Wednesday, December 24, 2008


I'll admit, I've been a bit of an ostrich during this whole downturn in the economy thing. I've been trying not to think about the 401k I just started at my day job (hey, I'm only 33, I still got years to put into that thing...but still...) and I am certainly trying to not think about losing my job (luckily this time, I work at a hospital, and it's very difficult to lose a job at a hospital these days especially I think, so hopefully, I will stick on the right path there). But it finally got my attention when I started doing my annual 'weeding of the theatres'.

This is how I figure out who to send scripts to. I spend time going to every website, seeking out new guidelines, figuring out who is still around (I wish I could say that hasn't been a problem) and who is still accepting at least synopsis and samples from the play. This has been disheartening to say the least. I've found at list six theatres who who have either suspended their play development or submission areas indefinitely or who have switched to agent-submissions only.


Stupid recession.

But I am going to keep working my way through. I have a reading of a play that's very tenatively scheduled with a local theatre group (like, we're trying to get people together to just do the reading at this point, so keep your fingers crossed). I need to get my work done out loud, even if I have to bribe people with pizza. That reminds me to check on the availability of a conference room at the hospital I work at for the reading. The only way my writing is going to get better is to get it done in some fashion. So I'm taking it to the streets, baby.

I'm also still working on 'All Shook Up'. I feel much better about the play than I did a couple months ago. It's actually got a plot arch that makes sense now, or at least more sense. It's almost ready to be printed out and torn apart again.

And I have several other things coming down the pike as well.


Friday, December 19, 2008


This isn't a post about normal distractions, like the phone, the mail, cats begging to go out then come in, go out then come in, go out then come in, go out then come in, facebook, facebook, cats begging to out out then come nauseum.

I've had those, I'll have those. But I find this to be more peculiar, and I'm not sure what to do about it.

I've been working on 'All Shook Up' recently and for the page count (close to 60 before I started the 5th draft) it was almost full length length. But it wasn't finished--far from it. I had a bunch of far flung ideas, several scenes that needed to be combined, and some odd character things going on. It was all so dispora, nothing clinging together very well. I'd too much plot, too many character quirks, and nothing very solid.

So here's the funny thing. This play came out of my attempt to do 365 days/365 plays, except I wrote a scene every day instead of a full play. I did if for close to six months before being in a play myself took over my life. And I started this play during that time. I had two scenes that ended up being with the same characters. One was with the main character, Rebecca, realizing she's a virgin yet has been empregnanted by Elvis in her dreams, and the other was another minor character, Mindy, and her desperate love for the Weekly World News (RIP). The first about Rebecca has remained in the play, but I fought hard through all the months I've been working on this play for Mindy and her tabloid obsession, but in the end, I just couldn't make it work.

But it was supremely distracting. I'd never had a character trait fight so hard to exist. I realized this is not the play for this, although you would think that since WWN was all about Elvis sightings and the play itself is about a character getting pregnant by Elvis, it would have been easy, but it simply wasn't working out. It was annoying, but it's how it pans out sometimes.

But I've never had this happen before. It was kind of disconcerting to have something from the play distract me from the play itself. It was novel, but annoying.

So I'm trucking along in 'All Shook Up' now, but it's requiring the biggest editing job I think I've ever done. But It's coming along.

Monday, December 15, 2008

what's wrong

Ever since I finished NaPlaWriMo, I have felt off in my writing. It could be that I've needed a break, and I took one.

But I think I figured out what's REALLY wrong.

I'm a a crossroads. I don't know where to go next. I am not obsessively sending out my work and I know I need to send out more, but I feel sort of stuck.
I'm new to the whole sending out my plays stuff. I don't know what one does. I suppose you just keep sending out plays until someone wants to do it, but I feel like I'm in a vaccuum right now.
And I think that has a lot to do with how I'm writing right now. Maybe not so much the how as not having a group to help me hear my plays out loud. I don't think I know enough people who have the time or the energy to invest in an evening of reading one of my plays out loud and discussing it. I know that the best thing for me is to have people read it out loud, informally, formally, whatever. But I need this so I can know what else I need to do to make it better. Because I feel like I'm a good writer, but plays are meant to be read out loud.
I feel like back in the Quad Cities right now, I would have a much better time with trying to get this done. But you know the grass is always greener and bullshit like that.
I'll admit, I am kind of complaining without doing much work with this aspect. I don't know much about playwriting beyond actually writing the plays and sending a few out here and there. I wish there was some kind of guidebook.
But I can just write my own as I go along. I just need to get it together and get it done.
So nothing's really wrong, exactly. I just need to get my ass in gear.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008


I sometimes worry about the things I want to write about or have written about. Sometimes I worry that I might be writing something too controversial--that I might be thought of as a bad person or something. That it's not societally correct.

