Monday, June 29, 2009

Yet Another New Blog: The 200 Foot Garden

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

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

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

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Chamleon Vintage Fundraiser in Denver this Friday/Saturday

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

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

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

Friday, June 19, 2009

New Blog: Choosing No Car

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

Check it out.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

JA Konrath: Should E-books be cheap?

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

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

first drafts - the joys of writing fast

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, June 4, 2009

An Open Challenge to Playwrights Writing for the Boston Theatre Marathon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Best Ten-Minute Plays, 3 or More Actors

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

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

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