Thursday, January 29, 2009

update: novel progress--finished

I finally finished my new novel today. I've been working on it for a couple years now, and at one point ended up tearing it all down and rebuilding it from the ground up. But the new version feels good, and I've run it past a couple readers and my writers' group and gotten useful feedback. I've been proofing and tweaking and changing the last final bits, pretty intensely, for the past couple weeks (trying out push away all other projects).

Today it's done and tomorrow I'll start sending out queries to agents. I think I've got a decent query letter (several friends have helped me refine it a lot), but we'll see soon enough.

Next on my list is a bunch of reading, plus I'm hoping to rewrite the first act of my new play in February. Once that's done, it's on to the next novel (I have two projects that I'm itching to do).

I'm not sure how I'll celebrate. Beer and chocolate, I think (small amounts of both). Now, if I actually land a publisher, then it'll really be time to celebrate.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Great advice for playwrights from Adam

Adam Szymkowicz has got some great advice for playwrights on his blog. Check it out. Wish I'd seen a list like that 20 years ago (though I think I ended up doing most of what he lists, but maybe not quite so intentionally).

Friday, January 23, 2009

guide to how to approach bookstores

I was reading back posts from the Folio Literary Management and came across this very nice talk with a bookseller on how to best approach book stores. I followed all these steps with Tornado Siren a while back, and they worked pretty well. I was able to set up a bunch of signings at local stores. Still, I wish I'd seen this post before I started (and I'll look at it again, when it's time for the next book to come out).

Wish they were all like Playscripts

Okay, sure, sending me a check is a good way to get me on your good side. I have a couple plays published by Playscripts (Christmas Breaks and Pumpkin Patch), and I just got a royalty check for a couple hundred bucks, thanks to a production around Christmas time.

But there's more to it than just that--what's especially cool is that Playscripts pays not just once a year (like some other play publishers), but they pay royalties every month that you earn more than $100. And for June and December, the minimum threshold is only $20. So instead of keeping my money in their bank account for most of the year, they actually send it to me. What a concept.

It's all automated, and I can go online to their Playwrights Information Center anytime and check the status of my sales and productions--the web site will tell me how much I can expect in my next check, which theatres/schools still haven't paid yet, the total number of online views a script has had, total sales (both in units sold and dollars earned for each script).

It's really an ideal setup for the writers whose work they publish (and for a numbers guy like me, pure heaven). I know that some other play publishers have similar setups--I have experience with Brooklyn's old version, which gave totals, but they only paid once a year. I don't know the details of the others, though it seems like Heuer has something close.

What I really wish is that book publishers would/could adopt this same model. This is extremely unlikely for large publishers, because they sell through such a variety of outlets, though there must be some central system, somewhere in each publishing company that keeps track of all this, doesn't there? The other big stumbling block would be the practice of allowing bookstores to return unsold books--which is just plain dumb. If book publishers did away with returns, then, in theory, they could set up an automated royalty system like Playscripts that would pay authors every month, with very little hassle for the publisher (and make the lives of authors much more sane and earn lots of goodwill). Though of course they would lose the interest on all those piles of money they sit on all year. I think it'd be an interesting competitive advantage for a publisher, with regard to landing authors, if they could pull it off.

I won't hold my breath for big book publishers taking up the Playscripts model, but I wish that small publishers (and all other play publishers) would find a way.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009


Millions of people in DC today. I’ll watch on TV. The kids' school is making a big event out of it, and all the kids will watch. I don’t recall the country ever being in such a buzz about a political event in my lifetime.

I wonder about the undercurrents of today that are more than just the overt joy at something going right for us racially, socially—after all, who would have ever thought that a black man would be elected president in my lifetime? Not me. I like being pleasantly surprised by America. And I'm grateful that my children will see this day while they're still children.