Case in point, a new play I'm working on is about the Goebbels' children (for a quick overview: This story is sad and fascinating. There are some scenes already growing in my head, and yes, at least one or two of them involve Hitler, but a different kind of Hitler that a lot of people might not know about. He loved children, particularly the Goebbels children. So that's intersting. And controversial. Trust me, I never thought I would be saying I'm seeing a side of Hitler I didn't know about.

However, I am not writing a pro-Nazi play or anything. I think it's just interesting to see what was happening there with the children as the center of the play. And one of them, the almost eight year old, Hedwig, or Hedda, is tugging on my sleeve to get my attention and has been for a number of months. She has a story. I will tell it.

But then I realized that I have another play I wanted to write about Janusz Korczak (again, quick overview: This play has been hanging out since 2001 when i took history of the holocaust from Dr. Arthur Pitz at Black Hawk College my last year there. I have several scenes I have planned but nothing has come together--until now.

Here's two group of children, on opposing sides, and a similar fate.

But I'm still kind of concerned about the controversial nature of the work, I don't know. I just am afraid I might be offensive (which it would be to someone ANYONE regardless of what I write about), or I might give the wrong idea. Which is funny since I'm not sure right at the moment is even the whole idea.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

And done.

But not really done.

Yesterday, November 19, 2008, I finished my first National Playwriting Month play. The play is called 'Old Woman' currently, but since it's evolved into a whole other creature, it's title will be 'Highway to Hades' from now on.

This has been an insane 19 days. When I got to around day 7 and I was feeling really lousy about my play because it wasn't as fabulous on paper as it was in my head, I didn't know what to do. I couldn't quit. I owed it to myself to figure out what was going on and finish the play. Part of the problem was that I was trying to write my first draft on the computer. I've been writing long enough to know that this seldom works for me. So once I started attempting to do some of the work long hand, I had break through after break through after break through. It's just something about being intimate with the paper and smell of the ink. I don't know what it is, but it breaks through.

And all my plays have some kind of research involved. This one was probably one of the most research heavy onces I've written since 'Koma' when I took dramaturgy with Art Borrecca at Uiowa. It's all mythology based, there's a chorus and everything.

So this is what the 19 days were like for me:

write about 20 pages, hate them, start doing long hand writing, research, scrap about half the 20 pages, start writing ALL of it long hand, typing it in as soon as I had a scene and a choral ode done. I did this all within 19 days.

I feel the first draft suffers worse for the wear in this instance. I had to sacrifice a lot of quality of the writing in order to get the whole thing done, but it got to a point where I just had to finish. I was 15, 10 pages away from the end, and it was so close, I just had to run for it.

Tomorrow I'll post the play on the website (after I do a spell check, because i didn't do one after the last round of writing on the 19th). And then eventually I will start doing edits.

But I finished.

It still hasn't sunk in yet.

Friday, November 14, 2008

makin' progress

Wow, this has been a crazy couple weeks. National Playwriting Month has started. It's day 14 and I've made extremely good progress, considering I started with 20 pages on around the 11th and decided to strip most of it off and start all over again with a new structure, et al. My friend, Chris Leyva, told me it would be a test of endurance (or something to that effect, I am paraphrasing) and he wasn't kidding! This play, just like my other works, requires a certain amount of research. Some are more research heavy than others and those research heavy ones take time. This one is unfortunately for the time frame of the work, a heavy play. So I've had to squash my process, which is fairly slow and Midcontinental drift like, into a much smaller amount of time. And since I basically care about getting a full length (at least 75 page) play out of this, I'm doing well not getting too bogged down in how much the dialogue needs work, because it does.

WHEW! That's my play I smell and it stinks!

