Tuesday, December 28, 2010

2010 Output

At the end of every year, I add up my inputs/outputs.  I've still got a few more days for inputs (I'm hoping to see some movies this week and finish some books), but I won't get any more writing done until Christmas vacation is over.  So here's how 2010 worked out, output-wise:

  • Did an edit/rewrite of my novel, Moving (A Life in Boxes), cutting about 6,300 words
  • Did a rewrite of my middle-grade novel, Buried Treasure.
  • did some freelance business writing (which helped pay some bills).
  • rewrote some of my play Constant State of Panic, after the production in DC in January
  • Completely rewrote my full-length play about the creation of English Bible, now titled Fire on Earth.  This was a total gut rehab (even changed the title and main characters)
  • Wrote 8 very short audio plays for the Emerging America Festival (one of which was recorded--I Am Not Invisible.)
  • Wrote Escape to Wonderland, a new ten-minute drama, for the T Plays produced by Mill 6 Theatre Collaborative.
  • Wrote a one-act play, The Light Collectors, for the Youth Astronomer Apprenticeship program with MIT and the Central Square Theatre.  This was my first commissioned play.
  • Started a first draft of a new historical novel (I have about 100 pages so far)
  • Wrote a new ten-minute comedy, Curse the Darkness.
  • Wrote a new full-length drama, Flight, based on two of my ten-minute plays.  I'm having a reading of this from Madcap Players in DC in January.
  • A bunch of blog posts on my three different blogs.
This feels like a pretty good list, a nice mix of playwriting and novel writing, as well as first draft writing and rewriting.  If I get this much written again next year, I'll be extremely satisfied.

Production-wise, 2010 wasn't bad.  The year saw dozens of productions by schools, through the various publishers that handle my work.  Productions/readings of my work included:

The Next Big Thing, Confirmed Sighting, Recognition, Schedule-Meisters, and Stick Up for Mars were published by Brooklyn Publishers.  Counting Rita was published in a Best Ten-Minutes Plays anthology by Smith & Kraus.  My one-act, Reassembling Sasha, was published by YouthPlays.

Oh, and I finally found an agent for my novels (and other books to come), which made 2010 a pretty darn good year.  (Now I need 2011 to bring a book deal.)

Overall, a minimum of 7,500 people heard, read, or saw my work performed this year, and I had more than 122 performances of my plays, which is not bad at all.

It's hard to say what 2011 will be like.  I have a production of Escape to Wonderland scheduled for January, but after that the calendar looks pretty empty.  Lots of room for good things to happen.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Two more plays in the Heuer catalog: Tightly Bound and David in Goliath

I just found out that two of my plays are now in the Heuer catalog.  I have a whole bunch of plays published by Brooklyn Publishers, and they were acquired a few years ago by Heuer.  Many of my plays can work for both catalogs (they hit slightly different markets), and are gradually making their way over.  So I was excited today, to discover that my collection of short plays for women, Tightly Bound, is now available from the Heuer site, as is my ten-minute play, David in Goliath.  (Check them out.  Please.  You can read the scripts for free on the site.)

Monday, December 20, 2010

Writing by the Numbers: my audience numbers so far (since 1990)

Those of you who know me will not be surprised to learn that I keep a big spreadsheet that tracks every script and book I've written (62), how many productions each has had, how many people have seen it, and how much money it's earned from both productions and publication.  Since 1990.

Beyond just the basic obsessive/compulsiveness of it, I do it because it helps me gauge the effectiveness of my marketing and writing efforts.  In some fields, you can just look at your salary or your annual review with your boss, and feel like you've been making progress (or not).  But I don't have a boss, and the money is so bad in theatre, that the numbers generally aren't enough to help you want to keep going.  Having a sense that I'm actually reaching people with my work gives me a boost.  And having real numbers helps a lot when it comes to setting goals for marketing at the start of each year.

It'd been at least a year and a half since I fully updated the spreadsheet (it takes a while), but I finally got around to it last week.  Here's where the numbers stand right now:

  • To date, I've had about 300 productions and readings of my work.  300 feels like a good number. 
  • My work has reached more than 84,000 people, and it breaks down like this:
    • More than 9,400 have seen my full-length plays
    • Almost 10,000 have seen my one-act plays
    • More than 41,000 people have seen my ten-minute plays.
    • Altogether, at least 59,000 people have seen my work on stage
    • I'm pretty sure my radio plays have reached more than 23,000 people.
  • 2010 was a pretty good year--my work has been seen/heard/read by over 7,000 people this year.
  • My short play, Christmas Breaks, has been seen by the most people, more than 5,800.  Reading the Mind of God, a full-length play about the astronomers Kepler and Tycho, comes in a close second.
  • My lifetime earnings from writing continue to remain a fairly modest number, especially if you spread it over 20 years .  The amount the scripts have earned varies wildly, from almost nothing to a few thousand dollars (that's counting prizes/fellowships).  2010 was my best year so far, in terms of writing income.
None of these numbers are exact.  Whenever I end up dealing with a theatre who produces my work, I make sure to ask for attendance figures.  But with the productions of published work, that's impossible, so I estimate 40 people per performance, which is safe, but probably on the low side.  With the radio plays, it's hard to guess, but most of the stations are very small, so I estimate conservatively.

There are multiple ways to view these numbers.  In some sense, they pale in comparison with the number of people I'd reach from just one of my scripts being produced for film or television.  Writers whose work appears for long (or medium) runs at larger non-profit or commercial theatres could reach my lifetime audience in less than a year.  The same goes for money--I have friends who have earned many multiples of my lifetime playwriting earnings from just one book deal.

But for scraping and clawing out productions and publications of a bunch of plays (and one novel), almost exclusively in small theatres and schools, these numbers feel good to me.

If you happen to be one of the people who have seen or read my work over the years--thanks!  As you can see, I don't take audiences for granted.  You're a big reason for why I do this.

I'm also curious--do other writers/playwrights keep track of stuff like this?  Let me know if you do.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Samples, samples, samples

I confess that I'm not always good about keeping my web site up-to-date.  There are a million other projects and chores that seem to get in the way (hey, yesterday I finally put together a credenza from IKEA that had been sitting in a box in my office for six months).  For the past few days, I've been steadily adding the ability to read sample pages from my scripts to the web site.  They're all there now--you can read the first acts of my full-length plays, sample pages from all my one-acts (40 of them), and sample pages from my radio plays.

I hope you (and thousands of other people) will check them out. 

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Global Village Construction Set

I don't know if this much to do with writing, but I just think it's cool.  I want to use/build this stuff on my farm some day.  And I really, really like the way they've thought this through, in terms of making it all interchangeable and reasonably simple to construct.  Question--do they include a printing press and a light board in their list of 40 necessary implements to build a small civilization?

Global Village Construction Set in 2 Minutes from Marcin Jakubowski on Vimeo.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Time, Time, Time (tricks I use, part 1)

In some ways, time (as opposed to energy or inspiration) is my biggest stumbling block when it comes to getting enough writing done.  "Enough" is subjective, of course.  In my case, "enough" means writing often and generating a number of pages where it feels like I have some chance of finishing something that can be produced or published.  The rest of life, outside of writing, often conspires (often with my consent) to keep me busy with meetings, projects, and other comings and goings. My writing time is while my kids are in school, 8am-2pm, but that day can disappear pretty quickly. 