However, is there also an electric tingle at this peaceful surrender of power--the Left has been so mortified by the Bush administration and its grasping for power for so many years now. Today feels like a reminder that, even with the economy in the tank and two wars underway and corruption and confusion rampant, maybe things aren’t quite as bad as we thought. Maybe the fundamentals of the American system are sound, and we really are all pulling oars in the same boat. We feel the great tidal pull of history sucking the feet out from under American hegemony, and as we teeter in the waves of uncertainty, we’ll watch the inauguration of this man who has vowed to bring people together (knowing full well that his predecessor made the same promise) with a kernel of hope in our hearts. Maybe he can really help pull it off.

Beyond inspiring hope, though, Obama has showed an ability to motivate people to take action. Now is an opportunity for a leader to emerge who can inspire positive action forward. In the end, of course, it’s really all up to us. But maybe he can remind us of this fact and help guide us in a positive way through the tough changes we face ahead. We’ll see.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

I'd Better Get Reading

I saw these lists mentioned on Janet Reid's blog, and I just had to check them out for myself. They're completely arbitrary, of course, but fun just the same. And they remind me of a bunch of titles that I'd like to get from the library.

75 Books Every Woman Should Read

(I've read 15 of these)


75 Books Every Man Should Read

(I've read 15 of these, too.)

Let me know your tallies.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Jonathan Coulton cracks me up (thanks Dan)

I had lunch with my good friend Dan the other day (the Boston one, not the Illinois one), and later on, he e-mailed me some links about this musician, Jonathan Coulton. He's written lots of funny and clever songs (and some are pretty geeky, which I like). (He makes me think a little of They Might Be Giants.)

He's also done a very fun job of promoting himself and his music with his web site, and also by releasing his music in a way that allows others to use it to make all sorts of videos and mixes. In the modern media world, the way that art reaches the public is so varied and dynamic. Lots of good lessons to be learned from Mr. Coulton about how to engage with an audience in ways that make them invested in the art and the artist (as well as how they can turn it into something of their own.

But there is also lots of fun:

Check out this video: Flickr

Or lots of his songs, but especially Re: Your Brains (which is my favorite zombie song, ever)

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Fingers Crossed

I'm supposed to have my fiction writers' group here tomorrow, where we'll talk about the second half of my new novel. This is (I hope) the last major feedback I'll get before I finish up, so I can start sending this thing out in early February. I always get nervous before these things, even though my group is extremely gentle and supportive (in addition to being smart and well-read) (no, I'm not trying to butter them up, in case they read this). I don't think they're likely to suggest that I just scrap the whole thing, but we'll see.

I'm just hoping that the weather doesn't cancel the whole thing. We're supposed to get a few inches of snow tomorrow, though it's also supposed to be bitterly cold--my hope is that the cold will keep the snowfall to a minimum, and whatever we get will be very dry and fluffy. A delay would make me have to rearrange my writing schedule and plan for these next few weeks, so I've got my fingers crossed for flurries only.

We're supposed to have some of our coldest weather in years. For Boston, that means single digits, maybe we'll even touch zero. I'm spoiled by this mild Boston climate--I have to remind myself that I grew up in Saranac Lake, New York, where it's 14 below zero right this second and not likely to top zero all day. I remember stretches as a kid where the temp might not get above zero for an entire week. Now, that's cold.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

You think Obama has a challenge (check out Iron Ladies of Liberia)

Yeah, sure the economy is in the toilet and we've got a couple intractable wars going on. Sounds like a tough challenge for a presidential newbie like Obama.

But if you want to look at someone who really has to do a turnaround job, consider Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, who was elected as president of Liberia in 2005. Not only was she the first woman elected president in Africa, she also happened to be taking over a country that was essentially broken. Years of civil war and corrupt rule by Charles Taylor left behind a bankrupt nation with an infrastructure in shambles. With a population of just over 3 million and a national debt of over $3 billion, President Sirleaf had only a very small budget with which to try to make even the most basic changes.

