conference, maybe I'll call it the Reality Check Micro Writer’s Conference—a.ka. The Blind Leading the Blind.

Here's how it would work: I’d send my family away from the house for a day (or a chunk of a day) and invite a bunch of friends over for baked goods, chocolate, coffee, and lunch, and we'd talk about our plans and strategies for our business careers.

Maybe it would include 5-8 people total, mostly writers around the same career level as me. These would all be folks who can all learn from each other, and who know each other’s work well, or else are willing to do some reading to acquaint themselves with each other’s work, and who might be willing to do some homework on marketing so each person brings something to share.

I'd need to invite people who are willing to commit to being honest (I won’t say brutally honest, because that’s never helpful. Sneakily honest works better) with other people, and also with themselves, about their goals for their careers and the current state of their careers, their work, their marketing efforts, and the state of the business.

For me, it might be kind of hard, because I’d want to invite both playwrights and novelists. Would they be useful to each other? They each bring a certain amount of ignorance and knowledge about each others' worlds, which might be okay or might be a big problem. Or do I need to do two separate days, one for novelists and one for playwrights? (Which seems like a lot of extra work)

It might be a big failure. Or it might be really fun. We might need a lot more wine than coffee.

Part of what got me thinking about all of this was this great post from the blog Apparently!, where she talks about the importance of clear goals to help steer your career forward. I do want to take a day to myself and just think about my career goals, which is good. I already write down goals every year, and I talk about them to poor Tracy all the time. But I’d feel like I need some outside reality checks in this, too. If I had an agent, she might be able to help in all of this (but I don't. Yet.).

Hmm. I’m gonna think about it. I want something more intimate than a real writing conference, like Grub Street's Muse & Marketplace, though of course it won’t have the agents and editors and chances of making some great new connection. But I think it still might be useful.

I've got to think about it some more. (Who knows if any of my friends would even be interested. Or what if too many people are interested? Will feelings be hurt if people aren't invited?) I'm always a fan of small-scale projects that can be done for little money, but where people are able to connect and help each other. This seems like one of those projects.

(Just what I need, one more project.)

Thursday, November 5, 2009

be the first to get a ticket for Constant State of Panic

Okay, opening is more than two months away, but just in case you want to be the first one on your block to say you have your tickets for Constant State of Panic, they are now available on line.

The show, being produced by the Madcap Players, runs from January 14-31 at the H Street Playhouse in Washington, DC. Tickets are $20 (with discounts for groups, and there are preview and other discounts, too). It's gonna be a fun show.

Just for fun, let's say that the first person to buy a ticket online gets a free, signed copy of Tornado Siren (my novel). Just let me know that you've bought your ticket, and I'll check to see if you're the lucky winner.

Friday, October 23, 2009

New book by Mark Dunn: The Calamitous Adventures of Rodney and Waybe, Cosmic Repairboys

My friend and one of my favorite writers, Mark Dunn, has a new book out for kids: The Calamitous Adventures of Rodney and Wayne, Cosmic Repairboys (Book One: The Age Altertron). Mark wrote one of my favorite books of all time (for adults), Ella Minnow Pea, which is one of those books I liked so much that everyone ended up getting it for Christmas the year it came out.

Mark actually asked for comments on an early version of this newest book from me and my daughter. At the time, Kira was the perfect target age for this book and a voracious reader (still is). When the book came out, Mark sent us a signed copy, and in the acknowledgments Kira and I are both thanked. It's especially cool for a young teenager to see herself mentioned and thanked in a book. I don't think many kids grow up seeing the inside of the writing process as much as she has (though maybe it doesn't seem unique or unusual to her.) I know she's looking forward to reading the published version, and I can't wait to read it to my son, who will love the adventures of Rodney and Wayne.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Good News: one-act comedy, Couch Potato, published by Playscripts

My one-act comedy, Couch Potato, is now available from Playscripts. It's a fun play that's good for performance either by adults or students. Here's the description:

GENRE Comedy
LENGTH Short, 30-35 minutes
CAST 2 females, 3 males (5-6 actors possible: exactly 2 females, 3-4 males)
SET Living room of a small New York City apartment, with two entrances/exits.
NOTES Mild adult language
Eric is the ultimate slacker, but his goal of remaining motionless in front of the TV is in serious jeopardy. His sister and fiance move out and leave him behind in the apartment, and the two newlyweds moving in aren't keen to share their space with a complete stranger. Can Eric use his wits to stay rooted, or is he about to be yanked from his chosen resting place? A fast-paced comedy of inertia.

You can read a sample of it for free on the Playscripts site. This my third play now published by Playscripts. They also publish Pumpkin Patch and Christmas Breaks.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Interviews by Adam Szymkowicz

Adam Szymkowicz has been doing a great series of interviews with various playwrights, and now I'm one of them. Go check out his latest blog post.

The series is actually in ideal learning tool for new playwrights, I think, just because it shows such a variety of writers in various stages of their careers (most are early to middle-career writers).

Monday, October 12, 2009

Lies, Lies, Lies and Counting Rita tonight in LA (Venice) at 8pm

Counting Rita and Lies, Lies, Lies, will be part of Theatre Unleashed's "Through a Caffeine Haze" tonight at:

The Talking Stick
1411c Lincoln Blvd.
Venice, CA 90291

They're doing a bunch of short plays set in coffee shops. Should be a fun evening. (If you see it, let me know how it goes.)

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Back from DC

I had a great time workshopping Constant State of Panic with Madcap Players this weekend. Between the friends who hosted me and the well-run weekend events, I felt very well cared for. We've got a terrific cast, who were game to try whatever Gary (the director) and I asked of them, and they asked very useful questions about the play and their characters. Now that I'm home, if I can escape from what seems to be a growing pile of work and papers and meetings, I have a bunch of revisions that need to be made. I'm hoping to be done in about two weeks (fingers crossed).

A few random bits from the weekend:

--I was thrilled to have a production design meeting on Sunday morning with the sound designer, costume designer, and fight choreographer/movement coach. After the Playwriting in 3D workshop this spring (and the next one we're organizing for January), our conversation had a special resonance for me.

--I was pleasantly surprised to learn that we'd even have a movement coach. It makes a ton of sense for this particular play, but just because something makes sense doesn't always mean it's put into action.

--I learned how very useful it is to have a stage manager on hand while you're workshopping a play. I've done these sorts of development intensive weekends before, but this one was even more organized that usual (which has great appeal for yours truly) on the logistics end. On Saturday, Tarythe, our rehearsal stage manager was on hand to take notes and keep us on schedule for the entire day. The notes were e-mailed to the necessary folks that evening. For me, I found that this was reassuring to know that if I missed something, I'd still have a way to remember what was said. And now that I've seen the notes, I can see that they'll be especially helpful as I enter the rewrite phase. I took my own notes, but these complement them well. It was also helpful to have someone keeping watch on the clock, because when the writer and director are having the actors try various incarnations of scenes, it's easy to lose track of time, and folks can get worn out. I liked knowing someone was keeping an eye on us and also making sure we stayed fed and hydrated.

--I brought a video camera to tape a bunch of the scene work we did, especially times when we had the actors improv, with the idea that I can have it with me at home next week, when my memory might have grown a little fuzzy about exactly how things went. I'm curious to see how much of it I actually end up watching (I have about 90 minutes on tape). This might end up being a useful revision tool for me.