Anyway, this month has been crazy. And it's been a very emotional one for me as well, considering the election. Everyone has their election blog, talking about the day, the lack or abundance of lines he or she had to wait in, where he or she was when the president was announced. I know where I was, I was in bed because I was sick and couldn't make it until 11, when apparently it was announced that our next president was Barack Obama. I did, however, get to see the live by hologram insanity on CNN, but I was too sick to actually enjoy it.

But the country voted the way I hoped the country would vote. It gives me hope. It makes me think that with a lot of hard work, and there is no fooling around with this, there is a TON of hard work ahead of all of us, not just President-Elect Obama, and a lot of togetherness, we can make it through. I believe in Barack Obama. I feel he is a good man with a good heart and good intentions, and yes, I know the path to hell is paved with good intentions, but it gives me a good feeling and hope. There is no other word to describe the feeling I got when I woke up on November 5th and saw the first pictures of our new president. I am getting a bit misty-eyed thinking about it. Yes we can? We can and we did.

Then today, while working on my play, I was catching up on a couple issues of American Theatre that i missed. One, the January 2008 issue had an opinion piece by Naomi Wallace in it. I studied one of her plays, The Inland Sea (actually, I am not sure what the title ended up being, it's the only title I can remember) during my dramaturgy class at the University of Iowa. Her plays are in a word possessing. Her work, like the work of Caryl Churchill, is not the kind of work you might just understand outright with your mind. This is the work of the understanding of the heart. The inner life. And that is why I love Naomi's work. I really hope to get to see some of her work performed and actually take a class with her one day.

But anyway, she wrote an opinion piece called 'On Writing as Transgression'. There's a ton of stuff that spoke to me in this article, but this stands out for me right at this moment. It might not be because of this play in particular, but it's certainly because of something I'm working on ('Squall Lines' possibly?). Here's the quote:
"When I speak of 'writing as transgression', I am calling for a teaching of
theatre that encourages students to write against their 'taught' selves and
to engage, as bell hooks puts it, in the kind of 'self-transgression' and
'critical awareness of self' that will enable the to become, as John Donne
suggests, 'citizens of the world'. Transgression is, among other things, a
dissection of one's self and a discovery of larger worlds. Both processes
(or perhaps they are one) involve questioning entitlement and empathy."

She speaks of the status quo being untouched. Of the really important things being unexamined. Of us knowing more about Bennifer and Brangelina than of how much radioactive waste was left behind by our country at the end of the First Gulf War. Of obscuring what's important by what's trivial.

And I won't cast stones in a glass house; I do it too. I get tripped up on the trivial. It's easier that way. It requires less thought. It's easier to think about the trivial. It's harder to think about the big ideas and the big truths, but they are certainly worth the effort.

This is not the last I am sure I will write about Ms. Wallace. She's opened my heart to something bigger than me. And I think that's what some of my plays need, something bigger than me and my characters to get moving.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Anna Deavere Smith from "Letters to a Young Artist"


Dear BZ:

"I have fought the good fight,
I have finished the race, I have kept the faith."
II Timothy 4:7

No doubt about it, more important that the race and the fight is faith. Whatever that means, spiritual or otherwise. It's crucial to keep the faith. Never stop believing.

Faith requires discipline and a lot of imagination.
Baltimore, Maryland
September 2003
(pg 173)

Friday, October 24, 2008


I got a letter from The Public Theatre today. They are not going to pursue "Hauntings". This is actually okay. I mean, I got to send my work to The Public Theatre. That's a big deal on it's own. It just means it wasn't the right time or place. At least something was wrong. But at any rate, I am going to continue working and sending stuff out. Someone will want to do this play.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

thank you, Neil Gaiman

Last night, when Bill and I were in Little Rock, we were in the parking lot of Bed, Bath and Beyond, we were listening to NPR, and they were talking about Neil Gaiman's newest book, The Graveyard Book, and had some interviews with him about the book and the process of writing it. This is what he had to say about coming up with the idea of the book and kind of poking around at working on it:

"I knew I had a book," says Gaiman. But when he sat down that afternoon to write he came to a difficult realization after a page and a half: "I am not yet a good enough writer for this idea," Gaiman recalls thinking.