The first year of her presidency is documented beautifully in the film, Iron Ladies of Liberia. Directed by Daniel Junge (who also happens to be my step-brother-in-law, and who has another film that's short-listed for the Oscars this year), the movie looks not only at the president, but at the strong women that she appoints to her government, especially her minister of finance and chief of police. I was really taken by how President Johnson Sirleaf could balance talking to the folks at the IMF (she's a Harvard-trained economist) at one meeting, and then talk openly (and toughly and compassionately) with workers protesting at a rubber plantation or soldiers seeking pensions.

It's hard to see how she can fix Liberia, but from the film, you can see that Liberia is lucky to have her.

(There is a nice short interview with her in September in the Brown Daily Herald.)

You can see a clip from the film at

Monday, January 12, 2009

Farming on my mind: "The One-Straw Revolution" and "You Can Farm"

I just finished two great books about farming (and food and business and life).

The One-Straw Revolution by Masanobu Fukuoka is a classic text, written in 1978. He was a pretty amazing guy (long dead now, I’m sure), both a farmer and philosopher. I’m really interested in his Do-Nothing Farming method, which utilized ground covers and mulching and eschews tillage. He’s dedicated to having the farm and crops being in great alignment with nature (Nature with a big N, meaning seasons, predators and pests, native plants, etc.). I’m curious to know if anyone in the Northeast U.S. has duplicated his methods, with crops that would grow here. His dual-season crop rotation works well for where he lived in Japan, because he could grow a grain crop in the winter, and then the mulched each crop (rice in summer, or rye and barley in winter), with the straw of a different crop, so that the diseases/pests that come were not automatically passed to each successive crop. His use of white clover as a perennial ground cover ended up enriching the soil, sort of like green mulch/fertilizer. Timing is everything with his method, especially in terms of combating weeds.

He talks a lot about zen philosophy, too, about being and meaning and nothingness, which I also enjoy considering. But it’s about a lot more than that, and he’s practical, too, in his considerations about what herbicide and pesticides are doing to the people, animals, plants, and the world.

What’s interesting is that he wrote all this more than 30 years ago. There is a big wave of this now, but people have been worried and trying to take action for decades now. Maybe now, it’ll really grab hold.

I also read You Can Farm: The Entrepreneur's Guide to Start & Succeed in a Farming Enterprise
by Joel Salatin. (Tracy posted about him and his book on her blog, too.) As one of many folks who fantasize about living on farm someday, this book was both entertaining and enlightening for me. Salatin's "stacking" methods, of rotating various animals across his fields, with the proper timing to allow build-up of the soil and great reduction in pests and disease, is so cool. I'd love to try it for myself (though I have no interest in raising any animals on my farm beyond chickens, to be honest) just to see it in action.

Just as much as his farming methods, I appreciate his great energy and enthusiasm (and tremendous libertarianism) for the business side of farming. He's thought hard about how to make money from his ventures on the farm and refuses to price himself into starvation (he generally doesn't do projects that generate less than $25/hour). He makes his decisions about what to farm and what to sell from smart, considered business perspective.

Though this is a book about the business of farming, it's a good fun business book for anyone, especially writers, I think. Farming, like writing, is more than just a job, it's a way of life, and if you want to keep that way of life, you need to find a way to make your living from it. And like farming, that's all a lot easier if you live an especially frugal life. He talks a lot about making sure that you don't go into debt at the wrong time and making sure that you are clear about your necessities versus luxuries. The same applies for writers. He writes about making the transition to farming gradually, i.e. you might not want to quit your day job and buy property until you've already got customers. The same thing applies to people who want to support themselves through writing.

Both of these two books dovetail nicely in their thoughts about the importance of eating healthy food grown in a natural method that does not harm the earth. I'm all for that.

Maybe it's time for Tracy and me to go through our seed catalogs and start getting ready for our spring garden.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Central Park Balloon Project Race

I saw this on Janet Reid's blog. Very fun video.