People sometimes ask how I manage to get as much written as I do (this year I did major rewrites of two novels, a total rewrite of a full-length play, finished a draft of a new full-length play, and wrote some new short plays).  And then we commiserate about lack of time.  But the truth is, writing comes from sitting your ass in the chair and working.  There's no big secret.  That's how the pages and scenes start to add up.  They might stink, but at least they exist.

It's easy to complain about not getting enough done.  I do it.  Other writers complain to me that they just don't get as much written as they'd like.  There are various tricks I use to make sure I have a little less room for complaining and a little room for actual writing.

The first question to ask is:  how much time do you actually spend writing?  And I'll be a little loose with my definition of writing, in that I don't mean that it only counts if you're actually hitting the keyboard, but I do mean how much time do you spend working on a project at your desk, without checking e-mail, or surfing the internet or Facebook or Twitter?

Since I'm a numbers guy, this year I actually started keeping track.  Using a spreadsheet that I got from one of freelance gigs, I started entering my start and stop time for every writing session.  The times I recorded were for project time, and also journaling and research, not e-mails or internet time (though some research can be done online).

When I started using the time sheet, I discovered a useful trick.  I'd put in my start time as soon as I sat down at my desk and opened up all the various software or notebooks I wanted to use.  But I also wrote down my stop time right I when I started.    So if I planned to write for two hours and sat down at 8, I'd enter 10 as a stop time.  Simple.  But what I found was that the mere act of committing to paper (or bits, really) a concrete stop time, ensured I would sit there at least until 10, and not get up and wander around and get distracted.  Because I'd committed, it'd be painful to go back and edit the entry to show less time.  In fact, I found that not only did I almost always stay until my intended finish time, but I often went over by 15-30 minutes.  Once I'd set my ass in the chair for long enough, I'd generated momentum.

I'd wondered if this would be like a typical workout regiment, and start to evaporate after a few months, but for me, this has continued to work all year.

The nice thing about having a record of my writing time, is that I feel less guilty at the end of a month, and don't have much writing to show for it, because I can look at the spreadsheet, and say, "Hey, what were you expecting?  You didn't have many hours where you were available to actually write something."   Or I might realize that I've allowed myself to become distracted over the past week or so, and if I want to stop feeling ill (I feel a little sick when I don't write), then maybe I'd better cut those distractions out and actually spend some ass in the seat time at my desk.

So, since I started keeping track, in January, I've spent about 417 hours writing.  I don't know if that's good or bad, enough or not enough.  I wrote a lot this year (as I mentioned above) and a lot of the reason is that I spent hundreds of hours actually writing.  I don't have 52 available work weeks a year, but I'd guess that I do have about 40.  So that means I've spent an average of 10 hours per week doing actual writing.  Not even as much as a half time job, but I do a lot of other stuff, too.  And I put a lot of hours into things related to my writing, like meetings, readings, seeing plays, watching movies, reading books, sending out submissions, etc.  In my ideal life, I think I'd probably like to write about 20 hours per week, 4 hours of actual writing time per day, 40 weeks per year, for 800 hours.  For now, I don't know if that's quite within my reach.  I think for next year (we are almost at the season of resolutions, after all), I'd like to be a lot closer to 600 hours of writing time, though I'll be satisfied with anything over 400 hours again.

I recently read an interesting book, The Art of Non-Conformity by Chris Guillebeau, and in it, he mentions author Jim Collins, who wrote From Good to Great.  Collins carefully tracks his working time into three categories—creating and researching, teaching, and other.  His goal is to spend 50% on creating, 30% on teaching, and 20% on everything else.  He tracks all of this obsessively and turns down a lot of offers for speaking gigs, etc.   I like that way of breaking it down.  Something for me to consider.

How many hours per day/week/month/year do you write?  Do you keep track?

Just for kicks, I'll post a blank version of the time sheet that I use (though it's really easy to make your own, of course.  There's nothing remarkable about this, except that it fills in the day of the week by itself).  You can download it here.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Guest Blog Post: New Play Opps in Orlando (from Al Pergande)

I'm still working on expanding my (ad-hoc) survey of American professional theaters, to see how many are actually producing new full-length plays and how many of them are doing writers from their own back yards.  As part of that series, I've invited playwrights from various regions to write guest blog posts to both continue the survey, and to tell us a bit about the climate for new plays (and opportunities) in their necks of the woods.

I'm grateful to fellow playwright and Binge member, Al Pergande, for starting us off with a look at production opportunities for new plays in Orlando:

New Play Production Opportunities in Orlando, FL
By Al Pergande
Orlando, FL

Orlando is a classic post war sprawl city - miles of cul-de-sac subdivision are punctuated with generic strip centers and big box retailers, vestiges of orange groves lurk in back yards along with confused alligators and incipient sinkholes. A light frost can bring the city to its knees, although hurricanes and pronouncement of divine rage for our sins of flying rainbow flags pass nearly unheeded. There's a vibrant and diverse arts community in Orlando, largely driven by the creative types employed by the major theme parks. It's not a bad place to write new plays, and even the budding film maker has good odds of pulling off a hit.

The 800 pound gorilla in town is the "Orlando Shakespeare Theater in partnership with UCF." Their official name is always in flux depending on mysterious forces and portents, so they've sort of thrown in the towel and decided it's OK if we all just call it "The Shakes." I'm not sure that’s really clearer, but at least it's easy to spell. The operation occupies a rambling ex-museum in Loch Haven Park and it forms the defacto center of the Theater District in Orlando. A half a dozen other theaters lie within a five mile radius, and while it's no Leicester Square winos are rare, the location convenient and parking typically not a hassle. Oh, yeah, here's an important Orlando fact:  if you don’t have a car, you're pretty much stuck.

The Shakes hosts "PlayFest! The Harriett Lake Festival of New Plays."  "PlayFest!" began under a slightly different name in 2004 as an attempt to apply a Fringe Festival approach to marketing the play development process as entertainment in itself.  Originally, a number of raw scripts were fed into public workshops allowing the audience to see a show develop. You bought a button (proceeds went to the Festival) and paid a small fee to enter the theatre (that money went to the writer) and you watched the writer try to figure out how to "fix" their play. There's not a large market for that sort of intimate agony, and the focus has shifted to working with the National New Play Network. While it's still possible to get in if you're local, the emphasis is on showcasing higher profile writers with shows that are either beginning New York runs or have just completed them and are undergoing a final tune tune-up process. Theresa Rebeck and Olympia Dukakis have been recent "headliners."

The PlayFest site specifies "full-length plays and musicals based on, or inspired by works of classic literature, or historic events and/or persons and profound advancements in science." In reality, there's some flexibility in what sees the stage, although they really love one man adaptations of public domain works. Biographical pieces and Shakespeare adaptations get attention, and there's often an attempt to squeeze wordy Victorian novels into 90 minutes and still include all the sub plots. The Dickensians live by the mantra "I'm in love with his language" but confuse adaptation with replication.