I can't wait to see the show when it's fully mounted in January.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

off to DC: workshop of Constant State of Panic

So I'm off to DC this weekend to work on Constant State of Panic with the Madcap Players, who will fully produce the script in January. We have two full days to play with the script (and get to know each other better). Sounds like auditions went well--casting is so much easier with a small cast (CSP only needs 4 actors) and we have a designer's meeting set up for Sunday (so I can think about all the things that I learned in the Playwriting in 3D workshop I led last spring). I'm especially excited that I have a chance to meet with the designers so early in the process (and I think there might be a marketing meeting, too. Very cool.)

Sometimes I go into these things with a number of scenes and sections that I know I want to rework, but this time, I'm approaching the visit with a very open mind. I really want to get a sense of who these actors are and hear how they fit in with the play. I'm sure that on the plane tomorrow, when I reread the script again, I'll come up with a few scenes and moments that I want to work out.

Mostly I'm excited to have a whole weekend just to explore and play with this piece that I've been writing for a while now. I hope to come away with a sense of how it will blossom into production and how I want to shape it as it does so.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Good News: Lies, Lies, Lies and Counting Rita in Los Angeles

Looks like Theatre Unleashed in Los Angeles will produce my short plays Lies, Lies, Lies and Counting Rita in their upcoming Coffee Shop Series of play set in and produced in coffee shops.

October 12 at The Talking Stick in Venice Beach
October 20 at the M Street Cafe (not sure where)
October 28 at the Sherry Theatre in North Hollywood

I'm a big fan of site-specific work, so I'm thrilled that these plays will be included. And Theatre Unleashed seem like a very energetic young company that's doing a bunch of really fun projects. I just wish that I could get out there to see it, but alas, can't swing it. (So if you're in LA, go see the show and let me know how it goes. Please.)

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Go see Fences

I saw August Wilson's Fences tonight at the Huntington Theatre in Boston, directed by Kenny Leon. Great play, great cast, great set. Go see it if you can. Seriously. (You will not fall asleep. I didn't, not even close. Not even a nod.) Go see it.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

feedback tonight

Tonight my fiction writers' group is meeting to discuss my new middle-grade novel in progress. They're a very generous bunch and have been willing to read the whole thing for this meeting (it's not super long). I feel extremely fortunate to be matched up with such an insightful group of writers and readers who are good at giving useful feedback (I'm not just buttering them before the meting, I swear). For me, being part of a critique group is an essential part of my writing process, whether it's for fiction or playwriting (though they operate very differently).

For my playwrights' group, I rarely get nervous ahead of time, probably because we all bring in work to every meeting, and we bring in shorter segments (10-15 pages) at a time. It doesn't feel like that much is at risk (though sometimes, if I try something way out on the edge, I might worry).

I always get nervous before our fiction group discusses my work, partly because it comes in bigger chunks (this work-in-progress is about 38,000 words), and partly because the work we're discussing is usually the result of months (sometimes many, many months) of labor, and I often wonder if I have any objective perspective left after rewriting fictions over and over again. Internally, I always have a balancing act going on, enjoying the anticipating of sharing work with them that I really like, but also reminding myself to be realistic, that it still needs work, and that I need to make sure I stay open and receptive to comments and the discussion.

For any writer in a critique group, that's the most important challenge--the group can only be useful for you if you're mentally in a state where you're ready to accept and process feedback. That's not to say that every comment received in a feedback session is valid, or even useful. The trick is always to pick out the most important comments from readers, most important for the story, and most useful because they reveal how my unexpected blinds spot have affected the reader.

Friday, August 21, 2009

contract is signed with Madcap Players

It's official--I signed the contract for Madcap Players to produce Constant State of Panic for a three-week run in Washington, DC, in January 2010. They're a fun company, and I've already worked with them on short plays a couple times, and they've done a lot of work by friends of mine. And I'll be going down to DC in early October to spend a weekend workshopping the play, which exactly what I want. I'm pretty psyched.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Back home with good news about Constant State of Panic

We just got back from almost two weeks of vacation to visit family and friends in Michigan, Illinois, and Colorado. This is the view I had from Spy Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park, the destination of my 10-mile solo hike on a very early morning. At an elevation of 11,000 feet, the wind was howling.

While we were gone, I received two bits of good news about my newest full-length play, Constant State of Panic.

First, it was nominated for the Christopher Brian Wolk award given out by the Abingdon Theatre Company in New York. It's now one of nine finalists--the winner, to be announced in late September, will receive $1,000 and a staged reading.

Second, it looks like Constant State of Panic will have a workshop in October followed by a full production in January with a (smallish) theatre company in Washington, D.C. I'll provide more details once we've finalized everything, but I'm very excited to have a chance to work with these folks again. The script is a very good match with this particular company. And DC is the perfect city for the premiere of this political play about fear.

Though I've had a bunch of productions and publications of short plays, it's been a long time since I've had a full production of a full-length play. I'm actually embarrassed to say how long it's been (shhh. four years.). Part of that is because I was working on two novels during that time, thus it took a while to write this newest play. But the long dry spell chipped away at my confidence. I'm a little young to feel theatrically washed up, and I knew the market has been really, really tight. But still...

Now, who knows, maybe this will lead to a bunch of new open doors. Whether it does or not, I look forward to having a blast working on the play.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Update: slow progress on revisions

I had a big plan for July--Noah was going to be in school/camp every morning, so I'd have a chance to do major revisions, a couple hours a day. Alas, my plans didn't exactly work out. I did get some changes made, but also got involved in a freelance business writing gig that started just as school got out and that took up most of my available time.

Still, I got a draft out to my fiction group today, just before we leave on a two-week family trip. It might not be as far along as I'd hoped, but they always have very useful comments for me (we meet at the end of August).

Thursday, July 23, 2009

The 200 Foot Garden (video from The BrooklineTAB)

This story appeared in our local paper (and on their web site) today. It's a project that's been brewing for a few months and has been a great experience (and we're just getting started). It seems far from theatre, I know, but I think it fits well into the basic framework of the things that interest me (and why they interest me).

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

How Books Get Sold

Agent Nathan Bransford's blog has a great guest post about the process of how books get sold from the publisher to the book stores (and become visible to you on the shelves). Check it out. Especially if you're an aspiring author, it's helpful to know how the retail side of the business works. (And why you see certain books on display at the store and not others.)

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Feedback (and my fantasy life)

In my fantasy life, sessions with my fiction group would go like this:

Writer 1: Pat, I just have to say, this is the most brilliant thing I've ever read.

Writer 2: If you change a word of it, we might just have to kill you.

Writer 3: Seriously--I laughed, I cried, I called my agent and told her that she'd better sign you right away.

Writer 4: I have nothing to add. I just wish I could write something like this.

Writer 2: I mean it. Do. Not. Change. Anything.

And then I'd whip up a fantastic query, send it out, land an agent, a publishing contract and voila.

Of course, that's not really how it works. I make plenty of mistakes. I sometimes completely fail to see how a scene will be interpreted. Characters that seem clear to me, make no sense to my readers. The whole "show don't tell" thing pops up, even though I know better.

I brought the first 28 pages of the first draft of my new middle-grade novel into my group last night. They're terrific readers and good friends, and most importantly, they don't let me get away with stuff that doesn't work. They were definitely engaged by the pages, but they had lots of concerns and suggestions. My brain is now overloaded with possible changes to solve all the problems they pointed out.