I had a moment of comfort from hearing that. I have a couple plays that have been hanging out in the back of my brain for literally years. I pull them out every once in a while, get maybe an extra half a page out if I'm lucky, and then set the plays back in the back of my brain.

But now I know WHY I haven't been able to get any further on these two precious plays: it's because I'm not ready. I don't know when I will be ready, but I have a feeling that when I'm ready, I'll know.

So I just have to be patient.

Also, my play reading last month went spectacularly. Honestly, I couldn't have asked for a better experience. The Green Room ( was amazing. Tyson and Derek are consummate professionals and the actors were amazing as well. The space is wonderful. The Green Room is the site of the Brew and View, so it has the seats set up still like it's a movie theatre. There's a large black void above the stage where the screen was, and that has a ton of potential. There weren't a ton of people there each night, maybe about 30 people showed up in all, but the audiences were very helpful with their comments. I even got a standing ovation on Saturday night! It was just beautiful.

And I got wonderful feedback and I am going to be working on revising the play. There's not major changes, just little things to make it tighter.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

what crazy random happenstance

Goody. The 'Dr. Horrible Sing-a-Long Blog' quotes are starting to creep in over here. Sarcasm! That's original.

Okay, it's too early in the morning with too little sleep to be able to get my faculties on right.

A week from tomorrow I will be driving back to the Quad Cities for my first after college reading of a play I wrote. I will be at rehearsal on Thursday and the reading on Friday and Saturday.

It's a funny experience, seeing your work with feet, lungs, hearts, minds, saliva. This is much different from a full production, where I would have seen some of the play already. I am working with people I don't know for the most part, all of whom have good intentions and good reputations. I still can't help but be scared about it.

What if the play is actually terrible? This is the one that a reader from the Joseph Papp Public Theatre decided was good enough from the synopsis and sample to request and read the entire work. That has to mean something.

I will need to continue this rant about being frightened about this reading. I use the word frightened extremely loosely.

Friday, August 1, 2008

unintended sabbatical

Whoa. I don't know how I forgot to post for a month and a half. That will happen sometimes, though.

I was going through a bit of a writing crisis. I haven't gone through a particularly terrible spell of not writing, of bad writing or anything like that in a long long time (thanks effexor xr for straightening out my brain chemistry!). But I was dealing with a couple plays in which continuing to work on the drafts just didn't yield any headway. And I was bummed about it. Seriously bummed.

I tried to just write through, because 99% of the time writing through the bad times while working on something definitely helps. This time it didn't.

So I had to put those plays away. It's not the first time I've had to do this, but you know. Sometimes it's harder than others.

And it's not like I don't know how these things work. I try to realize with grace what I need to do for my writing, because I'm getting to know what works and what doesn't. But sometimes even knowing what is right for your work doesn't mean you'll always do it.

So I banged my head against a wall metaphorically and then stopped.

I was bummed out a couple days because i couldn't write. This was the real problem. It wasn't so much that the characters were all flat and sounding the same, the plot was aimless or anything like that. Those things will work themselves out eventually. The problem was that I wasn't writing during these times.

And I put a lot of pressure on myself to be producing constantly. And maybe I shouldn't put that much pressure on myself about it.

Let's put it this way. I think I needed to cultivate a writing habit where i needed to do it everyday or something isn't right. And I think i did a good job cultivating that habit.

But part of the problem with being the perfectionist I am is that when I'm not writing for whatever reason (usually because when I have time to do it and i don't for whatever reason) I get mad at myself and that starts this cycle of not writing because I'm completely anorexic, writingly. So you know, that's REAL helpful.

So, as I try to adapt my writing life to a more buddhist moderation approach, it happens that I am going to have times where I don't write. Not just because I have to work until 7:30 and then turn around and work at 5:15 the next morning. Not just because i have cleaning to do and a kitten to play with and because I'm tired. But because doing the act of writing means that there is going to be an opposite of the act of not-writing. There's always two sides to it. And I think I need to remember that and not be so harsh with myself when I don't write. It's not laziness or general depression or anything like that anymore. It's because maybe I just need to let the writing doing writing in my subconscious.

That being said, I set those plays aside and have been heavily working on another play this whole past two months. And it's definitely shaped up better than it was, but it's getting to the point where i need to let it rest because it needs to cultivate.