PlayFest Submissions are free (yeah!) but they get tons of them so competition is tough. You must supply your own cast and director, find rehearsal space and maybe build a set. The Shakes can offer names, or you can hire your friends.  The 2011 festival runs in April (right on top of the Florida Film Festival, another monster event.) You can expect next year's deadline to fall in late summer, but keep an eye on their website.

A much easier path to an Orlando production is through Playwrights' Round Table I'm on the board of directors, so this is plug for my group. PRT is a small writers group that typically does two Ten Minute play festivals each year (Launch and Summer Shorts), often performs at the Orlando Fringe Festival and occasionally does productions of One Acts or Full length plays. In order to be produced you must be a member ($30 annual dues) and Central Florida Playwrights are preferred. One of the Shorts programs is filmed by local public access channel Orange TV, and for this show PRT requires a writer and director for on-air interviews. PRT productions budgets are shoestring, but the writer doesn’t have to handle the casting and production details, although they are encouraged to participate.  To aid the writing process, there are monthly readings open to the public: you can bring a script, and they will read at least part of it. PRT calls for scripts for each production opportunity; a secretive committee reads and selects the best shows for production. I recommend reading scripts for a company like this; you'll soon see how you stack up as a writer. You don’t need to be a member to read or submit, but to get produced you must join. 

While blind submissions of scripts to far-away theatres CAN result in a production, you likely won’t be involved in any of the details, and if you pop for the road trip you may be horribly disappointed by the results. More importantly, you'll miss the feedback from the director about what works or doesn’t work. If you're not getting acceptances on blind submissions but you're committed to seeing your worlds on stage, you'll have to tackle the dread "self production." Short of starting your own community theatre, the easiest way to do that is through a Fringe Festival. The Orlando International Fringe Festival  is currently the oldest and most financially successful fringe in the US. (There are older Fringe Festivals in Canada and England). The Orlando Fringe follows CAFF (Canadian Association of Fringe Festivals) rules, one of which is shows are completely unjuried. That means ANYONE can put in for a slot, and if you get though the lottery you get a space, a tech, a box office, some sort of insurance and a crowd to market into. Cast, sets, publicity, directors and back stage drama is all your responsibility. And there are REALLY great parties, often as not at your house.

There are a 16 US Fringe Festivals as of my last Google search, and not all of them follow CAFF rules. Under CAFF rules it is possible to make money and there are people who work the US and Canada circuit and make money. One artist I know is rumored to live on his Fringe proceeds, although he has a rather monkish lifestyle. It's relatively easy to get in to the US festivals although some of the Canadian ones are nearly impossible. This year Orlando picked 65 shows from 90 applications, give or take. Oddball experimental work is encouraged; nudity acceptable, full length dramas tend to die, and the public attendance and gossip in the beer tent is a brutal indicator of the quality of your work. The down side is you and your team will bust your butts to get the show up, an opening night screw up can be fatal, and you're likely to spend a good bit of your own cash and not make a profit. I highly recommend it if you're serious and not afraid of hard work and ridicules. I'll be staging my third Orlando Fringe show this May.

Outside of these operations, Orlando offers some specialized new play production opportunities. Valencia State College holds an annual Florida Playwright competition that is open to state writers. They select one full length play a year for premiere. The Women's Playwright Initiative does readings and occasional productions, and as the name implies they seek women writers and female themes. Breakthrough Theatre of Winter Park  is an extremely small space that has pulled off some technically ambitious new works by area writers. The manager Wade Hair works with new material on a regular basis, and I've seen some intriguing and some awful material at his late night productions. In past years a restored movie house "The Plaza Theatre" hosted a short lived theatre company and ran some medium profile touring shows, but there seems to have been some financial issues and now it focuses on live concerts. But it can never hurt to ask, and the seats are very comfortable. Finally, the Orlando Shakes occasionally rents out space to producers it trusts for independent productions.

Like many things in life, you start out doing "A" and after a while you find yourself spending more time on doing "B" because you have to just to make "A" happen. After writing plays, I found myself producing them in various capacities - making posters, writing press releases, dealing with backstage romances and sitting in back of a dark room and wincing every time someone doesn't laugh at my carefully crafted jokes. There's no feeling like it.

Al Pergande is a writer, critic, and producer based in Orlando. You can read his commentary on Central Florida Theatre at http://blogs.ink19.com/archikulture/. He has produced shows with PlayFest!, Playwrights Round Table and The Orlando International Fringe Festival. This May he will premier his new comedy "Big Swinging Dick's Topless Bar Presents the Naked Drag Queen Farting" at the Fringe. It's rated PG, bring your mom.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Quiet opens in Columbus, OH, December 2-18

OG Productions, an enormously fun small theatre company in Columbus, Ohio, will be including my ten-minute play, Quiet, in their upcoming collection of short pieces, Hannukah, The Christmas Musical, at the Madlab TheatreQuiet isn't actually a holiday piece of any kind, but they liked it so much they're doing it anyway.

There's some photos and an interview with Amanda Bauer and Stephen Woolsey, co-founders of OG here.  He likes to say nice things about my play, which is always something I look for in a producer (or in anyone, for that matter).

If you're in the area, I hope you'll check it out.  I'm positive these folks will be putting on an entertaining show.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Four New Plays Published by Brooklyn Publishers

In the past few weeks, I've had four more of my short plays published by Brooklyn Publishers.  This brings the total number of my plays with them to 37, plus they also publish a collection of my short plays for women, Tightly Bound.

Though Brooklyn primarily markets their scripts to students and the school market, almost all of my plays were originally written and produced for adults (including these four new plays).

The new plays (all ten-minute duets) are all a lot of fun and great for students or adults (you can read samples at the Brooklyn site).  They are:

Confirmed Sighting: Fiona and Kelly have spotted an ivory-billed woodpecker, once thought extinct, in the swamps of Arkansas. Fiona is an ornithologist and this sighting will make her career, but Kelly owns the photographic evidence that Fiona desperately needs.  (This one was in the Boston Theatre Marathon and won the UMBC's In10 International Playwriting Competition.)

Recognition:  A chance encounter between an adoptive mother, Allison, and the birth mother of her child reopens old wounds. How far will Allison push Tanya for information?  (This was a T Play and has been produced in Boston, New York, and California.)

Schedule-Meisters:  Schedule-Meisters promises to help ease any mother’s busy schedule, but Mary might be their most challenging customer yet.  (This was just produced in Australia last week, and won the Lakeshore Players new play competition this past summer.)  (It's a hoot.  A dark comedy that harried parents will appreciate.)

Stick Up for Mars:  Fiona and Kelly are halfway to Mars, but after a year in space their personalities are wearing on each other. One little Post-It note might be the last straw. A zero-gravity comedy.  (Originally produced in 10x10 in North Carolina.  Think "Odd Couple" in space.)

Here's a photo from Schedule-Meisters in Minnesota:
(photo by Joan Elwell of Anissa Lubbers and Jan Arford)

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Wind and the Cold radio play available on-line

Shoestring Radio Theatre, which produced my radio play, The Wind and the Cold, a number of years ago, now has posted the audio files to their Facebook page.  The play runs about 28 minutes and is a good listen.  I'll paste the synopsis below.  You can download the mp3 file by clicking here.  I hope you'll check it out.