Despite my wildest fantasies, I'm far from a perfect first-draft writer. Luckily, I have a good writer's group to help me work my way towards a solid (and more perfect) final draft.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Yet Another New Blog: The 200 Foot Garden

I know it seems a little crazy, but I've started yet another new project that requires its own blog. I'm working on creating a commuter garden in my neighborhood--sort of a cross between a community art and community garden project. It still might not come together completely, but you never know. It's something that's worth a try, and no matter how it turns out, it'll be an interesting experience.

You can check out the blog at The 200 Foot Garden.

P.S. Besides gardening, I actually am getting some writing done. I'm revising my new middle-grade novel, one chapter at a time (while also trying to balance a freelance gig at the same time).

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Chamleon Vintage Fundraiser in Denver this Friday/Saturday

Chameleon Stage and the Vintage Theatre in Denver are putting together a fun fundraiser this weekend. (I helped start Chameleon, way back in 1993.) On Friday, from 6:30pm-2am, there will be a benefit gala at the theatre (2119 E. 17th Avenue), featuring live music, food & drink, a silent auction, and theatrical performances. Tickets are $35/person or $50/couple ($5 after 10:30pm).

On Saturday, from 10am-10pm there will be a marathon of staged readings of scripts by Chameleon Stage playwrights at the theatre. My work will appear from 11:30am-1pm, and will feature five short plays: Insomnia, Confirmed Sighting, Measuring Matthew, Den of Iniquity, and Lies, Lies, Lies. All have been very popular with audiences across the coutnry. Tickets are $25 for the whole day, or $10 for a single session (there are three sessions 10am-1pm, 2:30-5:30pm, and 7-10pm).

If you're in Denver, be sure to check it out. (You can buy tickets online at or by calling 303-839-1361)

Friday, June 19, 2009

New Blog: Choosing No Car

I've forgotten to mention that I'm also writing (with Tracy) a new blog, called Choosing No Car, about our experiences trying to go car-free in Boston. (We're not quite there yet.)

Check it out.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

JA Konrath: Should E-books be cheap?

JA Konrath's been writing a lot of terrific posts (with actual numbers!) on A Newbie's Guide to Publishing about e-books in general, as well as his own experience selling his books on Amazon for the Kindle. His latest post, Should E-books be Cheap? offers an in-depth examination of the possible future of publishing and e-books.

I don't have enough experience to know which of his predictions will be right or wrong (but I wish I was selling a hundred e-books a day like he is), but he's really got me thinking. Tornado Siren isn't available as an e-book yet, but I hope it is in the near future.

first drafts - the joys of writing fast

I haven't posted much lately, partly because I've been busy with regular life stuff (especially coaching soccer), but also because I was deep in the middle of writing the first draft of a new middle-grade novel.

I adore writing first drafts. I get to live the story at its freshest during this period of time, enjoying being along for the ride. I don't tend to re-read what I wrote the day before (which helps keep crushing doubt and the internal critic at bay). I'll usually just read the last page I wrote, and then jump into the next day's work. The result is far from polished, but I feel like it has a joyful sense of discovery embedded in it.

For me, especially when I'm working on a novel, the creation is like I imagine painters work. The first draft puts the structure into place, the story and the characters. The dialogue starts to settle in. But if you look at it, it's all still rough and fuzzy. I have to go back and rework it, layer after layer, adding more paint, maybe covering over entire elements, clarifying others, finding new details. Sometimes I'll go back and do research after the first draft is complete, because by then I know what I don't know. Often, I find that research before a first draft can stretch on forever, because I feel like I have to know everything. And then the first draft is crowded with me trying to show how much I learned during those months or years of research.

This particular novel, my first for children, came out pretty fast. It's about 38,000 words right now, and I wrote the draft in three weeks. Three weeks sounds pretty fast (to me, anyway), but this time I had a particularly detailed outline from which to work. Back in 2005, I wrote a treatment to do this story as a screenplay, and ended up with a 35-page outline. I adapted this into the novel that I just wrote. It's rare for me to use such a detailed outline, but in this case, it was a complete joy--if I felt stuck, it was a lot easier to plow ahead.

The other factor that made the writing go so fast was that I made certain that every day, I spent at least 2-3 hours of ass-in-the-chair time actually writing, with no e-mail or internet. If I spend 3 hours of actual writing time, I can expect to churn out 2,000 to 3,000 words, if I'm using a strong outline.

Of course, now I need to go back and edit and rewrite and turn the novel into something that other people might actually want to read (and buy). I've taken a week off, and now I hope to start at least reading it next week. I already have a pretty good sense of its weaknesses, but I'll know a lot better by the end of next week. Since this is a shorter piece, I'm curious to see if it would be possible to come up with a more polished draft by the end of July. Again, 3 hours a day of ass-in-the-chair time could make this happen (and making sure I'm not reading blogs or tweets).

I'm still looking hard for an agent to the adult novel that I finished in February (one that took a couple years to write and finish). Maybe I'll add another finished project to the pile sooner than I expected.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

An Open Challenge to Playwrights Writing for the Boston Theatre Marathon

I'm a big fan of the Boston Theatre Marathon, and I've been lucky enough to have had six plays chosen to be included over the past eight years or so. It's one of the best ways to a sampling of the best of Boston's theatre scene, all in one day. 50 plays by 50 writers produced by 50 different theatre companies. It's a great way to spend a day. This year I saw 48 out of 50.

This year a variety of strong plays played on the big Wimberly Theatre stage at the Boston Center for the Arts. There's always a mix of really good plays and stinkers, but it seemed there were less stinkers than usual to me. So that's good. And the performances were strong throughout the day.

A couple years ago, the Marathon moved from two small spaces (each less than 100 seats) at the Boston Playwrights Theatre, to the Wimberly. The Wimberly is a big stage--67' wide and 35' deep (the house seats 372). And that's where the Marathon bumps into problems. Most ten-minute plays are written to be performed in intimate spaces. Playwrights know that most short-play festivals are done in tiny little theatres, with almost no resources, so we write plays that can be done in shoeboxes with coffee can lights.

At the Marathon, there are still very limited resources, because the large number of plays by so many different companies requires very fast scene changes, almost no set, simple lights and sound (though they've got a great sound system--which theatres in the Marathon are under-utilizing). And also, the time between announcement of the plays and the actual production is currently too short. All these things cut into the ultimate production, and most can't be helped.

However, the playwrights do have control over the types of work that they're creating and the way it can inhabit the space. We're still submitting plays that can be ideally produced in a 10'x10' space. We're missing out on a unusual opportunity to play with our stories on a much bigger stage than usual. I'm not saying that every play in the marathon should be composed of cross-stage chase scenes, (archery, anyone?) but it wouldn't hurt to see a couple.

I remember one time the Marathon, at the Wimberly, the first play of the day started with three rock climbers hanging from ropes suspended from the fly system. As soon as I saw it, I thought, "Wow, we never could have done this play at BPT." Or even in most other theatres. It was amazing.

This year, very few plays fully inhabited the space or made good use of sound and color on the stage (mine included--mine was originally written to be done in a tiny little space at the Factory Theatre, and takes place on the T). So often, we got a few people sitting or standing around talking. Very little action and movement. Little color. One big exception was in the final hour, Laying the Smack Down in Cambridge by Jonathan Busch (directed by Brett Marks, produced by Lyric Stage), which was able (improbably) to mix poetry and professional wrestling.

Anyway, the challenge I'd like to issue to my fellow New England playwrights is this: let's try writing some ten-minute plays that make full use of the Wimberly's breadth and depth. Let's use the fact that it's has actual wing space and a kick-ass sound system. Let's write plays where people move around the stage, across the stage, and actually do stuff. Let's risk writing plays that can't possibly be produced in on a 20'x10' space, but will jolt the audience awake at the Marathon with a sudden rush of lively energy. (Of course, they still have to be brilliant enough to get past the judges.)