Duchess of Malfi at Actors Shakespeare Project (Boston)

One of my goals this year is to start seeing more theatre again (especially now that I'm on the StageSource Board, maybe I'd better step it up a little). Though they have an outstanding reputation, I've never managed to make it to a show by the Actors Shakespeare Company--this is due to a lack of time, lack of money, and the fact that I often fall asleep during Shakespeare. All playwrights are supposed to revere Shakespeare, and I am amazed by most of the plays (I was in a Shakespeare company in college), but it's not my big passion. The falling asleep thing isn't necessarily related to Shakespeare--as my family will attest, I'm pretty good at falling asleep in the evening in front of the TV, or in the middle of a conversation. (It's my superpower.)

Last night, I made it to Duchess of Malfi to see the Actors Shakespeare Company at work (though this was Webster not Shakespeare, their first departure from the canon). It was opening night and I had free tickets (which helped).

I did not fall asleep. Not even close. There's lost of love, lust, murder, betrayal, and just plain nastiness on stage. And I was in the front row (which doesn't always keep me awake, I confess, but instead makes me embarrassed when I do nod off), and there was no way I could doze. The play was intense and the acting generally pretty sharp (Bill Barclay as Bosola was a standout for me). I definitely recommend the show.

The staging, a long carpeted rasied runway between two massive sets of double doors was really sharp--set, lights, and sound worked to clarify and enhance the play--I'd love to have this team work on one of my full-length plays.

The space, Midway Studios, is pretty interesting--a theatre carved out of an old mill/factory building in the Fort Point Arts district. Big old wood and iron beams all around, and not bad sound qualities at all. Plenty of space. I could definitely imagine some of my plays staged there (especially God's Voice).

The only negative of the space is that it's a pretty long walk from South Station, which can be both cold and deserted. If I was ASP (not that they've asked me), I'd consider renting or borrowing a 15-passenger van, and set up a shuttle between South Station and the theatre. It'd be a way to make more direct contact with patrons and make sure that people actually got to the theatre. Get a big magnetic sign to put on the side of the van, and it'd serve to advertise the show as it was driving around.

Once the audience is trained to come to this spot, this might no longer be necessary, but you want to get rid of any excuses people have for not attending. (Of course their next two shows are in different spaces, which confuses me a little. ASP has no trouble getting audience, because they're pretty darn good, so maybe they don't worry so much about audience training.)

My other minor quibble was snacks (not that they asked me about this either). If I'm out on a cold night to the theatre and need strength to help me stay awake for Act II and get home, I need good snacks. I paid $1.50 for some little cereal packet that wasn't worth $0.25. Brownies and cookies are where it's at. And not factory ones either, but home baked or bakery versions. Good snacks help finish off the evening (and make money).

Anyway, it's a good show. Go see it if you can (but bring good walking shoes and your own chocolate).

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Stop Heating Your House?

Check out this guest post on No Impact Man, about how some Japanese households use a lot less energy than most Americans, because they heat (or don't) their houses much differently (and maybe they're a little tougher).

I don't think we're ready to go this far quite yet (and I'm certain that the other two units in our condo, with whom we share a furnace (and we control the thermostat) are not), but it's definitely interesting to think about different ways of approaching energy usage, and what the impact is on family life, as well as the energy bill.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Why I want to get rid of our car. (part 3)--money

Okay, this is the last bit about getting rid our car for now (really), at least until we finally do it.

I thought I'd lay out what it costs for us to own a car, how much it'll cost to get around without one (since we still do have to get around), and see if we'll save money.

Monthly Costs of owning a car for us:

Ownership/Purchase. . . . $150*

Insurance. . . . $75

Gas. . . . . $120**

Repairs and Maintenance. . . . . $100

Parking. . . . $100

Tolls and taxes: $25

Total: $570 per month

So, a bit of explanation. For cost of ownership, I used what we paid for our car, spread out over ten years. Now, we paid off the car a while ago, but I think it's important to keep this in the calculation, because if we're in a cycle of car ownership we should always be setting aside money for the next purchase (borrowing money to buy a fast-depreciating car is not a smart financial move). For us, we tend to buy a new car and drive it until the repair costs rise too high. (We currently have a 2003 Dodge Caravan with 75,000 miles on it.)