In September I will break those other plays out and see if I get a breakthrough or not.

In September, I will be attending the rehearsals and reading for 'Hauntings; back in my home town. I am very excited, yet very nervous about it. It's the most personal thing I've written and it's about my mother and it's going to be performed in her town as well. I just hope it's something like a real play. It would be nice for it to be. I will be writing to the director some notes behind the play. I'll post them here as well, so you can get an insight into the work.

so i'm back, look out!

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

iowa city

As most of you know, there's been all these crazy floods in the midwest. Iowa City, where I spent four years of my life, is really messed up.

I look at these pictures and think, oh my god, I used to walk there, and there and there, and oh my god, the fountain in front of the IMU is completely submerged! And I think about the theatre building and the art building with the Pollock hanging in it and the library and I just want want to cry.

Why all this over a city?

This is my writing heart, the place the pretty well shaped me into the writer I am today. I know, everything in my life has, but after my father died, it was pretty much the next thing that kept me writing, encouraged me to write. I wrote and performed my first No Shame piece, 'Deep Thumb' , in Theatre B in the theatre building. I went on to write other pieces and to take playwriting classes, and the people and the very city itself helped me to become who I am today.

It's my angel, you know? And to see what the flood has done to the place I love, it's heartbreaking.

I know it will rebound and will fix itself, and this will be forgotten, but it just makes you remember the important angels of your life.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

things you learn

i approach writing my plays from a dramaturgical standpoint. I took a class in dramaturgy when I was at the university of iowa, and I wrote a play, 'Koma', as my final project (or protocol, as it was called in the class). It was awesome to research some varying things and then weave it all together into a play. i very much enjoyed that process. it tied my love for research together with my love for writing.

because in case you didn't know, i'm a giant nerd when it comes to research. Research papers were some of my favoritest things ever in college. i would get a bit of a thrill from having to do one. I loved spending time in the library, looking for the right source, wandering amid the rows of books, inhaling their hoary, heady scent. Awesome. So when I took dramaturgy and wrote 'Koma', I knew I had found my way of creating a play.

So pretty much every play I write has some research involved in it. Some plays, not much, others, tons. The one I am working on right now, I kind of had to create a whole new religious idea (which may or may not exist, possibly under a different name), but I have two characters who are best described a fundamentalist environmentalist Christians.

How about that? That's super exciting.

And I'm also dealing with the element of a character in disguise. This character, originally, I was going to have her just be in the play as herself but with some changes she claims happened to make her more able to fit into the group of people she's with. She's basically undercover, and several people are suspicious of her right away, and with good reason. It all felt predictable and not quite what the play needed.

But then I came up with the idea that she's in deep undercover: new name, look, etc. No one recognizes her, except one person. who remembers her character as one created during high school for a play. But there's no proof. Then another character also becomes suspicious when he full on recognizes her, and these two characters work together to figure out what the undercover character is up to.

And it works better for the play in the long run. It's harder to pull off because I won't have the audience knowing exactly who she is when she first shows up. So the challenge is to leave appropriate clues and see how things go after that. but i think it's going to work better, be less predicable, and more like what the play needs.

it's just funny because i never thought the play would turn out like THIS. it's amazing how those things work.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Things I Do when I have Writer's Anorexia

I'll get to the whole 'Writer's Anorexia' thing in a post or two.

Recently, I've been suffering from a bout of it. It's made it hard to get anything done, so I go and do what I usually do when I can't seem to get the pen or cursor moving: I work on submission packets.

And I realized that I have a month to get 'Squall Lines' together to make a deadline I want to send a package for it to. Luckily it's for 'works in progress', otherwise I would have to choose something else or not submit at all.

But I am realizing some things about the play. And it pertains to killing babies from the last post. I need to cut whole sections and paste things together so they work. And this is okay. It's actually kind of cathartic to do. To not be so attached to something that you can't just hit delete and never look back.

Natalie Goldberg talks about having a spontaneous poem booth at a fundraiser or two, where she would write a spontaneous poem on any subject given by someone, and the person would pay some money for it. She would write the poem and give it to the person, never to be seen by her again. That is the ultimate in letting go. Spontaneously writing something like that and seeing it walk away. That idea is very fascinating to me. It might be difficult to do a spontaneous play booth (I think that's actually covered by improv), but it's a good thing to think about.