If we do it, and it gets a habit, audiences will thank us, we'll learn a lot about theatre itself, and people will be lined up for seats the way they used to when the Marathon was at BPT.

Best Ten-Minute Plays, 3 or More Actors

My copy of 2008: The Best Ten-Minute Plays 3 or More Actors (published by Smith & Kraus, edited by Lawrence Harbison) came in the mail today. My very own Measuring Matthew is one of the plays included in addition to plays by friends (including Kathleen Warnock and Mark Harvey Levine).

I've been in a bunch of these anthologies, but I never get tired of the book showing up on my doorstep and seeing my play inside. The concreteness of the book is immensely satisfying. I know they sell a good thousand copies or more, which is cool, and I imagine libraries carry it. It's pretty rare to get a request from a theatre for permission to produce a script in one of these anthologies, but I do get e-mails about the plays in them every once in a while. I assume that actors use the scripts in scene classes, for the most part. I'm glad that people are at least reading them, and that the book might still be on the shelves twenty years from now.

It's been a fairly discouraging week, in terms of the writing-business, so this book's arrival was perfectly timed. (The fact that I'm about 20,000 words into the first draft of my new middle-grade novel has also helped wipe away a lot of anxieties around publishing stuff right now--my mind is elsewhere).

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Boston Theatre Marathon Roundup

I had a great time at the Boston Theatre Marathon on Sunday at the Calderwood Pavilion Theatre in Boston's South End. I think I set my own record for number of plays watched--48 out of 50 ten-minute plays.

My play, Recognition, went very well. I had two young actresses, Ashley Gramolini and Sarah Barton, who have a lot of talent and worked hard, as well as terrific director in Nora Hussey. I was a little worried about having a serious drama follow Rick Park's super funny Please Report Any Suspicious Activity, but the audience seemed to handle the transition well, and they paid rapt attention during our piece.

Overall, the day felt comfortable. Not many pieces that I detested, and a lot of plays that I liked. When you watch so many, they do tend to blend together after a while. (Dave Schrag put together a list of common topics on his blog.)

I did have a few favorites for the day:
  • Safely Assumed by Andrea Fleck Clardy was both serious and clever in its look at racial assumptions. I look forward to seeing more plays by her.
  • Ken Urban's White People came off especially well, I thought, with two strangers connecting on the subways.
  • Bill Donnelly's Sugar Glider still had me thinking and talking about it on Tuesday night. Kevin LaVelle, whomI've worked with a lot, was the perfect match for the script.
  • I'm always happy to see Rough & Tumble, and their When No One Comes Calling brought a bit of color to a stage that can feel a little drab over the course of the day (more about that in another blog entry soon).
  • Gary Garrison's play The Sweep covered a lot of ground, but seemed to pull it off (and got two strong performances from Rick Park and Michael Steven Costello).
  • Laying the Smack Down in Cambridge by Jonathan Busch was probably my favorite of the evening combining a bad poet, bad poetry, and professional wrestling.
I was struck again by the fact that Boston has an unusual wealth of strong actresses in the age 35-55 range. Maureen Keiller, Lisa Tucker, Debra Wise, Sarah Newhouse, and others. I swear I could write plays just for them, and audiences would thank me for it, night after night.

As always, I'm grateful to Kate Snodgrass and all the folks at Boston Playwrights Theatre and at the BCA, and all the volunteers, for putting on a great event. Can't wait until next year.

Getting Started: a new novel

I finally started writing my new novel today, which will be a middle-grade (MG) novel, for ages 10-12, but one that I hope will also have appeal for parents and families in general. It's a story that I've been carrying in my head for quite a few years--I wrote up a long outline back in 2004 that I'll use to guide me through.

I've spent the last few weeks reading quite a bit of MG fiction, a lot of which is great. I think Kate DiCamillo is one of my favorite writers now (Because of Winn-Dixie, Despereax, The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane).

Starting a new project is always a bit tricky, as I have to figure out what sort of working rhythm is right for this book. It's important to accept that the opening pages are likely to be complete crap and just go ahead and write them and get it over with. Some people go back and rewrite constantly, but I'm the opposite. I like to keep moving forward every day and will go back and fix it all later. For me, it's just important to get the story down on paper, without judgment. I'll reread what I wrote the day before, but I will try not to make many revisions to it.

With this project, my goal is to put in at least 2 hours a day, five days a week, for as long as I can. The kids are only in school for about four more weeks. Summer vacation complicates things, but in the summer, I'll try to write from 5am-7am, so I can put in the time and keep making progress. I try to write first thing in the morning, to minimize distractions. No e-mail, internet, or to-do lists until I'm done writing for the day.

Today I was able to jump right in, and actually worked for three hours and wrote about 2,300 words. I've got some forward momentum now.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Boston Theatre Marathon today

The Boston Theatre Marathon runs all day today from Noon to 10 p.m. at the Calderwood Pavilion Theatre at the Boston Center for the Arts. For one ticket, you can see 50 different plays by 50 different New England writers, produced by 50 different companies (and the whole thing benefits charity). A test of your endurance, but incredibly fun. My show, Recognition, will be on stage at 2 p.m. (and follows a very, very, very funny play by Rick Park). I've got a terrific cast from the Wellesley Summer Theatre, directed by Nora Hussey. Should be a very good show. Can't wait.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Postal Rates go up on May 11

Somehow this snuck up on me, but it's critical info for all writers. Postal rates go up as of May 11.

The price for a first class letter goes from $0.42 to $0.44 (but you were using "Forever Stamps" so all those SASEs will still come back, right?). Post cards go from $0.27 up to $0.28. For large envelopes, the first ounce is $0.88 (up from $0.83) with additional ounces staying at $0.17.

I wish they'd just boost everything to denominations of 5, but no more often than every five years, so I didn't constantly have to buy new odd sorts of stamps. I'm still finishing off 26 cent post card stamps.

For writers, this ends up being a huge hassle, because it means that SASEs and post cards we sent out are unlikely to come back (if they had regular stamps, not "forever stamps), because theatres and agents aren't likely to go out and buy rolls of 1 cent stamps.

Luckily, most people who respond positively will respond by e-mail or phone, so really the return mail is mostly just for rejections. But I send out scores of submissions every year, and a rejection gives me valuable information about response time, what people are looking for, and more.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Playwriting in 3D notes

The Playwriting in 3D talk on Saturday felt like it was very successful. We had about 30 people attend, and I'd say that almost all of them were writers (next time, I hope we draw in some designers, too).

I was there early to work with our four terrific designers--Karen Perlow (lighting), PJ Strachman (lighting), David Remedios (sound), and David Reiffel (sound)--and Dawn Simmons from StageSource to set up the space. Every time I get to meet with this group of designers, I am reminded how much I like designers as a group--in addition to being terrific artists, they're intensely practical. They're used to jumping in and solving problems as they arrive--so the fact that our borrowed digital projectors were crapping out on us less than an hour before the event, didn't seem to phase anyone. They just found a way to solve the problem.

The format of the afternoon was pretty simple--each designer did a 15-20 minutes show-and-tell, then I led a discussion between all of us, and then, after a break for some homemade brownies (baked by yours truly), we opened up the floor for Q&A.