The Wind and The Cold
  Pierre and Katrina are two lovers stranded and lost in a blizzard.  As they try to find their way back to each other, they become caught in a romantic battle between the mystical forces of the Wind and the Cold.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Schedule-Meisters in Australia, November 16-19

My short play, Schedule-Meisters, which premiered in Minnesota this past summer, at the Lakeshore Players festival, will be on stage next week in Australia, at the Short & Sweet Festival, November 16-19, at the Judith Wright Center for Contemporary Art.  Heidi Manche will direct.  Short and Sweet is a huge festival that presents more than 300 short plays by writers from around the world in cities in Australia, India, Singapore, and Malaysia.

This marks the first time my work will have appeared on stage in Australia, so I'm pretty psyched.  (My work has also been on stage in Canada, England, and Mexico.)

The play has just been published by Brooklyn Publishers, and you can read a sample here.  It's a fun comedy about a woman left on the verge of sanity by her seemingly infinite brood of kids, and a young woman from the Schedule-Meisters service who promises she can provide some help.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

a response to New Play Ecology

I've been having an interesting discussion with Thomas Garvey about the New Play Ecology posts I wrote.  He's responded in detail on his blog, The Hub Review.  Our thoughts are pretty different on whether there should be more or fewer new plays by local writers, but I understand where he's coming from.  One of his main assertions, that the biggest deficit in the quality of professional theatre in Boston is local playwrights is an interesting one.  In some ways it's hard to compare actors, directors, and designers with each other--is Cristina Todesco a better designer than Paula Plum is an actress than Lydia Diamon is a playwright?  As a Boston playwright, I like to think we hold our own, but clearly not everyone agrees.

One small note:  I'm hoping to continue the New Play Ecology posts, making them into a series doing a national survey of cities and regions across the country, to see how this season looks for professional theatres doing new plays and staging plays by writers in their own regions.  I'll have a number of guest bloggers writing about their regions and giving some numbers, in an attempt to give a picture of what's happening for playwrights this year.

I'll post my comment to Tom Garvey's post below, just for fun, and to help clarify my own previous posts:

Thanks for the detailed and thoughtful response.

I just wanted to clarify a few points:

1)  We should definitely have more plays produced by people named Gabridge.

2)  I think there are actually lots of opportunities in Boston for early-stage development of plays.  The Huntington and Boston Playwrights Theatre both have reading series, as do a bunch of the smaller companies (I've been fortunate to have readings from the Huntington and BPT this year already).  New Rep is doing some readings.  Rhombus has staged two festivals featuring readings of new plays.  And there are lots of new things happening at the small-theatre level--Boston playwrights have plenty of opportunities to have their short plays staged in various festivals.  But it's professional productions of full-length plays that seem to be lacking (in my opinion).

3)  I'm excited about all the regional premieres, and glad that Boston audiences are getting to see plays by Annie Baker and Alan Ayckbourn and Neil Labute, but those plays all were developed somewhere, through readings, and workshops, and productions.  That's the key thing to keep in mind, that even Sarah Kane and Caryl Churchill's plays grew and developed and transformed in rehearsal and production.  New plays don't just get sucked off the page and mounted as is.  All the classics you see were extensively rewritten in rehearsal, over and over again.  If the Boston theatre community wants to have some importance nationally, and I think it does, it has to become a place where plays get that chance to grow in rehearsal, where writers have the chance to work with the top-notch professional actors, directors, and designers that you mention in your post.  I think one can reasonably argue whether the modern "development" process of multiple readings and workshops ends up helping or hurting new plays, but I don't think you can avoid the central nature of how plays are ultimately made and refined, and that's in rehearsal for full-staged production and then in response to what happens in that production.  One of my plays, Blinders, received five productions in various cities, and from each one, I was able to make improvements and learn more about the play and playwriting in general. 

Clearly what we need to satisfy us both is more theatres--a few who focus on new work and local writers, and a few who focus on classics and rarely staged work.  (A guy can dream, can't he?)

Thursday, October 28, 2010

New Play Ecology, part 2, New England

So yesterday, I took a look at this season's outlook for new plays and Boston playwrigthts.  But what about the rest of New England?  Boston writers are close enough to most theatres in the rest of Massachusetts, Connecticut, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine to be take part in the development and production process of their work, if their plays were being produced.  Are they?  How are New England playwrights faring at home, generally?

Let's take a look at how many world premieres we have, state by state:


Stoneham Theatre:  none

Merrimack Repertory Theatre:  1 world premiere, The Exceptionals by Bob Clyman

Gloucester Stage Company:  ?  They haven't announced their season yet.  They were founded by a pretty well-known playwright, so there's always hope here.  (Last year they did one world premiere, of Tender by Kelly Younger, but the rest were plays that had started elsewhere.)

Williamstown Theatre Festival:  2 world premieres, Samuel J and K by Mat Smart and After the Revolution by Amy Herzog.

Berkshire Theatre Festival:  1 world premiere, No Wake by Boston-area writer Bill Donnelly

Wellfleet Harbor Actors Theater:  none.  (In 2008, they did four world premieres.  And have a history of working with writers.)

Wellesley Summer Theatre Company:   none


Connecticut Repertory Theatre:  none

Goodspeed Musicals:  3 world premieres, Radio Girl, book by Daniel Godlfarb,music by Henry Krieger, lyrics by Susan Birkenhead, Band Geeks, music by Mark Allen, Gaby Alter, and Tommy Newman, Lyrics by Gaby Alter and Tommy Newman, and book by Tommy Newman and Gordon Greenberg.  And James and the Giant Peach, music and lyrics by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, book by Timothy Allen McDonald.

Hartford Stage:  1 world premiere, Divine Rivalry by Michael Kramer

Long Wharf Theatre:   none

Seven Angels Theatre (Waterbury):  1 world premiere, Mad Bomber,  book and lyrics by Charles Monagan (he lives in Waterbury, CT), music by Richard DeRosa.

Yale Repertory:  2 world premieres, We Have Always Lived in the Castle--book and lyrics by Adam Bock, music and Lyrics by Todd Almond, and Bossa Nova by my friend and fellow Rhombus member, Kirsten Greenidge (go see it).


Portland Stage Company:  2 world premieres, Last Gas by John Cariani (who is originally from Maine, but I think he's in NYC now) and The Center of Gravity by Gregory Hischak.

The Public Theatre (Lewiston/Auburn):  none

Mad Horse Theatre Company (Portland):  none

New Hampshire:

Peterborough Players:  none

Seacoast Repertory Theatre:  1 world premiere, Gay Bride of Frankenstein, book by Dane Leeman and Billy Butler, music and lyrics by Billy Butler (New England writers).

Rhode Island:

Trinity Repertory Company:  1 world premiere, Edgar Allan Poe by company member Stephen Thorne.

The Gamm Theatre:  none

Perishable Theatre:  none  (they did some new one-acts in their women's festival, but I'm only looking at full-length plays for now)


Northern Stage:  none

Vermont Stage Company:  none

Weston Playhouse Theatre Company:  1 world premiere, The Oath by Gavin Broady.  (Their first world premiere ever.)

