Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Playwright Submissiong Binge (#19) Starts Tomorrow!

Twice a year, a bunch of playwrights take up a simple challenge: submit a play day, every day, for 30 days.  Once a writer submits, he or she reports back to the group what was submitted, where, and why. Over the years, a supportive online community of playwrights has grown up around the event. Tomorrow we start Binge #19. It's a great way to make your marketing chores a lot more fun and, because people are so generous, a great way to find out about possible submission opportunities for your plays.  It's free and low pressure. (There are more than 600 people on the Yahoo group now.)

Come join us at The Binge.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

report from Cranston

A couple weeks ago, I got to see my show Curse the Darkness at the Black Box Theatre's 6th annual one-act play festival, in Cranston, Rhode Island.  The space is a tiny little black box in a store front--it seats about 30 people.  The evening was completely sold out, which is always lovely and gives an evening the right kind of energy, whether the house holds 30 or 300.

Here's what the audience looked like:

I like this idea of taking photos of audiences.  They're sometimes the forgotten key element in the theatre.  I plan on taking more audience pictures whenever I can.

And here's my cast:
Ethan, Mia, Amelia, and John all did a terrific job with the show.  They clearly had a lot of fun with it.  They also served as stagehands throughout the evening, which worked perfectly for my show.  (You can read the entire script here to see why.)  It's exactly what I wanted.  The audience caught on after a few minutes, and laughed hard.  Rich Morra did a great job with directing my piece and the whole evening.  I was glad to share the bill with plays by friends Mark Harvey Levine (Scripted) and Nina Mansfield (Clown Therapy).

Curse the Darkness is just as fun as I'd hoped it would be (this was my first time seeing it), and I hope it will work it's way into a lot of festivals.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Seth Godin comments on Consumers and Creators

My wife pointed out this post from Seth Godin's blog:

Consumers and creators

Fifty years ago, the ratio was a million to one. 
For every person on the news or on primetime, there were a million viewers.
The explosion of magazines brought the ratio to 100,000:1. If you wrote for a major magazine, you were going to impact a lot of people. Most of us were consumers, not creators.
Cable TV and zines made it 10,000 to one. You could have a show about underwater spearfishing or you could teach people to make hamburgers on donuts. The little star is born.
And now of course, when it's easy to have a blog, or an Youtube account or to push your ideas to the world through social media, the ratio might be 100:1. For every person who sells on Etsy, there are a hundred buyers. For every person who actively tweets, there are a hundred people who mostly consume those tweets. For every hundred visitors to Squidoo, there is one new person building pages.
What does the world look like when we get to the next zero?

I've very much felt the impact of this explosion in my attempt to sell my novels.  People are creating short bursts of text/images/ideas like never before, but I think this increased ability to feel what it's like to have an audience for their work has also greatly inspired people to write more books.  Just ask agents--they're getting more submissions from writers than ever before.  They're completely swamped in queries, editors are completely swamped in submissions from agents, and the number of self-published novels (especially e-books) is like a hundred year flood.  But maybe one that will never recede.

In a lot of ways, this is a good thing.  People are able to express themselves.  Writing and creating is a good thing for your soul, for your life, for your community.

It also makes it a lot harder to find an audience.  Twenty years ago, my novels would have had a decent shot (I think) of being mid-list books, and I could be making some money and finding readers.  Today, the mid-list seems to have mostly vanished, and publishers making most of their bets on sure things, and on authors who have already broken out of the internet pack and found a platform of readers.

In some ways, the world when we get to the next zero is really interesting.  People have a better appreciation of what it takes to create, and maybe they have an interest in consuming a broader range of input.  One thing Godin doesn't address is that people who create more (thoughts, text, blogs, tweets), also end up consuming a lot more input (of ideas, text, images).

We're running into the same challenges in the realm of playwriting, too.  With e-mail and software programs, it's technically easier to write and submit plays that ever before.  For quite a while, large theatres have been completely overwhelmed by the volume of submissions of scripts received.  In some ways, the old submission system (queries with samples, some scripts being read, some being produced, even without direct personal contact to the theatre) has become completely broken (see this interesting discussion by David Dower on the Arena Stage New Play Blog--I plan to write more about it soon).  There are just too many plays and playwrights out there for it to work for anyone.  Maybe that system never quite worked (though it depends on whom you ask).  My sense is that, oddly, more people are writing and trying to find submissions for plays than ever before, though the number of available opportunities (especially for professional productions) for those (full-length) plays is getting smaller.