Repairs and maintenance are an expected average over that time period. The figure I used for gas is a little less than our average for 2008, but prices were unusually high in 2008, though I think prices won't stay as low as they are now, and likely will spike again over the next few years, as worldwide demand recovers.

So, $570 a month for the ready use of our car. But of course, even if we got rid of it, we'd still have to get around, which won't be entirely free.

What it might cost to get around (per month):

Car rental: $90 (0ne weekend, every other month)
Zipcar: $60 (costs $10/hour or so)
T pass: $60
Bike stuff: $40
Total: $250

These are guesses, of course. Maybe we'll need Zipcar and rentals a lot more than I think. I'm not sure about the T pass, because Tracy already gets a monthly pass through work, and we tend to just share that one between the two of us.

I've put in $40 for bike stuff, which includes tune-ups and ownership costs. (The purchase costs on our current four bikes comes out to $3.85/month.) Repairs will need to happen if we use them more, but to be honest, Tracy already commutes by bike to work, so her current costs shouldn't be factored in to this setup, since we'd have to pay that anyway. I'd like to take a bike repair class, so I can maintain them myself and keep costs low. I bought my used bike for $65 on Craigs List and it does fine.

Maybe I should put in money for extra shoes (I already walk 4-6 miles per day, even with a car) and umbrellas.

With all these assumptions, it would appear that we would save about $320 per month by giving up our car. (This wouldn't all show up in our cash flow, since the car is paid off. The cash flow bump would be $170.) All this comes while helping us get more excercise, know our neighbors and community better, and have less negative impact environmentally.

Seems like it's definitely worth a try. And if it doesn't work, we can always go out and buy a car (Detroit would be happy to sell us one real cheap right now).

Monday, January 5, 2009

Why I want to get rid of our car. (part 2)

We live in a car culture, and I'm definitely a part of that, even if I don't really see the type of car I own as defining my identity. So the idea of not owning up a car ends up bringing up a bunch of concerns (and people voice these to me, if they've always had cars in their families).

What about in an emergency, especially something medical? This one's not that tough, actually. We live about 400 yards away from an emergency room. I could crawl there if I needed to. And I could easily call a cab to take one of us to our regular doctor's office, which is about 3 miles away.

What if the dog or cats get sick? Not quite so sure about this one. Zipcar (even though you're not supposed to have pets in the car) or maybe a cab?

What about grocery shopping? That's easy. We have a little cart, backpacks, and lots of baskets on our bikes. Plus they'll deliver. As will the hardware store and office supply store.

What about when the kids are old enough to learn to drive? Driver's ed, or borrow a car. They'll grumble, but that's life in the city, kids. This way they certainly won't expect us to buy them a car, right?

Maybe it'll make me crazy, because sometimes it'll take so long to get to places by bus or train. Yeah, but let's just say patience is something I need to work on anyway. Doing things faster and even getting places faster isn't always as much the ideal solution as it seems. This will not be easy for me to accept.

It'll be hard to visit my favorite grocery store, Russo's in Watertown. True. Just have to live with it, or use zipcar (I could get there by bus, but I'm not sure I have that much patience.)

It'll be harder to go to meetings/events in suburbs. True. Maybe it'll make me work even harder at building/joining groups and organizations in my own back yard. If they're important enough, I'll spend the money to rent a car. Or I'll keep getting in better shape for longer bike rides. Or maybe I'll join bike advocacy groups, to make regional bike travel safer and more convenient.

What about when the weather stinks? One of my first investments if/when we do this is going to be to get a rain suit for bicycling. Bikes aren't much good in slick ice like we had in Boston this morning, but to be honest, neither were cars or feet. And it's hard to get around in Boston when there's a foot of snow, whether it's on foot, bus, or in a car. And if you drive your car, there's nowhere to park.