To sum up:  In the seasons of 24 professional theatres of various size in New England (not counting Boston), there are 16 world premieres (by 11 theatres).  Quite a few musicals.  Only six of the writers are from New England.  Not exactly great numbers if you're a New England playwright (okay, they're kind of depressing).   It'd sure be nice to see an average of at least 1 new play per theatre, and a lot stronger commitment to New England writers.  (I'm not sure about where the teams from Goodspeed are from, so there could be a few more New Englanders in the mix.)

If you add the Boston numbers from yesterday's post to the mix, you get 34 professional theatres offering a total of 27 world premieres between them.  Twelve of those world premieres are by local writers.  That's twelve playwrights getting full-length professional productions in the entire New England region, in the next season.  On the plus side (I've got to find one in there somewhere), there are smaller theatres giving playwrights a chance to get their work on stage, especially in Boston.  (I'll have to figure out how many.)

It all feels like a lot to think about.   As I said yesterday, there is no shortage of talented New England playwrights, writing plenty of scripts.  Many of which are being staged in other cities and regions.  How can we encourage more theatres to develop and produce new work by local writers?

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Daddy Where Do New Plays Come From? (New Play Ecology, part 1, Boston)

That's an excellent question, Virginia: where do new plays come from?  Well, now that the upcoming seasons have been announced, we can actually start to answer that question.  Since we live in Boston, let's take a look at which theatres are doing new plays here in Boston.  And by new plays, I mean either world premieres or fairly new plays by Boston writers.  (Recent Off Broadway hits do not count as new plays.)

In particular, let's talk about large and medium-sized Boston theatres who putting on professional productions.  There are smaller theatres doing new work, which is important, too, but we'll hit those another day.

Huntington Theatre Company:  2 world premieres:  Vengeance is the Lord's by Bob Glaudini, and Son of the Prophet by Stephen Karam (though the fine print says "Commissioned and produced by special arrangement with Roundabout Theatre Company, and I'm not exactly sure what that means.)

American Repertory Theatre:  1 world premiere (though Ajax is a new translation...), Prometheus Bound by Steven Sater.

Those are the big guys.  How about some of the mid-sized and bigger small theatres in Boston:

Lyric Stage:  none

Speakeasy:  none

New Rep:  1 world premiere, afterlife: a ghost story by Steve Yockey (this is a "rolling world premiere" with the National New Play Network, which means the play will be premiered by several NNPN members this year).

Boston Playwrights Theatre:  (these guys always win) 3 world premieres:  Five Down One Across by Michael Towers, Two Wives in India by (my pal) Leslie Harrell Dillen, and Waking the Volcano by Jon Lipsky.  Two of these are Boston writers, too (Leslie abandoned us for New Mexico).  I'll just highlight all the Boston writers receiving premieres (or even productions of full-length plays)  (Theresa Rebeck is not a Boston writer anymore, sorry.)

Company One:  1 world premiere, on their Second Stage (you know they're getting bigger when they have a second stage), Cartoon Confessions by John Kunz and Rick Park.

Actors Shakespeare Project:  2 world premieres (both by Boston writers).  Okay, I didn't expect to see them doing as many new plays by Boston writers as BPT, but they are.  Their Winter Festival will feature two-week runs of The Hotel Nepenthe by John Kuntz and Living in Exile by Jon Lipsky.  Both these guys seem to be about to have a pretty good season.

Central Square Theatre:  1 world premiere (though they had a good year of new plays last year), Silver Spoon by Amy Merrill and Si Kahn.

Zeitgeist Stage:  none.

So, in the seasons of ten Boston theaters, we have 11 world premieres (out of more than 50 productions), though BPT skews the average a little.  Of those 11 world premieres, 6 are by Boston writers (only 4 out of 10 theatres are producing work by local writers).  If you take BPT out of the mix, since they exclusively produce new work by BU alums, that leaves us with 4 full-length plays written by Boston writers getting professional productions in town. 

Given those numbers, you wouldn't know that we have a wealth of playwrights living in or near Boston, whose work has been widely produced.  There are no full-length plays on Boston stages this season from Kirsten Greenidge, Lydia Diamond, Ronan Noone, Ken Urban, or Melinda Lopez.  (or that Gabridge guy)   And there are more, too.  I can't list everyone, but some of these come to mind: Joyce Van Dyke, Peter Snoad, John Shea, Jacqui Parker, Kate Snodgrass, Bill Donnelley, Janet Kenney, Monica Raymond, my fellow Rhombus members--Joe Byers, Carl Danielson, Ginger Lazarus, Alexa Mavromatis.  And there are scores more (who I hope will forgive me if I haven't included them in this list, including the new HPF members, whose names aren't public yet).

So what does all this mean?  I'm not sure.  To me, the numbers of new plays by Boston writers seem very, very low.  (Imagine if only four out of ten professional theatres hired ANY local actors or directors.  It's not the same, but...)   Most Boston playwrights aren't getting the chances here at home to fully develop their work, and to learn by seeing how those plays succeed or fail in front of audiences. 

It also shows that while Boston audiences are getting plenty of exciting imports, they're not seeing plays produced by people who live and work in their communities.  And audiences are not developing relationships with local playwrights (though they do with local actors and directors)--this creation of an audience for a certain writer's plays can play an important role in the growth of a playwright, because it helps level out the hit/flop mentality that can come with the production of only a single show or two by a writer--audiences (and critics) start to follow a writer, and a two-way relationship forms and actually helps shape the work.  Audiences might not love every show by that writer, but they want to see what's going to come next.

The numbers might to point to gaps in the market that could potentially be filled by new companies who have a stronger focus on new work and work by local writers.  For now, Boston remains a town where exciting new work can be imported (just look at ArtsEmerson), but very little new work written by Boston writers and produced by Boston theatres gets exported to other cities.  I'd sure like to see that change.

Coming next:  New Play Ecology, part 2, the rest of New England)

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Video with tips on how to market your book (from me, Trisha Gura, and Sarah Smith)

A couple years ago, a bunch of Brookline writers got together and started the Brookline Authors Group.  It's since cooled down (everyone got busy with other stuff), but for while we put together some good programming.  Especially good, I thought, was a series called Brookline Writes, filmed by Brookline Access Television (Jonatha Ceely helped run things, and Polly Hogan was the host).

Two of the shows we focused on marketing, and I was one of the guests, along with Trisha Gura and Sarah Smith.  Trisha and Sarah are a lot more experienced than I am (so really pay attention to what they say), but I'd had some useful experience with smaller publishers and a lot of hands-on marketing (and spend a lot of time thinking about ways to market plays and books).

For some reason (maybe building the new gorgeous studios), it took Forever for these videos to finally be posted online.  But I just discovered today that they're now available.  So check them out.

If you have a novel coming out soon, you might want to check these out.

Here's part 1:


and here's part 2:


I hope they're helpful.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

TCG's list of 2010-11 most produced playwrights

In their upcoming American Theatre season preview issue, TCG will list the top ten playwrights being produced by TCG-member theatres this upcoming season.  They are:

1. Patrick Barlow: 26 productions
2. Tracy Letts: 20
3. Sarah Ruhl: 19
4. Lynn Nottage: 17
5. August Wilson: 17
6. Annie Baker: 17
7. Tennessee Williams: 15
8. Steven Dietz: 15
9. Edward Albee: 15
10. George Bernard Shaw: 13

My first question was--who is Patrick Barlow?  Turns out he wrote the adaptation Alfred Hitchcock's 39 Steps (duh), which played in Boston in 2007, and now is all over the place.  Good for him.

