Monday, December 31, 2007

Writing by the Numbers: 2007 stats

New Year's is one of my favorite times of year--it gives me a good excuse to look at how I was doing, submission-wise (and otherwise) for my writing, and to set new goals for new year.

Here is how 2007 worked out, by the numbers:

I did a major rewrite of my new novel.
I wrote a book proposal (with a friend).
I wrote two new short plays.
I created this blog in March and have posted 172 times. (That should count at writing, yes?)

Play script submissions: 81. 14 were accepted so far (17%), 19 rejected. (Lots more still out there.)
Play queries: 69. 10 led to requests for scripts (14%)

queries to film producers: 44. 0 responses so far. (I was using the ScriptPIMP site, and it really crapped out on me this time.)

queries for book proposals: 2. Both were requested.

book proposal submissions: 3. 1 rejected so far.

queries for articles: 1. And it was rejected.

Productions/Audience for 2007:

I had 10 productions and readings (of 8 different plays, in New York, Chicago, and Boston), but those 10 productions only yielded 21 performances (i.e. one-night stands and festivals). Seven were of short plays or one-acts, one was a radio broadcast of a radio play, and the other two were of a full-length and a collection of short plays. (My goal was 52 performances, so I came up quite a bit short of goal this year.)

Approximately 750 people attended these performances (so audiences were small).

My published scripts sold about 1,000 copies, and yielded a handful of other productions. So if you add those in, my total attendance for the year was easily over 2,000. (My goal was 4,800. Yikes.)

I won one award (Pumpkin Patch won SlamBoston in November) and took a couple semi-finalist and finalist slots.

Lots of good news on the publishing front. Blinders was published by Original Works, Pumpkin Patch just got picked up by Playscripts, my collection Tightly Bound was published by Brooklyn, and four short plays (Measuring Matthew, Pumpkin Patch, Stop Rain, and Den of Iniquity) are all going to appear in Smith & Kraus "Best of" anthologies.


My goal this year was to bring in at least $4,800 from my writing-related activities (and now I'm including freelance editing and web gigs in this total). For once, I actually met and passed my goal. The productions mentioned above brought in a whopping $847, but the published plays brought in more than $1,000, and freelance editing, web work, and a one-time teaching stint, filled in the rest. (I sold a couple copies of Tornado Siren, my novel, but it didn't add much to the bottom line.) Next year, I'm going to need to make more money, but I'm on track for that to happen now, which is a relief.

That's about it. Not a bad year, though there's certainly room for improvement. The good news is that I just picked up a production of a radio play, Tundra Games, by Ciona Taylor productions. It should be a podcast in February. And I've got a short play production lined up in Boston for February, so at least something will happen in 2008.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

The Lion King vs. the ancient Greeks

Through great generosity on the part of my in-laws, this past week I got to go see The Lion King with Tracy and Noah. Noah just turned 8 years old and is the perfect age for the show. I'd heard a lot about the show over the years, and though I've always been a bit skeptical about the idea of adapting a cartoon movie into a Broadway show, I went eagerly anticipating Julie Taymor's highly theatrical staging.

Even having some idea of what to expect, I was still thoroughly impressed and enchanted by what she and the production team achieved. The use of masks and puppets inspired me somewhere deep, especially the way puppets and live actors were interlinked. (The giraffes are really, really cool.) They recreated many scenes from the film fairly exactly, but the most impressive was the canyon scene where Mufasa gets killed by the wildebeests. They mirrored the film's visuals, but it was even more intense live on stage. (The immense amount of money they spent on this show was well-spent. I do want to say, though, that last year, I saw an equally impressive theatrical creation by the Beau Jest Moving Theater here in Boston, in their Samurai 7.0, on a tiny fraction of the budget (one of my favorite shows ever, directed by Davis Robinson). It ain't the $$$, it's the vision.)

One pleasant surprise was that they managed to plug some of the narrative holes that exist in the movie version, especially around Nala.

Timon and Pumba stuck out in the stage version, seeming especially cartoon-like, especially in terms of appearance, while the rest of the production was more impressionistic and suggestive. I suppose it was done to give the smallest kids something they'd recognize, but it felt jarring to me.

Another positive surprise was how the entire play, especially stylistically, felt connected to an African sensibility (especially to my ignorant, Western POV). In the film, the only thing that really felt that way was the opening song, but in the stage version, it permeates throughout.