Like Seth, I'm curious to see what happens as the ratio of consumers to creators continues to shrink.  I don't think there's any changing it.  I think it'll be a lot harder to make a living as a creator, but a lot more people's personal lives will be enriched by their own experience of creation.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

last chance to see Curse the Darkness in Cranston, RI

This is the last weekend to see my short play, Curse the Darkness in Cranston, Rhode Island, at the Black Box Theatre in their ten-minute play festival .  Tracy and I will be heading down to check out the show on Friday. I'll be sharing the bill, yet again, with a play by the fabulous Mark Harvey Levine, and a few other writers whom I know from the Playwright Submission Binge (Nina Mansfield and Alex Dremann).

Here's a photo from the Lakeshore Players production of Curse the Darkness in White Bear Lake, MN.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Curse the Darkness a winner in the Chameleon Theatre Circle Contest

My short play, Curse the Darkness, is one of the winners in the 12th annual Chameleon Theatre Circle Contest.  The winning plays will receive staged readings on Saturday, September 10th, at their theatre at the Burnsville Performing Arts Center (it's near Minneapolis/St. Paul).  I'll post the exact time once they have it, in case any of you are in the area.  The readings are free and should be a lot of fun.

You can read the entire script by clicking here.


Saturday, August 6, 2011

reaching the finish line (sort of)

I just finished the first draft of my new Civil War novel about Robert Smalls (pictured above).  I started this project as a screenplay eight or nine years ago, but ended up putting it aside for a long time.  I did a ton of research, but couldn't find a producer who'd take a chance on a Civil War costume war drama at that time. 

But I never stopped thinking about Robert Smalls or the project and decided that someday I wanted to write his story as a novel.  Early in 2010, I started renewing my research, and Tracy and I even took a quick trip to Charleston and Beaufort, South Carolina, where most of the novel takes place.

People often ask me how long it takes to write a book.  The answer is that it depends on what you mean.  It took me fourteen months to write this current draft, which currently runs about 126,000 words or about 400 pages.  I think it'll take another year to revise it sufficiently so I can show it to people in the publishing industry.  This draft took a while to write, because I was doing research every step of the way, even though I'd done a lot of my initial reading back in 2003, and had been able to lay out a pretty decent outline for the story at that time.  (I was able to use quite a bit of my old outline, thought it shifted a lot.)

For me, novels are such big projects that there are many different finish lines.  The one I crossed today is an important one.  Now I have a structure and story in place.  The bones of the book are all there.  I've done most of the important research, though there's still lots more to fill in (but now I'll have a better sense of what I'm missing).  But my first drafts are rough--practically unreadable, I'm sure, to anyone but me.  Now it's all about clarifying the characters and working on the language.  I write a book like a painter might make a painting, first with thin pencil lines, and then gradually adding more and more layers of color, until the whole image finally comes together.  I've still got a long way to go.

But it sure feels good to have reached this milestone.  Now I'll have to give myself a little space before I even look at the manuscript again.  I won't even look at it for about a month, until the kids are back at school, and I've had a chance to get a little distance.  I'm sure I'll be surprised (and sometimes horrified) by what I read.  I tend not to reread the manuscript as it progresses, so there are parts of this book that I haven't looked at for more than a year.  In September, it'll be my job to load the whole thing back into my mind and start figuring out how to make it good.

But for now, I plan to enjoy the warm glow that comes from having finished a solid first draft.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

what I'm writing: early morning report from the trenches

Summer vacation is fun, of course, but it's also the hardest season to find time time to write.  In July, Noah had summer school and camp, so I actually had more time to write than during the year.  But now we've entered into the long hot stretch of August and early September.  I've been hard at work on a new novel for about a year now, about the Civil War hero, Robert Smalls.  It's been great fun and I'm getting close to finishing a very rough (practically unreadable to anyone but me, but that doesn't really matter, it's just getting the story and structure down that counts for me at this stage).  It's a bit longer than I usually write--I'm at about 120,000 words, or somewhere around 400 pages.  Just two more chapters to go.

This means that as of this week, my writing time has shifted to 5am.  If I set my alarm for 5, I can be at work at my desk by 5:08am, and get in about 2 hours.  (I used to get up early all the time to write when the kids were little, but I'm spoiled now that they're in school.)  Luckily, I have an outline and most of the research is done, though thanks to the internet, there is no hour of the day when my attention might not be drawn by a little bit of last minute research (like the range of a 20 pound Parrot Rifle (1,900 yards) or a 9-inch Dahlgren).  My goal is about 1,000 words a day, though closer to 1,500 would make me ecstatic.  (Yesterday I wrote 600 words and was grateful.  Today it was 1,400.)

With any luck, I'll finish this draft by the end of August, and then can get back to revisions of my new play, Flight, while this project settles for a month or two.  (I figure it'll take me as much as a year to revise the novel to a point where it might be ready to be submitted.)