Sarah Ruhl's play, In The Next Room (The Vibrator Play) opens this weekend here in Boston (I'm going to see it Saturday), at Lyric Stage.  Lynn Nottage's Ruined will be at the Huntington this season.  Three of Annie Baker's productions will be done here in Boston, starting October, in a nice collaborative effort between the Huntington, Speakeasy, and Company One.

It's been a while since I've seen a Steve Dietz play--I wonder when we'll next see him in Boston?

Someday, this is a list where I'd love to see my name.  A man can dream, right?  (I'd sure love to see another Boston playwright on that list, too.)

Speaking of playwrights that I'd like to see on this list, on poking around the TCG site, I also saw the list of 2010 Edgerton Foundation New American Play Awards, and I happened to see that my friend and fellow Rhombus playwright, Kirsten Greenidge, won one of the awards, which will support her upcoming production of Bossa Nova at Yale Repertory.  Way to go Kirsten!  (She's much too modest to actually mention this to anyone herself.)  (Keep watching that top ten list for Kirsten's name someday...)

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Ten Years in Boston, Part 2 (productions)

Okay, so I've written a bunch of work in the ten years I've been in Boston (see Part 1).  How have I been doing in terms of actually reaching an audience?  Has Boston been a good place for me, in terms of writing career?

When I arrived in 2000, I'd spent the previous three years without being part of any specific theatrical community (I was in Kansas City for one year and Champaign, IL, for two years).  I was starting to make some connections to Chicago, but only lightly when we left.  I'd been working pretty hard on getting books published.

Being here didn't seem to be a plus or minus, when it came to getting my books published.  The agent I'd had was unable to sell my pseudo-memoir about race in America.  He wasn't interested in my novel.  I started writing more plays and a screenplay (heaven forbid I should fully make use of an opportunity like having an actual agent) (I might have learned my lesson, by the way).  I did ultimately end up finding a small publisher for my novel, Tornado Siren, in 2006.  It was not a bestseller, and I was not catapulted to fame and fortune.  And now I have just found an agent again, so book-wise, it seems like a reasonably good decade.  With any luck the next one will be even better.  Maybe a lot better.

Theatre-wise, I arrived knowing no one.  I was pretty lucky to find the playwrights group, Write On, where I met some terrific writers, actors, and directors. After a year or two I had my first Boston production of a short play, thanks to CentaStage, Christmas Breaks, which was very well-received .

By 2003, I'd realized how much I missed my Chameleon Stage theatre (that I'd co-founded) in Denver, and helped start a group in Boston, Rhombus, that functioned to develop scripts in much the same way (we're still going strong).  Around the same time, I also started the on-line Playwright Submission Binge (which now has almost 600 members, worldwide) to help make the business-end chores a little more fun, and a lot easier.

In terms of productions of full-length plays, my ten years in Boston have been a bit of a disappointment.  I've only had two full-length plays produced in Boston in that time, both in 2005--Blinders by Out of the Blue and Pieces of Whitey by Rough and Tumble.  I had tremendously good experiences with both productions, but there haven't been others to follow.  I've had readings of three other full-length plays here, Hearing Voices by CentaStage, Constant State of Panic by Boston Playwrights Theatre, and Fire on Earth by the Huntington.

In comparison, in my seven years in Denver, I had full productions of four full-length plays (The Split, The Marmotville Chronicles, Reading the Mind of God, Blinders), plus readings of Armageddon is Late and Never Say Die.

In some ways, this disparity is a result of a shifting theatrical landscape nationally--space was harder to come by everywhere in the 2000s (the real estate boom was deathly for small and mid-sized theatres), as were productions.  And also the result of a contraction in the Boston theatrical landscape for the production of full-length plays.  The ART and Huntington have big budgets, but look more nationally for scripts than to Boston writers, though the Huntington Playwriting Fellows program is offering important support to writers, and I'm very lucky to be part of it this year.  But the odds of a Fellow getting an actual mainstage production are still pretty slim.

CentaStage no longer stages very many full-length plays.  Boston Theatre Works is defunct.  Speakeasy, the Lyric, and New Rep are not exactly presenting scads of new plays by local writers (if any).  Boston Playwrights Theatre does excellent new work (and I'm grateful for my reading there this spring), but at the moment, they're limited to doing full productions by BU grads.  Company One and Central Square Theatre seem to offer the best, mid-size opportunity for Boston playwrights to see their work fully staged (am I missing someone?), but they've only got so many slots.  There are a bunch of very small theatres who are doing some new work, but their resources are very limited.  They lack the ability to sort through submissions from writers.  Some are doing readings of new plays, and some are staging them.  But it helps if you're actually a member of one of these small companies (which is fair enough).  There are lots of nice spaces at the local universities, but I don't see many local, non-affiliated playwrights having productions in them (I hope that can change).

This lack of full-length, full productions is hard on playwrights, because we need a lot more chances to get our work completely on its feet, and for it to have the chance to succeed or fail.  I'd like to be getting a lot more opportunity to fail, but the climate here isn't as supportive of failure as it needs to be.  If a writer wants to grow, he or she needs to not feel so precious about every play that hits the stage.  Staged readings are nice, but it's actual productions that tell you what works and what doesn't.  If I only have two full-length plays fully staged in ten years, I'm going to want them to be well-loved and successful.  If I had five or six performed, I'd have room for more failure (as well as fantastic success).  And that's a good thing.

Despite the shortage of opportunities for full-length plays, there are plenty of places to get short plays on stage.  I've been extremely fortunate in my time in Boston to have had a lot of short plays produced.  I've been in the Boston Theatre Marathon seven times, which has given me the opportunity to work with a bunch of companies, all in a pretty low-risk environment.  (Thanks, Kate!)  Since I've been in Boston, I've worked with at least 18 New England theatre companies.  They are:

Actors Refuge Repertory Theatre
Another Country Productions
Boston Playwrights Theatre
Cotuit Center for the Arts (Cape Cod)
Devanaughn Theatre
Fort Point Theatre Channel
Hit and Run Theatre (Salem)
Huntington Theatre Company
Independent Drama Society
Mill 6 Theatre Collaborative
Out of the Blue
Rough and Tumble
South City Theatre
TYG Productions
Underground Railway Theatre
Wellesley Summer Theatre
Yellow Taxi (New Hampshire)

and I've had a blast.

Some companies I've worked with multiple times, too, which has been great.  For me, and probably for many other playwrights, it's my dream to work with one company and one or two directors, on a long-term basis, so we really get to know each other and can drive the quality of the work to a whole new level.

I think there's lot of room for Boston to grow, in terms of it being a good place for playwrights.  As a board member of StageSource, I'm trying to encourage that to happen.  I think Rhombus is a tool that helps nudge things in the right direction.  

The proper response for any playwright who complains about not getting enough productions is to start a theatre company, but I've already done that in other cities (New York and Denver),and I don't have the time, energy, or money at the moment.  (Not that I'm still not tempted sometimes.)  Whining is not particularly useful as a strategy (despite the frequency with which it's employed).