My son was captivated throughout the show, which is an accomplishment. However, when it was all over, I came to see the Ancient Greeks' wisdom in never showing murder or suicide on stage. In both the film and stage versions of the Lion King story, Scar falls off Pride Rock and is killed by the hyenas. In the film version, this killing is suggested by shadows. However, in the Broadway version, we actually see him fall (thanks to wires) and then see the hyenas striking at him as a group (stylistically), killing him, as he sinks below the stage. Noah was traumatized by this--for more than an hour after we left the theatre, all he could talk about was how angry he was at the hyenas for killing scar. He was inconsolable and totally sympathetic to Scar after witnessing his death. (He is easily obsessed, I admit.) I couldn't help wondering if maybe the Greeks were onto something. I think we underestimate the power of violence on stage at our peril.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

What I'm Reading: Nightstand Report

Over the past month, with work and the holidays, I've been a very slow reader. My nightstand pile is growing, rather than shrinking, though not for any lack of interest in the books on my part. Since it might take nearly forever to report on the books after I've actually read them, I'll at least mention them now. I've been trying to alternate fiction and non-fiction, but you'll see that my pile is heavily weighted with non-fiction act the moment.

The China Study by T. Colin Campbell and Thomas M. Campbell. I've been promising my wife, Tracy, that I'd read this for quite a while. She was so impressed by it that she bought copies for everyone in our family. I've already started it and it's already very compelling. At its heart are the results of dietary study that shows that despite positive mythology that began with scientists in the 19th century and was actively promoted by the meat industry, eating protein from animals is not good for your health, and actually can promote cancer. A diet rich in vegetables and whole grains is apparently the way to go.

Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer. Just got this one for Christmas. I've wanted to read something by Krakauer for a while, so here's my chance.

The Bubble of American Supremacy and The Age of Fallibility both by George Soros. These are there purely out of curiosity. Tracy's an academic librarian and received this because apparently Mr. Soros is rich enough to send out thousands of copies of his book to librarians across the country. I'm interested to learn why this guy feels strongly enough about his thoughts to write a book (or pay someone to write a book), rather than buy a broadcast network or newspaper and trick people about it (a la Rupert Murdoch).

Spelling Love with an X by Clare Dunsford. This book is by one of the writers in my fiction writer's group--I've read pretty good chunks of it, and it's great. I've been waiting for an open slot of time and concentration, because I want to really take it all in. The subtitle--A mother, A Son and the Gene that Binds them gives you a sense of what it's about. She's a terrific writer and handles the subject of parenthood and fragile x syndrome with poetry and wisdom.

Last Night at the Lobster by Stewart O'Nan. Here's the one novel in the pile (and it's a short one). I heard Stewart give a reading of it at Brookline Booksmith a month or so ago. I was totally blown away by O'Nan's book, A Prayer for the Dying, and I can't wait for this new one, though it's going to be totally different.

A Cabinetmaker's Notebook by James Krenov. I'm reading this as some research for my new novel, but I'm sort of taking a break from that project at the moment, so I'm not sure when I'll get to this book, though it looks to be the perfect sort of thing, and just what I like to read. I fear that I've renewed this from the library about as many times as I can. Might be time to just pick up a used copy online.

Boston's Abolitionists by Kerri Greenidge. I've taken the African American Freedom Trail tour around Beacon Hill three or four times. The author of this book used to give those tours, and she's also the sister of one of the writers in Rhombus, my playwright's group. I have a feeling that once I read this, I'll have a few ideas for a few new plays.

Mind Performance Hacks (Tips & Tools for Overclocking Your Brain) by Ron Hale-Evans. Tracy read this and liked it (as if she wasn't smart enough already). If I don't read it, I'll never have a chance of keeping up with her.

The Fourth Bear by Jasper Fforde. This is actually not in the pile, since my father-in-law has it in Connecticut. I want to read it soon, but the argument was made that perhaps he, and an entire army of other readers, might finish it before I'm able to get to it. Jasper is always good for a laugh, and I loved the first book in this series, The Big Over Easy.

Ah, it's almost a new year, and I'll have plenty of new resolve to read my way through the pile.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Notes from the underground: part 1

I have not completely vanished from the face of the earth, though from my blogging frequency there's no evidence to support this. Instead, I've just been crazy busy trying to juggle three different freelance gigs. This means I've been trying to work every possible minute, in order to stay caught up.

I'm not particularly used to working and getting paid directly for my time. For quite a few years I've written on spec, my real estate adventures (being a landlord, converting a house into condos) were all on spec, and then I spent time taking care of the kids, helping promote theatre productions, and run community gardens (none of which paid anything). Especially after so many years of working as a playwright, where money takes a while to trickle in (if ever), it's kind of nice to get paid a decent wage, promptly. Especially in a month with $600 of car repairs and Christmas presents to buy. And it's not so bad to fantasize a little more seriously about us taking an actual trip somewhere some day. Or saving for Kira's college fund, or Noah's braces.