The show-and-tell segments were particularly fun--we alternated between lighting and sound designers. The lighting designers showed slide presentations of work they'd done in the past, and talked about how they'd approached the script or how various elements of the show all worked together. The sound guys had all kinds of fun gadgets with them that we hooked into the theatre sound system (and a big shout out to the Central Square theatre and to Alison from the Nora, and Taylor, the T.D.) for all kinds of cool, loud, and disturbing sounds.

The end result of the entire afternoon was not a take-home list of dos and don'ts, but something much less tangible but, in my opinion, more valuable--a much clearer sense of how sound and lighting designers approach a script and a production. In terms of how to communicate with them via stage directions, the answer is probably to write more descriptively (minimally) and less proscriptively. But really, the designers are looking deeply at the themes and characters in our plays, and trying to figure out how to enhance and clarify or amplify all of it.

One thing I appreciate about all the designers at our workshop was their inherent flexibility--they understand that some elements of their design will have to be changed as the production of the script begins to be fully realized. This same lesson applies, I think, to playwrights as well--though we keep in mind our original intentions, we also need to come to a realistic embrace of the elements of each particular production and try to understand better how to rewrite to make all the collaborative aspects of the show work effectively.

In the end, the afternoon felt like a great gift--it's not often that we're able to sit down with a bunch of designers and just talk about the art of theatre, without the pressure of a production bearing down upon us.

I'm hopeful that we'll do more of these sorts of talks here in Boston (next up on my list: costume and set designers, magic and its practical applications in making theatre, and an introduction to stage combat for writers). I also hope that writers in other cities will put together similar events--it's so important that we keep finding ways in the theatre to learn from each other, and these sorts of peer-to-peer, artist-to-artist, exchanges aren't really that hard to arrange. It's up to us to keep finding ways to improve our writing and our productions, and this can be one of them. Not every city has an organization like StageSource, which made all this run smoothly, but there are plenty of dark afternoons in theatre spaces, just waiting to be filled.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

reminder: Playwriting in 3D on Saturday, April 25

There are just a few more days left to sign up for Playwriting in 3D, which takes place, Saturday, April 25, 12pm - 3pm, at the Central Square Theatre in Cambridge. Admission is $15 for StageSource and Rhombus members, $25 for non-members. Payment is due at time of sign-up. Sign-up on-line or by phone by calling 617-720-6066.

We'll have an extended conversation with two lighting designers and two sound designers, looking at how we can expand and change the collaborative process of making theatre to more fully use all aspects of theatricality. There will be show & tell and lots of Q&A (and snacks). We want to help writers and designers come to an understanding of a common vocabulary that will help them work more effectively together (and make cool stuff happen on stage).

Sunday, April 19, 2009

This week: you can listen to my radio play, Love & Lightning online

Shoestring Radio Theatre has my radio play Love & Lightning available on their web site for listening all of this week. It's my only radio show that's available on the web (and only for this week). So check it out if you can--it's a 27-minute (very dark) comedy about a romantic weekend on the prairie that goes horribly wrong.

This is more of my early work that's resurfacing. This script was written around 1993 or so, and this production is from 1996.

Here's link:

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Lost Oasis at Another Country

Another Country productions, run by Lyralen Kaye, who also produce the SlamBoston play slams, is doing a fundraiser May 18 and 19, and they will include a production of my one-act play, Lost Oasis.

This is a play with an important history for me--it was one of the plays in Theatre in the Wild, which was the inaugural production for Chameleon Stage in 1993 (a theatre I helped start and which is still around today) in Evergeen, Colorado. It was my earliest foray into site specific work. (It's also my first and only play to be done in NYC's Central Park.)

In a fun twist (or sad commentary on how we never throw things away), I just delivered the tent that was used in the original production to my director tonight (Art Hennessey--very glad to have a chance to work with him), for use in the the May production.

It's especially gratifying to see a play produced after 16 years and feel that it still holds up.

Here are the details for the show:
What -    The Factory Theatre & Another Country Productions present…
Best of the Best, Playwrights of Another Country Productions
 When -   Monday May 18 & Tuesday May 19 @ 7:30pm
Where -  The Factory Theatre, 791 Tremont Street, the South End
 Tickets - $15

Box Office –617-933-8600: www., search: Factory Theatre

Friday, April 17, 2009

good post about book marketing

Editorial Ass has a great post about book marketing, which includes lots of basic, practical advice, as well as some ballpark numbers for how much stuff costs (which is really helpful). It's definitely one to check in with once you've got that book contract in hand and are trying to understand how your book might get marketed. (I'd sure like to have problem soon with my new book...)

Recognition in 2009 Boston Theatre Marathon

Some good news (which has been known for a while, but I've been too swamped to blog lately): my short play, Recognition, will be included in this year's Boston Theatre Marathon, on Sunday, May 17th, at the BCA/Wimberly Theatre. The Wellesley Summer Theatre will produce my play, with Nora Hussey directing. They're an immensely talented group, a perfect match for my play, really, and I'm excited to have the chance to work with Nora, after seeing her work a number of times.

The BTM is one my favorite theatrical events--50 ten-minute plays, by 50 different writers, produced by 50 different New England theatres, all in the space of 10 hours. There is no better way to get a sampling of the Boston theatre community. I've been very fortunate over the years--this will be the sixth time one of my plays has been part of the Marathon.

Recognition was originally created as part of the T plays last fall, with the Mill 6 Theatre Collaborative--a group of plays created on and about the T (Boston's subway system). Three of those scripts will be included in this year's Marathon.

I should find out what time slot my play will have in a few weeks.

Friday, April 3, 2009

A Day in the Life (or why I fall asleep at random moments)

Today was a little busier than normal today, because Tracy went to Connecticut to visit her parents, but still, it's not so atypical. I often finish (and sometimes start) the day pretty tired, and often wonder why (and my daughter teases me for falling asleep in front of the TV, or while reading stories to my son, etc.). Here was my day today:
  • Up at 5:30, because that's the only way I can get in a shower before everyone else needs to wake up for school/work.
  • Worked for 1/2 hour. Lately, it's just writing in my journal and answering a few e-mails. Once I start the new novel, I might get up at5am again, so I can write for a full hour in the early a.m.
  • Walked dog. Almost a mile (less than normal, because of the rain). Saw 5 wild turkeys--1 tom, and 4 hens.
  • Got up the kids, made breakfast (bagels and oatmeal), and shepherded them (mostly Noah. Kira is self-sufficient at age 14) through the process..
  • Walked Noah to school. (1 mile round tip)
  • Answered e-mails and read blogs (a.k.a. procrastinated)
  • Wrote 9 pages of new play, finishing a draft of a one-act for high schoolers. (It's rough and messy, but it's a first draft, so that's okay.)
  • Looked over, signed, and mailed contracts with a publisher for them to publish five of my short plays. (I'll make an official announcement once they actually sign on their end.)
  • Picked some of the layer of stuff from the floor of my son's room, because it was almost impassable due to various creative play projects that involved dumping out entire bins of toys and dress up clothes.
  • Got a full-length play submission ready to go (researched theatre, wrote cover letter, packed it all up.)
  • Walked to post office and bank (about 1 mile round trip)
  • Scouted out a site where we want to set up a community vegetable garden/art project. It's a strip of land about 200 feet long by 2 feet wide. More on this soon. Has potential to be really cool.
  • Dog out again (1/2 mile)
  • Lunch (leftovers, plus chocolate. I've been scarfing down these Hershey's Special Dark miniatures I bought yesterday. The bag won't make it through the night.) and reading newspaper.
  • Power nap. 20 minutes of heaven.
  • Read a book that I should have finished this week, but won't.
  • Answered more e-mail. Got inbox back down to single digits. Tweeted.
  • Got the word out about the Playwriting in 3D workshop I'm leading in 3 weeks, by posting to lists, blogging (see below), and e-mails.
  • Got a query about my novel ready and e-mailed to an agent.
  • Retrieved Noah from a play date at friend's house. (This play date bought me almost 2 hours of extra work time.) (1 mile round trip). Their house is neat, gorgeously decorated, and spotless, even though they have three kids under the age of 9. I immediately resolve that we must find a way to keep our house cleaner (realizing that this has no chance of actually happening).
  • Made two homemade pizzas (using our cool new pizza stone)
  • Dishes
  • Washed and folded 3 loads of laundry
  • Walked dog, with son in tow, despite the rain (3/4 miles)
  • Started looking at headshots used by other writers, because I have a photo session tomorrow morning, and I need to show them some examples of how I might want the photo to look, or something. Just make me look cool, or intense, or friendly, or handsome, or something. I'm not used to being photographed like this and am uncommonly nervous about it all (friends have been reassuring me online today).
  • Got son into shower and washed dishes (not in the same place, that would be gross).
  • Played 3 games of Rat-a-Tat-Cat (Noah is addicted to this card game) and one game of Set. Then read bedtime stories.
  • Wrote this blog post, and will soon watch Daily Show episodes and eat the rest of my chocolate, rather than making the grocery list for tomorrow's shopping. (Wishing there was a beer in the house.) Likely to fall asleep in front of the computer.