I feel like after ten years, I've become a part of the Boston theatre community--I know scores and scores of actors and directors and producers and designers and writers, so the years feel well spent.  I hope the next ten years brings lots more local productions, and that I do ultimately find a long-term theatrical home, where I get a chance to play with my friends, on my full-length plays, with ample chances to both succeed and fail.  I'm starting to form some promising relationships with a few directors, and theatres, that could end up being just what I need to improve more as a writer and reach broader audiences.  We'll see.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Ten Years in Boston, Part 1 (output)

Ten years ago, I moved to Boston.  My wife, Tracy, had landed an exciting job in her new career (moving from corporate engineer/manager to academic librarian).  We arrived with some trepidation, a white couple with two black kids--a kindergartner and a 6-month old baby--moving to a city with a tough racial past.  And we were buying a condo in a mostly black neighborhood in Roxbury (which would be something new for all of us).  We had very little money and no contacts or friends in the area.

In the decade prior to arriving in Boston, we'd lived in 5 houses in Colorado (where we spent 7 years), Missouri, and Illinois.  Anyone would have been surprised to find us still in Boston in 2010.

But here we still are (though we've lived in three different houses since we've been here).  Ten years seems like a good point to reflect on how I've been doing, writing-wise, since I've been here.  Plus, I enjoy making lists and counting things, so this provides a good excuse for doing both.

Since 2000, here's what I've written:

3 full-length plays:  Pieces of Whitey, Constant State of Panic, and Fire on Earth.  Two of these have been produced, all have had readings and workshops.

4 one-act plays:  The Light Collectors, The Next Big Thing, Reassembling Sasha, and The Sky is Falling.  All have been produced, three are published.

21 ten-minute plays: 
Christmas Flight
Confirmed Sighting
Counting Rita
Den of Iniquity
Escape to Wonderland
Flying the Friendly Skies
Invisible Husband
Measuring Matthew
Out of Time
Perfect Vision
Phoenix Funeral Draft 3
Pumpkin Patch
Schedule Meisters
Ship of Fools
Special Education
Stick up for Mars
Stop Rain

1 feature-length screenplay:  The Three Great Loves of Christopher J. Tomaski (an adaptation of my one-act play.  Never produced, but it won a couple hundred bucks in a national competition)
2 novels:  Moving (A Life in Boxes); Buried Treasure.

2 non-fiction book proposals

I'm always trying to figure out if I'm working hard enough, being sufficiently productive.  This list seems like a pretty long list, but it is over a period of ten years.  Five full-length works in ten years isn't bad, but it's not exactly speedy  (from 1990-2000, I wrote 7 full-length plays, 1 novel, and 4 screenplays).  Though twenty ten-minute plays should be worth at least a full-length play or two.

In my defense, I'd like to add that during the past ten years, I was also pretty busy being a stay-at-home dad for two kids, with no money for daycare or babysitters.  And I also moved a couple times, fixed up a house, coached some soccer, ran and started some gardens, etc., etc..

I've also gone back and forth between writing books and writing plays, which has been great fun, but also can kind of slow down the whole process (and career).  When I arrived in Boston, I'd been away from Denver for 3 years, which had been an important theatrical home for me.  I'd written a novel (which wasn't published until 2006) and found an agent for a non-fiction book, semi-memoir about race in America.  I was still working in theatre and trying to work in film, but most of my energy had been spent on books, though I was researching for a play on illiam Tyndale and the creation of the English Bible (starting the germ of a play that has ended up becoming Fire on Earth, ten years later).

Now that the kids are older and both in school, despite a zillion other obligations, I feel like my writing pace is getting closer to what I'd like it to be.  I'm happiest when I feel like I'm being productive and both starting and finishing projects that are reaching audiences.  It's been a good ten years here, a productive decade.  I'm confident the next one will be just as fruitful, or more so.

(next:  Ten Year in Boston, productions and publications--has Boston been a good spot for my career?)

Monday, September 6, 2010

time to apply for the MCC playwriting fellowship

This morning I put together my application for the Massachusetts Cultural Council playwriting fellowship.  The deadline is September 20 (the big prize for a handful of winners is $7,500, with additional $500 for finalists).  I'd sure like to get this one, but I've never even been a finalist (this is my fourth time applying, because it's only available every two years).  Maybe this can be my year.  (I have several friends who have won in the past.)

The thing I dislike most about this fellowship is that the application only allows you to submit 30 pages.  I don't see how the judges are supposed to tell much about quality of playwriting from a 30-page sample.  I could see the usefulness of a two-tiered system, where they first look at resumes and sample pages and then request entire scripts.  It just doesn't make sense to give away that much money just by reading a couple ten-minute plays or the first third of a full-length play.

I'm always left with the dilemma--do I submit one half-hour one-act, or three ten-minute plays, or the first 30 pages of a full-length?  I've tried it all different ways, never with any luck.  This time I'm going back to a 30-page section from a full-length play (Constant State of Panic), but I do so with some trepidation.

In my ideal world (probably theirs, too), the MCC would give away more money ($12,000 to each winner, at least), and would look at complete full-length scripts.  I'd also like them to consider the role of the applicants in the Massachusetts theatrical community--what has the applicant done to help improve the climate for new work and for playwrights in Massachusetts?

But they're not asking me how to run things, and I don't see them getting more money (I'm grateful they're in business at all, given the current economic climate).  For now,  I'll just keep my fingers crossed. 

Friday, September 3, 2010

Just Say No (to meetings)

My friend Dan Milstein and I were talking about work and time and meetings, he recommended this essay by Paul Graham, Maker's Schedule, Manager's Schedule.  Here's a bit from the start:

Most powerful people are on the manager's schedule. It's the schedule of command. But there's another way of using time that's common among people who make things, like programmers and writers. They generally prefer to use time in units of half a day at least. You can't write or program well in units of an hour. That's barely enough time to get started.

When you're operating on the maker's schedule, meetings are a disaster. A single meeting can blow a whole afternoon, by breaking it into two pieces each too small to do anything hard in. Plus you have to remember to go to the meeting. That's no problem for someone on the manager's schedule. There's always something coming on the next hour; the only question is what. But when someone on the maker's schedule has a meeting, they have to think about it.

I love the way he lays out the two kinds of time.  I bump into this a  lot when dealing with the outside world--there seem to be an infinite number of opportunities for meetings.  At first, it doesn't seem that hard to squeeze one in here or there.  After all, I'm working from home.  I can spare an hour or two here or there.  And I'm social (which is why I'll never leave theatre for good).  And I'm bad at saying No.

But they add up.  And as Graham points out, it's not just the hour of the meeting time that gets consumed, but a good chunk of what was going to be productive time (there's travel and prep time and just distraction time).  My day is already pretty short during the school year (8:30 a.m. - 2 p.m.), and work time is extremely scarce during the summer.