I really feel in the end when something needs to be cut or trimmed or tossed completely out, it's for the best of the work. It's only when the ego gets in the way that things get rocky.

Like now.

I mean, when I wrote 'The Rope Swings' in 2003, I had written several different drafts of the play. It was the night before the play was due for 'The Ten Minute Play Festival' and I scrapped the whole thing. I started over, splitting my own argument in my head about what to do about a demand my mother had made on me into two different characters, sisters, linked by family and by emotional damage inflicted by all the mothers in their lineage down to the very first mother. And I just dashed it off, a first draft, and turned it in the next day. I fretted for several days until I discovered I had made it in.

So killing your babies isn't a bad thing. I have to work today from 11 to close. I am hoping that I feel better after I get off work, better than I felt last night, so I can actually rip 'Squall Lines' apart and put it back together again.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

killing my babies: Redux

So yeah. I know I have to do it. And that might be why I feel like I hit a wall with 'Squall Lines', who knows. But I know there's whole chunks of that play that's going to have to go. It's not starting in the middle of the work, it's just kind of floundering around. And the most disheartening part of the whole editing process right now is realizing that these characters aren't doing what i had planned for them.

Didn't I talk about this earlier? Didn't I talk about not forcing your will on your characters, your work, your play?

Yeah, I'm pretty sure I did, and I'm not living up to my own advice very well. So I am going to do the next best thing: set it aside for at least a week and do something else.

I think that's what's been going on with me today. I've just been blah blah blah. And struggling with 'Squall Lines' isn't helping.

The thing is, this is based on a true story.
I love wikipedia to start research with. It usually gives me some good terms to start with for searching.

But since this is based on a true story, i really feel a calling to get it going and done, but I still haven't finished writing a full first draft. It's annoying. I guess I shouldn't be grumpy about it when it took me four years or something to get a full draft of 'Pleased to Meet Me' out, but still. There's something longing to be said. I felt that with 'Hauntings' too.

So yeah, not the best writing day.

I did print off 'A Death in the Family' and 'All Shook Up' to work on the rest of the weekend and I suppose I will drag 'Squall Lines' around as well. But we will see.

So i haven't killed my babies yet. I guess I have to get detached from them first. But sometimes it's hard.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Killing my Babies

Every play I've written has whole passages or characters I have to discard. When I do this, it's akin to killing my babies. So i have to kill some babies when I get home tonight from work.

I have to have some time to get over the fact that something I've worked on for over a year is going to require some death.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Pleased to Meet Me

I just control S-ed the tenth draft of Pleased to Meet Me. That's actually not an accurate number. I have saved probably twenty files in the Pleased to Meet Me file in My Docs, but I guessed there were ten actual drafts because there were several that were experimental drafts. Maybe I should count them all. Oh well, draft 10 or 20, what's the difference now?

There is a big difference in the play. I hadn't touched it for months and months and I think it broke through to a new clarity about the play. It's just over 66 pages long now, so I'm not sure if it's a one-act or not. I don't have Act breaks, so whatever with that I guess.

But it felt good to stay with the play. And now I feel like it might actually be ready to be read by someone to get feedback. There's still a lot of work that needs to be done on the play, but I don't know where to start. After I finish posting 'Heavensent' on the Playwright's Forum, I will post Pleased to Meet Me, and see if I get some bites. It's strange because I posted another one act after discussing the way to write the synopsis in a different way from the standard, and when I posted the actual play, no one gave me feedback. It was kind of disheartening. Oh well. I did get one person to feedback on Heavensent, so that's a start.

So yesterday at lunch, I was sitting with my friend, Debbie, from work and we were discussing writing. She's been considering writing a play for a while, and naturally, as two writers and me as a playwright, we gravitated to each other rather naturally. And we got to discussing instructional books about writing.

There's a million of them out there. Most of them are unnecessary, at least to me. I prefer the books about writing life, about the struggle of writing, and even in that arena of books, there's still few that I would actually purchase to return to over and over again. I just purchased my own copy of 'Zen and the Art of Writing' by Ray Bradbury. I love 'The Writing Life' by Annie Dillard; anything she writes is amazing. I bought 'On Becoming a Novelist' by John Gardner on the recommendation of my friend, J.C., back when I was still at Iowa; i never got into it. I can tell you that the one book I always return to, no matter what, is 'Writing Down the Bones' by Natalie Goldberg.