When I look at them, they're all things that we can handle. And I know that I missed a bunch of benefits yesterday (one of them was that I think buying less gas takes money out of the hands of people with whom I disagree with politically (especially internationally).

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Why I want to get rid of our car. (part 1)

I've played around with the idea of us going car-less ever since we moved to Boston. But for various reasons, it never quite seemed practical (it was very handy to have a car while ferrying around small children and fixing up houses). However, I also recognized that if ever there was a chance for us to live without a car, this might be it--Boston is extremely walkable and has a decent public transportation system. Still, it never happened. (And still hasn't happened.)

A few things have happened since we first moved to the Boston area that have increased the practicality of living without a car:
  • We moved to Brookline, in a neighborhood where the kids can walk to school, and we can walk to grocery stores and other shopping.
  • The kids are older, and so can ride bikes to get places.
  • We've become increasingly aware of our carbon footprint and increasingly concerned about the effects of human generated carbon emissions on global warming. I know there are still a few people out there who are unconvinced that people are having an impact on the world's climate in a clear and negative way. I might suggest they look at it like Pascal's Wager. In this case, if we change our behavior, based on the belief that global warming is due to human impact, and it's true, then we did the right thing. If it turns out to be false, we will have made changes that pollute the environment less and might have other benefits. In fact, I think that if you are convinced that human generated carbon emissions are having a negative impact on global climate, you might even have a moral imperative to take action (stopping eating meat will have a bigger impact than buying a Prius or selling your car, by the way).
  • We live very close to several Zipcar sites, so we could easily rent a car on short notice, if we needed to. Tracy has a Zipcar membership subsidized through her workplace.
So, all these things make it easier. And, oh, it would save us money. Which is a very good thing.

One good question is, why not just drive our existing car less? That would get keep the carbon emissions down, certainly. But it wouldn't save as much money (we'd still have to pay for parking, taxes, insurance, and upkeep). And, if it's there, it tends to get used because it's awfully convenient--sometimes it's just too tempting. Getting rid of the car would force us to make conscious choices about how we get around and examine the associated costs. Driving a car costs money every time the car moves (or doesn't) but those costs tend to be hidden, whereas having to rent a car for a day or an hour reminds you right away that you're paying money to drive that vehicle.

So, what do I think would be the benefits:

  • Less emissions (especially since we would walk and bicycle more).
  • Improved health through more exercise.
  • Save money. (calculations to come)
  • See the world differently, more interactively. As a writer, this is a big one for me--though I certainly get some info from NPR when I'm driving, when I'm in the car, I don't interact much with the world, and short driving trips aren't good for paying attention to anything besides crazy Boston drivers. When I'm on foot or on the T or on my bike, I see the world closer, I hear more interesting conversations, meet new people. Input like this makes my writing life a lot richer.
  • Slows pace of life. Yes, having a car is convenient. But sometimes it allows me to cram too many errands into too small of a stretch of time. There's something to be said for slowing down a little more, and being more conscious of how and where I'm going.
  • Less stress from dealing with Boston drivers (though this is still a factor on bicycle) and finding parking, etc. (Dealing with the T can be stressful, so this might be a wash.)
  • I don't believe in the systems that have grown up around the car--suburban sprawl, car insurance companies, big petro corporations and their negative global political impact, etc. Insurance galls me in particular--I have 24 years of a clean driving record, not even a speeding ticket. I've been paying car insurance my entire life, which is many, many thousands of dollars. I was involved in a minor fender bender a year ago, which was my fault. No one was hurt. There was minor damage to the other car. As a result, my car insurance premiums have jumped by $400. So what exactly was I paying for for all those years? The increase will pay off the cost to the insurance company for the accident pretty soon, and I'll be stuck paying more for something I never want to use, and if I do use it, it'll cost me even more. It's just dumb.
  • I hate having a machine that I can't fix. Cars cost a lot of money to buy and especially to repair. I'm a decent carpenter and can handle drywall, plumbing, electric, and other parts of my house, at least to an extent. I can grow my own food and I'm a decent cook. I don't know much about how to fix cars and I don't have the time or inclination to learn. And it's hard to find a repair shop you can trust. And the repairs are expensive. We've got a couple problems on our vehicle right nowthat just keep getting put off, because they take a block of cash that we don't have handy or want to spend on other things.
  • I like the challenge of trying to go without a car. It requires some additional resourcefulness and problem solving, which has appeal to me.
So, I think we might do it. Though I coach Kira's travel soccer team this spring, and with practices and games, it's very hard to go without a car. This spring is her last season, so I'm hoping that our plan can be for us to sell the car once soccer is over, in June.