The odd thing, though, is that getting paid for your time makes you work a little less hard at enjoying how you spend that time. When the time is mine and only mine, I have a strong incentive to ensure that I get the most satisfaction from how I spend it (for the past two years, I found writing a novel very satisfying). Otherwise, I'm just cheating myself. There's nothing to be had other than satisfaction (which is more accurate than "pleasure"--I'm not sure writing or creating works of art is necessarily pleasurable, but it certainly is engaging and satisfying).

The paid work that I'm doing at the moment is pretty engaging, but that feels more like luck than intention or necessity. My time spent away from work gets a little warped, because I can think, "Sure, I can blog for fifteen minutes, or I can get back to work and earn another ten bucks. And I could use ten dollars." (The jobs I'm doing at the moment aren't the kind where I get to get paid to daydream and surf the internet.)

Luckily, I've been able to squeeze in 6-9 hours of paid work every day this week, despite needing to pick up the kids from school, cook dinner, help with homework, shovel snow, and do a little bit of sledding after the blizzard.

Anyway, my brain is a little fried at the moment. I need to get some rest, so I can get up at 5:30 and get in a few hours before the house gets hopping tomorrow.

A few brief thoughts first:

There's nothing quite like sledding on a foot of fresh snow. Noah and I went to a huge hill at Larz Anderson park yesterday and had a blast. Sledding is something that I would do even if I didn't have kids. A good sled run is a moment of pure joy for me.hooded merganser

I had the delight of seeing a hooded merganser this morning while I was out walking the dog. What a treat to see a bird different from the usual Canada geese and mallard ducks.

My kids assembled our Christmas tree all by themselves today. You don't really picture them doing this when they're babies.

I feel grateful to be married to a woman with whom it's fun to do just about anything, including Christmas shopping. We've been married for almost twenty years, and I'm glad we're not sick of each other yet.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Fox has broken my heart

Stupid Fox network. Stupid, stupid, stupid. They cancelled the show Firefly after only airing ten episodes (14 were shot). Yeah, this all happened in 2002, so I'm a little behind the curve. Tracy and I recently borrowed the boxed set of the series , after hearing positive things about it from so many friends.

I was unimpressed by the two-hour pilot. It seemed like Joss Whedon was taking himself way too seriously, and the whole space western thing seemed like an awkward beast to me. But by the second or third episode I was totally hooked. The plots were definitely meant for grown-ups, with some fun but complicated relationships between the characters, which I liked, and a good mix of humor and seriousness. The writing was sharp and the chemistry between the actors sparkled. I've read that Whedon intended the series to run for seven years, and even in the first half of a season, you can see seeds being planted. I was actually surprised at how fast we got to know the characters, which made the sudden end of the series feel all the more jarring.

Most TV series that vanish do so for good reason, but every once in a while, you can't help but think the network executives passed up something really cool. Firefly is one of those times, one of those things I see, and say, I wish I could have worked on that. Damn shame. Watch it if you get the chance.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

When Bad News is Good News

I was waiting to hear about an assignment from a temp agency today. I'd gotten a call last week, when I just had a little bit of freelance work lined up, and it's wasn't certain, but it looked like the agency needed a whole bunch of people to work 20 hours a week, all through Christmas, including Christmas week. The pay wasn't great, but it was four solid weeks of work, so maybe I'd earn enough so I would get some writing time in January. Squeezing in all those work hours alongside the other two projects would be tough, but possible.

Then at the start of this week, I got a message from a company that I've been waiting for, for some high level business writing/editing work. A job that could pay very well, and if I did a good job, might become moderately steady. It's not a done deal yet, but they might want me for a project in late December/January.

All of a sudden, it looked like I might have a severe excess of desired work. With strong cooperation and understanding from my family, and a lot of self-discipline and not too much sleep or fun, I could manage to meet my commitments and earn the money. Worth doing, but it'd make the holiday season a lot more challenging.

Today, I got the bad news that I didn't get the temp agency assignment. I'll miss earning the money, but I also breathed a sigh of relief. I'll be a lot more available to my other projects, as well as to my family. I should still make more than enough to cover what I need and some extra. And maybe I'll even squeeze in a little of my own writing this month, after all.

P.S. I did finish that ten-minute play that I started last weekend. It felt awfully good to finally write a new play, and to bring it in to my playwrights' group. After bringing them bits of my novel for two years, it was comforting to use the right tool for the job once and have them work on an actual play with me.