This was one of the first books I read about being a writing and it was different from everything I had ever read. She's got a clarity in her writing instruction that is both friendly and true. At the end of every semester of college, I would read this book to jumpstart my writing for the break. And it worked every time.

I find myself returning to it less and less, but when I do return to it, it's more valuable to me than it was before. I find myself gravitating to her book, 'The Long Quiet Highway' but it's more autobiography and Zen than writing. But still, it's all in there. And it's also a beautiful book.

I am going to bring my copy of 'Writing Down the Bones' for Debbie to read. I hope it helps her get out of her writing slump.

Then we got into a discussing about the one bit of advice that every instructor gives to ever writer ever: WRITE EVERYDAY.

She hasn't found value in it for herself; she finds it too restrictive.

And it can be. For me, the WRITE EVERYDAY, AT THE SAME TIME AND PLACE, FOR AN HOUR doesn't work for me. I am stubborn naturally and I automatically want to do the opposite: 'You're telling me how to structure my writing? Whatever. Piss off.' J.C. told me to do this. And I tried, because really, he's prolific and he's devoted to it. It didn't work. My schedule with work and sleep has NEVER lent itself to writing the same time and place everyday for an hour. He's a bit luckier because he doesn't have to work because he's got some money to support himself. Not all of us are that lucky.

But the writing every day thing, that's important. And this was only a recent discovery for me.

September 11, 2007, I saw Suzan-Lori Parks at Hendrix College. She was there for her '365 Plays' performance project. And I can tell you, she's amazing. She's got this aura about her that makes you want to bask in her light. I can imagine she would be an amazing, yet tough teacher (my favorite kind!). But the thing that sunk in for me that day was that she wrote a new play EVERYDAY. That was a commitment she made, to do this everyday, no matter what. She didn't set a length of time or for the piece she was working on. She just wrote a new play everyday. I'm sure there were days where she didn't want to write, or the writing was cold, but she persevered. And that laid an impression on my heart.

Without telling anyone I was doing it, the next day, I wrote a brand new scene for a play. The day after, another. The day after, yet another. I vocalized my commitment to writing a new scene everyday, no matter what, for a year. I made it five months before being cast in 'The Busybody' took it's toll. I haven't picked it back up. But I can tell you, those were the riches five months of my life as a writer.

I wrote at least three scenes for 21 new plays (most I wrote at least six if not seven scenes). Four of these are plays that I have fleshed out into complete drafts. I continued to write new scenes for two plays I was stuck on that I started before the project. I wrote two one acts.

All of this was because I made it my job to sit down everyday and write. I didn't limit myself on time or how long the scene had to be. The goal was to sit down and write a new scene for a new play every day. Trust me, there were days I didn't want to do it. All I wanted to do was watch 'Dr. Phil' and eat ice cream. But you can't do that when you're committed to something. You turn off the TV and put the ice cream back in the freezer and say that those things are your reward for actually finishing your scene. And some of them are REALLY bad, like, so bad, I don't remember them at all. But it was good to be able to come to the blank final draft document and write. I didn't know what I would be writing half the time. I would just start.

And then the write everyday thing became true for me. I try to write everyday. Somedays I don't make it, and let me just say, those are the days that I am the most depressed, the most wanting to be writing when I can't. And that's the hallmark you're looking for. When you're not writing, you might as well be dead. And it's true.

Write or die is the creed. Write everyday or die is really what it should be.

It's about making it habit. It's about making a promise to yourself that you will take the time to do it. Your friends, family and loved ones might not understand. Like my friend, Megan, who said to me after I was published the first time, and she wanted me to go thrift store shopping with her, and I said I couldn't because I had to write, she said, 'You just got published. Take a break.' That is what you will be up against. You'll be up against children wanting your attention, your husband or wife or SO wanting your attention, your job, the kitchen which is dirty and piling up everywhere, the laundry, the cats, the dogs, your mother. They will all want a piece of you. And usually they get what they need. But at some point, if you're serious about writing, if there's a deep yearning in yourself that can ONLY be satisfied by sitting and writing, then you need to make a space for that in your life.