(more to come on hassles and cost)

Saturday, January 3, 2009

writing and money (2000-2008 stats)

My previous post about money has generated a bit of discussion, one that I'm interested in seeing grow. How much do people earn through their plays and novels? What's the reality of the world of writing, if you're not hitting it big (or even hitting it medium).

So, here are my numbers for this decade so far. At first, I was a bit reluctant to post this, for fear of dashing any illusions I've painted of my wild success. But really, who am I kidding. I've had quite a few productions over the past eight years, and one novel published, and I'm grateful for all of them and for all of my audience and readers. I'll keep working on getting these numbers to grow, and that's about all I can do. No sense grinding my teeth over whether to say I've been successful or not--it depends on how you look at it. I get to write what I want and I get to work with people I like--that certainly seems sufficient. More would be nice, too, don't get me wrong.

Anyway, here are the numbers:

Year Audience Writing Income
20014374 $1504
20023947 $683
20033129 $965
20047113 $1174
20055532 $3129
20064220 $2262
20072138 $1489
20085282 $1538
Total36,509 $13,720

Audience numbers count both attendance at performances and novel/script sales. I always ask producers to give me box office totals after a show. If that doesn't work, I tend to make a guess (very conservatively). (I'm a numbers guy--I have a big spreadsheet that tracks audience and income, for every one of my plays/books, since 1990. (In 1990, 225 people saw my work. I earned $0.))

You can see that the amounts vary quite a bit. This coming year, as I wrote previously, I can already count on two radio broadcasts (though those numbers are hard to estimate) and more than $2,000 in writing income.

On the plus side, since 2000, more than 36,000 people have read, seen, or heard my work, which is pretty cool. On the downside, I haven't earned enough to pay for one year of tuition and expenses for my daughter to attend UMass (I have time--she's only in 8th grade). Lots to think about.

I'm dying with curiosity (I'm nosy) to know how this all works for other playwrights/novelists. Maybe it feels too private to share--we don't want people to be jealous of us, or to scorn us because we're earning/being viewed so little. Personally, I think it helps to have as much information as possible, no matter what stage you're at.

Friday, January 2, 2009

2008 Round Up, Part 3--creative input

Okay, this is really the last post about 2008. I'm a number guy and a list-maker (mildly compulsive, perhaps...), so the end of the year is great time for tallies. I keep track of how many books, movies, and plays I take in every year, which I look on as sort of creative compost for the mind.

Here's how I did in 2008:

Movies watched: 46 (my goal was 52, but I coached my daughter's travel soccer team this year, which meant I coached about 20 games and ran about 40 practices. All that time has to come from somewhere.)

Favorites: Slumdog Millionaire, No Country for Old Men, Juno.

I had a goal of reading a handful of screenplays, but came up empty on that one.

Plays (and readings of plays) watched: 14. (In the old days, before kids, I might see 75 plays and readings in a year, but that's not possible anymore. Plus, this year, I intentionally dialed back some of my playgoing--I just needed a break (my goal was only 12). This year, I'd like to see a lot more. Luckily I have a StageSource membership, which gets me access to free tickets, because, to be honest, I can't afford to buy tickets to plays very often (see previous post on income).

Favorites: An Ocean of Air by Rough & Tumble, and the Rhombus plays in the Six Views Festival we put on.

Plays read: 9. (my goal was 4. Which I know is very unimpressive, but I've been more into reading books than plays lately.)