And that was my day.

Playwriting in 3D Workshop coming April 25, in Cambridge, MA

I'm leading a workshop with StageSource on Saturday, April 25: Playwriting in 3D. Here's the general description:
As playwrights strive to create work that takes full advantage of the three-dimensional world of the theatre, they need to understand how designers think and how they use design to shape the environment and impact of a production. What are the possibilities? What confuses designers in a script and what delights them? Are there ways to start the interaction between playwrights and designers sooner? What vocabulary will allow playwrights and designers to work more effectively together? These are just some of the questions that we'll address in an extended conversation with four designers ? Karen Perlow and P.J. Strachman (lighting design), and David Reiffel and Dave Remedios (sound design). Moderated by Rhombus Group's Patrick Gabridge This is an afternoon for anyone interested in new work, design, and the collaborative process.

Join us on Saturday, April 25th, 12-3pm, at Central Square Theatre (450 Mass Ave, Cambrige) for this discussion, presentation and audience Q&A. Admission is $15 for StageSource and Rhombus members, $25 for non-members. Payment is due at time of sign-up. Sign-up on-line or by phone by calling 617-720-6066.

I'm trying to get our theatre community to think about how we create work, in lots of ways. In this case, I want us to ask who is involved and when, in the process of creating plays. My hope is that it'll start helping improve the quality of work that we put up on stage and make it more fully inhabit all the dimensions of the stage. No matter how the discussion ends up, it should be a fun and interesting afternoon--the designers we've got on board are experienced and have lots of good stories and strong opinions.

Part of what motivated me to get into this is that I feel that as artists, we have lots of training options open to us early in our careers, but later on, we seem to be on our own. I want us to take a more active role in setting up peer-to-peer education and training opportunities throughout our discipline. This particular idea came about during last year's Rhombus Six Views festival's panel with Gary Garrison and various Boston artistic directors about methods of new play development. (If this one goes well, we hope to do another with set and costume designers.)

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Cool Op-Art in Sunday NY Times and another funny article

I really liked this article in the Sunday NY Times, especially the art and the way she breaks down the anonymity of all those blank faces on public transportation.

Also a friend (thanks, Rick!) pass along this article on The Diagram Prize, which judges books by their titles. Definitely good for a laugh.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Filmmakers Shindig--meet and greets for Boston-area filmmakers

I just learned about what sounds like a fun social networking group for Boston-area filmmakers. The Filmmakers Shindig meets once very two months in bars in and around Boston. The next one is on March 28th in Quincy. It sounds like a great idea. (Has anyone out there been to one of these? Please comment and let me know.) Not sure I can get away that particular night, but if not this time, I think I'll try to make the next one.

ETA's annual play survey of high school performances

Every year, the Educational Theatre Association takes a look at which plays are playing on high school stages all across America.

For playwrights, it's an interesting list--it lets us see how much modern work is filtering its way down into the mainstream educational world. In terms of full-length plays, the answer is not much. I'm glad that they also offer a list of the top ten short plays performed by high schools (most are large-cast, half-hour comedies)--here you'll see work by various contemporary writers. Jonathan Rand's Hard Candy and Check, Please routinely occupy the top slots. Allison Williams' play Drop Dead, Juliet! is new to the list and shows that Lindsay Price's TheatreFolk publishing company is doing a good job marketing work by its playwrights. Notice that Playscripts publishes half of the plays on this top ten list.

I'll paste in the top ten short plays list here:

The top ten short plays
1. Check, Please, by Jonathan Rand (Playscripts, Inc.)
2. Hard Candy, by Jonathan Rand (Playscripts, Inc.)
3. (tie) The Actor’s Nightmare, by Christopher Durang (Dramatists Play Service)
3. (tie) 15 Reasons Not to Be in a Play, by Alan Haehnel (Playscripts, Inc.)
5. Check, Please: Take 2, by Jonathan Rand (Playscripts, Inc.)
6. This Is a Test, by Stephen Gregg (Dramatic Publishing)
7. Bang, Bang, You’re Dead, by William Mastrosimone (
8. The Seussification of Romeo and Juliet, by Peter Bloedel (Playscripts, Inc.)
9. (tie) Drop Dead, Juliet!, by Allison Williams (Theatrefolk)
9. (tie) Words, Words, Words, by David Ives (Dramatists Play Service)

I have quite a few scripts published for use by high school students, but most are short duets. None have cracked this list, but I wouldn't mind if it happened someday, that's for sure.

the tables they are turning: Larry Wilmore on the Daily Show

The Daily Show With Jon StewartM - Th 11p / 10c
The New White Face of Crime
Daily Show Full EpisodesImportant Things w/ Demetri MartinPolitical Humor

As I know from my own work (esp. Pieces of Whitey) race in America always remains a tricky topic. I love the way Larry Wilmore hits it with this segment.

viral home-made Trader Joe's video (just because)

Several folks have written blogs about this and the effectiveness of it as a potential marketing tool, because of its feel of authenticity (the way it shows TJ's warts and all). I can see what they mean--for me the thing that works about it is that it's something made with obvious love/affection, in a way that feels organically true. I watch this little piece and I think, yeah, that's how it's like for me, too.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Stop Rain in Boston, Friday March 20

This Friday, March 20, my play Stop, Rain will be part of Life Lines, a set of five short plays presented by the Actors Refuge Repertory Theatre. The show is at 7:30 p.m., at the First Church of Boston, 66 Marlborough Street. Tickets are $10 general admission, $8 for students/seniors.

The plays are by some very talented writers (including another Boston writer, Janet Kenney). Here's the summary of Stop Rain:

Birthmother Rain desperately wants to see the son she placed for adoption, but adoptive mom Marla feels she needs to protect her son from Rain's screw-ups and chaotic life. Can the two mothers learn to understand each other?
I last saw this show at the Boston Theatre Marathon, where Debra Wise and Eliza Fitcher of the Underground Railway Theatre did an amazing job with it. I'm excited to see the play again.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Confident or Delusional at Newbie blog

My friend Dan Milstein pointed out this post to me over at the Newbie's Guide to Publishing, about the difference between confident writers and delusional writers. It's a great post and the discussion that follows is worth reading, too.