I'm facing a fall with a lot of commitments, both writing-wise and organizational, and I'm going to have to find a way to clear time enough for actually making stuff.  Here are the organizations that I am involved with at the moment:
  • StageSource (I'm a board member and on a major committee at the moment)
  • Theatre Community Benevolent Fund (I'm a board member)
  • The 200 Foot Garden (running it)
  • Brookline Special Education Parent Advisory Council (I'm co-chair for the coming year. LOTS of meetings)
  • Rhombus  (my playwrights' group--run by all 6 of us)
  • My fiction writer's group
  • Bountiful Brookline (I'm on the steering committee, but haven't been to many meetings lately)
  • The Playwright Online Submission Binge (run it, but it's not that much work most of the time, and no meetings)
Plus I do some occasional freelance writing work for a company, some web work for pay (mostly for friends), I have two kids to shepherd, two other gardens to tend, I'm in the Huntington Playwriting Fellows program, there's the condo association, the neighborhood association (I'm no longer in charge of that), White People Challenging Racism (I'm not teaching anymore, mostly just updating a web site from time to time), and I have a nagging feeling that there is more.  Which is a little scary.

When I'm smart and feeling particularly disciplined, I try to reserve most mornings for writing and not even turn on my e-mail until noon (this is VERY hard for me).  I'm going to have to start swimming my way back towards that habit this fall (it'll take a while), because I have a novel (or two) to revise for my agent, a new novel to write, a play to revise, and a new draft of a play to finish.

I'm a pretty good juggler (both literally and figuratively), but the lists above are definitely giving me a serious challenge.  Finding a way to stay fully engaged in my writing as well as in my community is something I struggle with all the time.  Sometimes it's more than I can figure out how to handle.  (I'm a little scared about this fall.)  Graham's essay helped me understand where the most uncomfortable conflicts arise--around the space that's needed for creation--both the writing and reading and just plain thinking.  I'm pretty good at making some writing time, since it still feels like I'm in motion, but the reading and thinking is just as important, and I need to make more of an effort to force myself to sit still and quietly sometimes.

Sooner or later I'm going to have to learn how to just say no.  (At least to meetings.)  But I might be a slow learner.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Oh, by the way... I got an agent.

After more than a year and a half of looking and a number of close calls, I finally found an agent for my books (fiction and non-fiction).  I started searching for an agent for my novel, Moving (A Life in Boxes), in January of 2009.  In October of 2009, I also started querying for my middle-grade novel, Buried Treasure.  Last month, I signed with agent Regina Brooks, of the Serendipity Literary Agency--it was Buried Treasure that caught her attention.

According to my querytracker account (a tool that I highly recommend if you're looking for an agent), I sent 104 queries about Moving and 80 for Buried Treasure.  I tended to send them in batches--starting with batches of 5 or 10 at first.  Though with Buried Treasure, I went through a period where I was sending out quite a few.  That's a lot of high hopes floating out in the ether.

I also attended Grub Street's The Muse & The Marketplace conference twice during my search--the first time, I thought it looked like I'd met an agent who was going to sign me, but it didn't work out.

So, I sent queries to people who wrote books that seemed like mine, I sent queries to agent who had blogs I liked, I sent queries to agents of my friends and contacts.  I read a lot of books by prospective agents, so I could start my query letter with a personalized sentence or two (though I eventually quit that, because there are only so many hours in the day, and it didn't seem to matter.  At first, I was reading a book or two books sold by every agent whom I approached).

I have several close friends who found agents in the past year, and each found her agent just by going through the front door, with no specific contact or recommendation.  And my friends were all very kind about reading my query letter and making suggestions.  (Thanks!)

In the end, it was a recommendation (actually two) that landed me my agent.  And oddly enough, the key first recommendation came about because of the Huntington Playwriting Fellows (HPF) program (that's right--I got an agent for my books because of the Huntington.  Now I just need an agent for my plays).

Here's how that worked:  I was at a fancy library gala talking to a highly successful detective novelist, who happens to also be a very nice lady.  We'd met once or twice before, but I'd never had much to catch her attention (I was a struggling playwright, writing a novel, wishing for an agent, blah, blah, blah).  This year, however, I had just gotten into the HPF program and was eager to talk about it with anyone.  Turns out that she used to be a playwright and the mention of the Huntington really caught her interest.  We had a lovely chat, and at the end, she said, "If you need anything, if you're ever looking for an agent, let me know."  Me:  "Ah, it just so happens..."   So I told her about my middle-grade novel, and she thought her agent might be interested and gave me her contact info.  At the agent's request, I e-mailed the complete manuscript.  This was in March.

And then I waited.  Looking for an agent requires a lot of waiting.  This is good, because the publication process (which I've been through) also takes a lot of waiting.  Next I'll wait for the my agent to give me comments, and then maybe wait for a second round, and then wait for submissions to editors, and then more waiting.  You get the picture.  So I waited.

In July, I got a phone call while I was on my bike home from a theatre gig at MIT.  I thought it was the kids (maybe they'd set the kitchen on fire or the cat was making weird noises), so I pulled over and answered it.  It was the agent.  Very cool.  Agents don't call just to say Hi.  They call because they're interested.  And this was a very good time, because I'd been waiting (see above) for some good news, even a speck.  And my friends had just gotten agents and book deals and I was feeling a little low.

So the agent liked Buried Treasure, but wanted to read a bunch of more of my work.  She emphasized that she'd be representing all of my book work, so she wanted a sense of my body of work.  Which made sense to me.  It wasn't an offer, but it was feeling like it might be pretty close.  So I sent out a whole bunch more stuff.  And then waited.

After another week or so, she called again.  This time I was at the garden, trying not to collapse from heat stroke--it was 95 and felt like 100.  I don't know how coherent I was, but the thought that I might have an offer of representation brought some clarity, or at least adrenaline.

She liked Buried Treasure, but wasn't so sure about the other stuff.  But she was still willing to represent me.  Which seemed like a good thing.  (Since a couple weeks prior, I was thinking I'd never get an agent.)  But I explained that the manuscript was out with two other agents, and asked to have a few days to contact them, out of courtesy, and make sure they weren't also interested.  She agreed.  (This is standard practice.)

So I contact the other two agents, both of whom I'd been referred to by friends.  One never got back to me.  The other asked for a few days to read the manuscript (which had been in her e-mail box since January).  I said okay.  She got back to me on time and also offered to represent Buried Treasure.

That's right, I ended up with two offers.  Odd how it all works.  The second agent is a friend of a friend, whom I'd been trying to reach for a while, and my friend was insisting that the agent read my stuff, and I was worried that he'd push her away by pushing too hard, and I figured she was thinking "Oh, great, this guy again."  But I also met her at the Muse & the Marketplace conference, and she was very smart and I'd liked her a lot, and I'd left thinking she'd be a great match for my work. 

In the end, after a couple phone conversations, I finally made my choice, mostly based on chemistry and the level of enthusiasm for my work, and with Regina.  I'm excited to see what happens next.

Finding an agent requires a lot of patience, work, and luck.  And the luck part isn't small.  You just need one agent to say yes.  Sometimes that right match might happen after just your first dozen queries.  But a lot of times, it'll take a lot longer and require a lot more queries and waiting.  (Or it might never happen, and you'll just have to write another book and query about that one.)  It's not easy to guess who will be the exact right match.   But if you get lucky, the right agent will read it on the right day.

Okay, I've got to go do some more waiting.  (Though it feels a little different now.  Better, I think.)