Favorite: August: Osage County by Tracy Letts. Intense, high-energy, and obviously theatrical. Reading Doubt by John Patrick Shanley was a big disappointment for me--it just seemed so theatrically uninteresting, and though the stakes are high, part of me felt like it's getting done a lot because it's really cheap to stage (small cast, no set). (Heresy, I'm sure.)

Books read: 29. (my goal was 24. I'm a slow reader, sad to say. And busy with a lot of stuff (see above).)

  • The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie
  • The Blind Side by Michael Lewis
  • Into the Wild and Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer
  • The New Kings of Non-Fiction edited by Ira Glass
  • Life as We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer
  • Master and Comander by Patrick O'Brian
  • Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson
  • Seedfolks by Paul Fleischman
I know that's an excessively long list of favorites (especially since I only read 29 books) but I liked all of these a lot. It helps that Tracy reads more than twice as much as I do, and knows what I like, so she filters out the other stuff. And I've gotten terrific recommendations from friends.

So that's a bunch of the stuff that went into my head. I'm curious to see what will come out in 2009.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

2008 Round Up, Part 2--the business side of the writing life

Okay, so I had a pretty good year of actually writing stuff. It's worth looking at the business side of the writing life, too.

This past year was about what I expected, in terms of how much I submitted. I was busy with extensive writing projects, so I didn't set any submission records for myself.

This year I sent 17 queries for scripts and 75 actual scripts out, so I guess you could call it 92 submissions.

In terms of productions, it was a slow year, but not too bad. I had 6 productions of short plays in various theatres in New York, Boston, and North Carolina, and 2 readings. Plus I got quite a few productions of short plays via my publishers and about 1,000 students bought my published scripts this year, for use in competitions and elsewhere.

Two of my short plays were accepted for inclusion in Smith & Kraus anthologies, and Playscripts published my short play, Pumpkin Patch. I won one competition, the UMBC competition, which was very exciting. I came up completely blank in my efforts to find productions for my full-length plays this year--they're awfully tough to place right now. I did help produce a new play festival, Six Views, with my Rhombus playwrights group, which was quite successful in many ways and very gratifying.

I sold a handful of books, but Tornado Siren has been out for a while (two years), and like any novel, if it doesn't make a big splash out of the gate, its lifetime on the bookshelves is pretty short.

So in terms of audience, all this added up to a decent year (meaning I met my goals). As far as I can tell, counting theatre and books, I think my worked reached at least 5,282 people this year. (My goal was 4,800.) This was generated by 75 performances (my goal was 52).

So what about the money side of the writing life? What does all this add up to? We tend not to talk about the actual finances of writing, much to the detriment of young writers, I think. They don't really know what writers earn for their work when they get into this.

My goal at the start of 2008 was to make at least $6,000 from my writing work (including freelance stuff). Sounds like a pathetically small number, I know, but my time is limited (I'm the stay-at-home dad for two kids, too, and I do a bunch of other stuff).

This year I made just over $10,000, which is the first time I've beat my goal. However, only about $1,500 of this came from productions and publications of plays and books. The rest was generated by my freelance work doing web work and business writing and editing. Most of the creative writing money comes from my many published short plays (about 34)--these brought in about $1,100. The nice thing about this money is that it's pretty consistent, year-to-year, so I can count on it to help cover my basic writing expenses (paper, envelopes, web costs).

2009 should be better, in terms of playwriting income, because I know I have a $1,000 prize on its way, plus some extra short play publication money (from a production licensed in December 2008).

It really is helpful for our family if I can keep bringing in $6,000 - $10,000 a year (and I have a daughter approaching college age at an alarming rate). Luckily my freelance work is helping make that happen right now, though I'd love for my income from plays and books to cover that full amount. Who knows, maybe the new play or new novel will do the trick for a while (though even if they get published and/or produced, it's likely they wouldn't show income until 2010). The best I can do is keep writing and keep submitting (and try to be smart about it).