I hope, of course, that I'm confident writer, not delusional. Though as Konrath points out, delusional writers will not know that they're delusional, so instead will consider themselves confident. So I guess I don't really know. I might be a little bit of both.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Jon Stewart grills Jim Cramer

Wow. I've been a Daily Show/Jon Stewart fan for a long time, but he really laid into Jim Cramer from CNBC last night, in a way that needed to be done. I expected a slightly softer interview, but it was uncomfortable to watch (but in a good way) because Jon was so tough. To echo so many other bloggers, why is it that it takes a comedian to ask the hard questions of people in the financial business?

For me, the interview was yet another reminder (they're everywhere these days) to reconsider how much I've bought into this whole notion of our 401K acting as a pseudo bank account that will grow steadily until we retire and make life plush and easy. Putting money into the stock market is not actually saving money--it's investing. Over the past decade, many Americans have come to look at those two things as being the same (hence the Bush administration's push to haul Social Security into the stock market).

In order for me to continue being a writer, I've always known that we need to live within our means. Getting into debt in order to consume more stuff or take trips or buy a fancier car or house, explicitly meant that I would eventually end up quitting as a writer and have to go off to make money (unless I hit the lottery and sold something that made it big). Not everyone else has the choices so clearly laid out, but there are always trade offs to taking on debt and excessive consumption, even if they're hard to visualize. I'm glad to see Jon Stewart, at least a tiny bit, be tough of some of the forces that have been pushing so hard the notion of easy money.

the hard part--being still

I'm pretty good at being busy (though I may complain about it at the time). I'll be writing a book, coaching soccer, managing our garden, setting up a writing workshop, managing a couple other groups. For my writing, I might go back and forth between two or three different projects. Some of these projects (especially novels) require steady work over several years, day in and day out.

But sometimes, especially after the long projects are completed, I actually need to force myself to sit still and be quiet. I need to read big piles of novels and plays. I need to refill my creative buckets and actively try not to be so busy for a while. It's not that I don't like doing it--I definitely do--but I get antsy. I've worked hard to be disciplined about writing over the years, so I take my work days pretty seriously and try not to waste time (though blogs and emails don't help). For me, it's comforting to have a definite amount of output every day, pages or words written or revised. I feel like I'm proving to everyone (and myself) that I'm working hard and not a bum (even if I'm not making much money).

Right now though, part of my job for the next month or two is to read, think, pace, refill, and stop being so busy, and to give myself the space and permission to do so. Funny how the things that sound easy can be the hardest.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

good post about Racism in Publishing (and how you can help)

Editorial Ass has posted an interesting take about how race plays out in what books you see available on the bookstore and library shelves and offers a simple suggestion.

(Be sure to read the comments, too--it's generated a very interesting discussion.)

Tundra Games on KUSF tonight at 9:30pm (Pacific)

Shoestring Radio Theatre's production of my radio play, Tundra Games, will be on KUSF in San Francisco tonight at 9:30pm (Pacific time). You can listen online at Should be another fun (they broadcast my radio play Love & Lightning last week). Let me know if you listen.

Here's synopsis of the show (it runs about 27 minutes):

Hickey is a professional killer cooped up in the middle of an arctic blizzard with his next target, Simon. But the bullets are at home, and they're out of food. Hickey's partner, Rose, shows up just in time, with ammunition and provisions, but Hickey has lost his nerve. Rose takes Simon out to finish the job. She returns and explains that rather than shooting Simon, she pushed him off the back of her snowmobile and left him to freeze. There's just one problem-they have no proof to show their employers that they actually did the job. Rose thinks up a drastic solution, but it's gonna hurt.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

great blog post about book returns

I've been known to rail against the industry practice of allowing unsold books to be returned to publishers by book stores. But Wordhoarder has a much more detailed discussion, along with ideas for how changes might occur in this post (the comments are good, too).

Thursday, March 5, 2009

great Jon Stewart segment

Thomas Garvey over at The Hub Review posted this great segment about CNBC and the financial press from the Daily Show.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

my letter to Newsweek about Special Education

Newsweek's My Turn section this week had an article entitled, Autism and Education, in which the mother of a special needs child and "gifted" child, suggests that perhaps some funding from special education should be cut and repurposed for "gifted" programs.

Yikes. What an incredibly, incredibly, incredibly bad idea.

Here's the comment I sent to Newsweek:
Cutting Special Needs funding to increase "Gifted" programs is incredibly misguided, for several reasons. First, there is already plenty of opportunity out there for gifted individuals--various enrichment programs through universities, and after high school, top notch universities themselves. Our entire society has multiple openings for bright, intelligent, gifted individuals. The same cannot be said of children (and adults) with disabilities, while there are some programs for such kids, they are few and far between and poorly funded. (BTW, the budget amount mentioned in the article for No Child Left Behind is mostly used for regular education, not Special Education.)

When proposing such a change, it makes sense to look at the risks, benefits, and costs for both the child, family, and society. For the Gifted Child, additional funding may or may not make a difference, but what is the cost of a lack of programming? Some loss of potential? Perhaps. Perhaps the gifted child will be "doomed" to lead a slightly more ordinary life, but certainly one that is self-supporting and can still benefit society.

On the other hand, the cost of failing to provide adequate special education to children with special needs is high indeed. The goal of success is, as the author points out, sometimes just to be self-sufficient. Failure to help reach this "minimum" standard results in institutionalization, either in group homes, larger facilities, or prison. Just look at the percentage of our high school dropouts and prison population who have various developmental and learning disabilities. This is the result of underfunding special education--a drain on society, a long-term burden on families, and great loss of freedom and potential for the children not served. These costs are definite--not just potentialities (as opposed to the losses with not fully funding "gifted" education).

One of the great shames of America right now is actually the lack of Federal funding for Special Education. More and more of the burden of special education is being borne by states and local school districts. Increased reliance on local funding for special education results in growing inequality in student performance between rich suburban districts, with special needs children with milder needs, and poor urban districts, with large populations of children with severe needs.

Ms. Lindsley's daughter will be all right, whether she gets increased "gifted" program funding or not, but her son's future will be far less bright without early and proper special education support.

Love & Lightning on KUSF tonight at 9:30pm (Pacific)

Shoestring Radio Theatre's production of my radio play, Love & Lightning, will be on KUSF in San Francisco tonight at 9:30pm (Pacific time). You can listen online at Should be a fun show. Let me know if you listen.

Here's synopsis of the show (it runs about 27 minutes):
Stan and Teri are in the midst of a pleasant weekend bicycling across the prairie, when a storm suddenly appears and Stan is struck by lightning. He is left blind and paralyzed, with only Teri to help him. As she struggles to protect him from the storm, Teri discovers an engagement ring in Stan's backpack. This is the moment she's been waiting for! She's perfectly willing to marry Stan, despite his infirmities. But inside the ring box is a rejection note from Stan's girlfriend. How's he going to get out of this one?

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Go See Paranormal (if you're in Boston)

Seriously, go see Carl Danielson's play, Paranormal. Why? Not just because Carl is my friend, fellow Rhombus member, and a very talented writer. But because it's fun. I don't know that it will change your life, but it'll make you laugh. And not many plays feature a character who is as much of a hoot as K'THarr the Warrior Bunny (played by Neal Leaheey). Though this is a low-budget production, Carl and his sound and light designers pull off some really great tricks that add to the whole magic of the piece (which is important when making a play about paranormal stuff).

It's cheap, too. $15. And did I mention that it's fun? (And I did not even come close to falling asleep, which is high praise.)

Paranormal runs this week and next at the Factory Theatre in the South End.

Here's a description:
"I am K'Tharr, a Grulark Warrior-Bunny from the planet Trepmal-thok, and I would give my life to defend you!"

With those words from a six-foot tall bunny-shaped alien, Krista
Maclay, burgeoning psychic, is thrown on a journey beyond the normal
human world in which she meets Elvis-impersonating aliens, invisible
annoying bodyswappers, a moody yet endearing psychic boy, and a
long-dead former best friend who forces her into an epic psychic
battle for free will. "Paranormal" is a sci-fi comic fantasy
juggernaut for everyone who doesn't see why someone couldn't be a
zombie, a pirate, and a telepath at the same time.

Friday, February 27, 2009

What I'm reading: The Mercy of Thin Air by Ronlyn Domingue and tips for writers

I'm reading as much and as fast as I can these days, refilling the reservoir and doing research for agent queries. I just finished a great book by Ronlyn Domingue, The Mercy of Thin Air: A Novel. The story and the writing are incredibly sensual (great use of the sense of smell), and the POV, from a ghost, is pretty unusual and interesting (I know there are a couple of others out there--The Lovely Bones and A Certain Slant of Light). She does a pretty masterful job of weaving together the past and present and the stories of two couples who are more related to each other than they think, in many ways.

While we're on the topic of Ms. Domingue, if you're a writer you might find her web site helpful. She's got a whole section of her site for writers that talks about the business side of writing, that covers getting an agent and book publicity and more. Very extensive and informative.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Baltimore was a blast

The trip to Baltimore for the reading at Centerstage was over in a flash. My flight left Logan Airport at 6:30 a.m., which meant leaving the house at 5 a.m. I was in Baltimore by 9. After that I managed to cram a lot into one day. I found some local places to eat (great fried haddock at Milton's Grill) and stopped in at The Walter's Art Museum. The Museum was an unexpected treat--it's free (oh do I wish the MFA was free) and had an exhibit on the St. John's Bible, a modern illuminated bible, along with lots of other illuminated historical texts (it's pretty cool if you're into that stuff).

The folks at the theatre showed us great hospitality, and I got to hang out with Lee Blessing, Kia Corthron, and Caridad Svich (talk about a lot of theatrical experience and talent in one room). The UMBC students were energetic and inquisitive and thoughtful, in a way that only undergraduates can be. Young actresses Ellen Fine and Abigail Unger did a fine job reading my play, Confirmed Sighting, for an audience of about 100. All four plays fulfilled the In10 Festival's goal of creating new and exciting roles for women in very different ways. (If you're near Baltimore, definitely try to see the production at UMBC, March 4-8.) To have Blessing, Svich, and Corthron commissioned to write parts for you must feel pretty cool.

The afternoon and evening was full of more talk about theatre and everything else, plus pizza and Afghan food, and more theatre (we saw Lynn Nottage's Fabulation at Centerstage).

Not bad for a 24-hour trip.

Friday, February 20, 2009

reading of Confirmed Sighting in Baltimore on Saturday

I'll be in Baltimore tomorrow (Saturday) for a reading of Confirmed Sighting at Centerstage (700 N. Calvert Street) at 2pm. Plays by Caridad Svich, Lee Blessing, and Kia Corthron will also be read. And all the writers will be there. I'm excited to meet the other writers and have been reading various plays by them this week (just finished Corthron's Breath, Boom. Tough stuff. Wow. I'd be very interested to see it staged.). I'm hoping to glean whatever I can from them about theatre and the playwriting life.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Michael Lewis rocks

Even though I mostly write novels and plays, I have to confess that most of my favorite contemporary writers are non-fiction writers. People like Jon Krakauer, Michael Pollan, and Michael Lewis, among others. Michael Lewis has an article in this past Sunday's NYTimes Sunday magazine, Money (Basket) Ball!, which is a perfect example of what I like about Lewis and his writing. Instead of merely doing a personal profile about an unsung hero on the basketball court, instead Lewis looks at what it is about this particular player (Shane Battier) that makes him unusually effective, and how some very smart people are starting to figure that out. At the same time, he does end up probing inside what makes Battier tick, and makes you maybe get a little eager for the book that might spring up around this (though maybe it won't, since Lewis has already done Moneyball around baseball). Lewis is able to write a sports article that's about more than sports, without needing it to be a sentimental piece of schmaltz either. (I loved his book, The Blind Side, which is about a lot more than football and left guards.)

It's the kind of article that makes me think, man, I wish I could write like that.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Current Book Pile

I've been on a reading tear lately, for a bunch of reasons.
  • I finished my novel, so I have a little more time.
  • I finished my novel, so I need some time to recharge. Reading helps.
  • I finished a draft of my full-length play (for now), so my second big project is done.
  • I'm looking for an agent, so I'm reading books represented by people who might be good agents for me, or I look up agents, and then see a book that sounds good, so I request it from the library. Or I go to the bookstore, to see what's out there, and see stuff that looks good, so I bring it home.
Here is a picture of my current nightstand pile. A little scary (it's actually living mostly on my desk at the moment). Usually, I'm lucky if I can read 24 books in a year, but I've already read 9 so far this year.

In my pile, I have:
  • House & Home by Kathleen McCleary (strong similarities to my new one, but different enough that I'm not depressed)
  • Busted Flush by Brad Smith (this is cheating, I actually just finished it last night. Very fun book.)
  • A Certain Slant of Light by Laura Whitcomb (sounds like Kira will like this one, too)
  • Mina by Jonatha Ceely (written by a friend who lives here in Brookline)
  • How to Live Well Without Owning a Car by Chris Balish (I've read it before, but I wanted to doublecheck)
  • Banishing Verona by Margot Livesey
  • No one belongs here more than you, stories by Miranda July (I liked her movie, and she has a really cool web site to promote the book).
  • Shakespeare Wrote for Money by Nick Hornby (Nick Hornby is my very favorite writer, but I'm forcing myself not to read this right away, which is proving hard.)
  • The Mercy of Thin Air by Ronlyn Domingue (I saw her web site and it looked cool)
  • Songs for the Missing by Stewart O'Nan (he's a friend of a friend and an Amazing writer.)
  • A Walk in the Woods by Lee Blessing (Blessing, Corthron, and Svich are going to be at a staged reading in Baltimore next weekend--all four of us are having short plays read--so I thought I'd try to read some of their work first. Not to be a big suck up, but so we can have a conversation. Maybe to be a little bit of a suck up.)
  • Breath, Boom by Kia Corthron
  • Any Place But Here by Caridad Svich
  • Lee Blessing, Four Plays
  • The Winning Streak by Lee Blessing
  • All Hat by Brad Smith
That's it. Could keep me busy for a while.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

getting serious and fun in Rolling Stone

In the library yesterday, I happened to pick up the January 22 issue of Rolling Stone which had two great (and very different) articles.

First, Paul Krugman wrote a well-thought out he is a Nobel prize winner, after all) open letter to President Obama. Interesting stuff in there about the current economic crisis. I found it very helpful. I just hope that Obama does the right thing.

The second is not for those few of you who love and admire George Bush. But for the rest of us, Matt Taibbi has a scathing satirical "exit interview" with the former president. I laughed pretty hard.