Pianists continue to practice. Tennis players know the value of practicing. Dancers know this is important, lest your body loses it's muscle memory. Give your body, your heart and mind the same consideration.

But like me and Debbie, you might need to figure out specifically how to make that work for you. Writing everyday is important, but you have to figure out how to make it work for you. Chaining yourself to a desk is not always an option. John Grisham, legend has it, would get up early before he would have to be in court and write, and even then, he would write during breaks of court on a legal pad. And his first book was rejected before going to a modest first printing. It wasn't until 'The Firm' came out that he became the household name he is today. I haven't read any of his work, I'm sure it's just fine, but what impresses me about him is his devotion to being a writer. He wrote all the time, no matter what.

And that's what's important. Write or die. I'm going to go listen to my own advice.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Pleased to Meet Me Breakthrough

Since June 2005, I've been working on this play, 'Pleased to Meet Me'. It's about a 30 year old woman, Eugenie, who is going absolutely nowhere--she's in a dead end job, has a jerk boyfriend and a mother who is forcing her to go to therapy. She's angry and unhappy. After she bursts out in a therapy session about her desire to go back to where everything changed so she could change it, she meets a 17 year old girl, Mae, who is eerily familiar.

This play was inspired partially by a philosophical theory I learned when I was in Professor Desmond's class, possible world semantics, which is roughly an idea that the actual world is just one of many possible worlds. When we make a decision, like do I eat and apple or an orange, and we choose, both possibilities actually happen, but only one happens in the real world. From there the real world sort of splits from the possible world, and this continues on and on with every choice we make.


That was my brain asploding. I loved philosophy.

That's a very elementary way to understand it, but I think that's the best bare bones I could think of.

The only problem for a writer using possible world semantics is that there is 'no trans world airlines', according to Prof. Desmond's words. Things that happen in the actual world can't cross into a possible world or vice versa.

But that's when I jump onto magical realism. YAY!

So thinking about my own situation a couple years ago where I was angry and unhappy, but nowhere near as angry and unhappy as Eugenie, I came up with this play.

And I've worked on the damn thing for nearly three years. That's a long time to be working on a play. I could list here all the problems I have had with the play, but I will just talk about one particular problem.

The therapist, Dr. Morrow, who Eugenie goes to, in the first scene, his language wasn't proper for his profession. Now, I've been to two different therapists in my life (I'm sure that won't be the last two I will see) and the language he used didn't work for me. However, his intent was definitely right. I just needed to work out different language for him. And the funny part was, I was NEVER comfortable with that scene. I didn't like what he said to her, not because it wasn't what she or I wanted to hear, but because it didn't seem believable for a therapist to say what he was saying. So understanding the intent behind his words helps because now I can fix the language and suddenly the first scene will be solid.

It only took me three years.

There's a couple of different scenes that need some work and I need to do some character work, but I think it might be ready to be read. This makes me happy indeed.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

San Fran?

It's been since August that I've been here, and I haven't been able to buy a copy of American Theatre magazine since then, because I simply couldn't find it. I was going to Hendrix to read it, but it's nice to relax at home or wherever I might be. I couldn't find it at Hastings, which wasn't a surprise, but I did manage to find it at Barnes and Noble. I had looked in the writing magazines, which was where I would often find it at other bookstores. Then I got desperate and looked in the screenwriting section and there it was. YAY!

I know, subscribe. Whatever.

In the latest issue, there's an ad for the 2008 bay area playwrights festival. During this, there will be a weekend intensive with Naomi Wallace from July 31-August 3. Registration is soon and the class is only open to 12 students. There's not information about how much it will cost, but there's other classes that cost $300 and there's no reason to think it would be different for this class.

I am trying to determine if i want to do this. I mean, I know I want to do it. It's Naomi Wallace. Doi. But I am trying to determine if i can afford this. $300 for the class, $xxx for the hotel. plane fare, etc. I talked to Bill and I was kind of hoping he would pop the bubble, but he made me think it was possible.

And I got my income tax return today. And I could be getting up to $600 back from the stimulus package. YAY.

So I am just trying to figure out what to do as far as this goes. I have nine days to decide.

Let's see, what else? Just working on the plays. I am still working on All Shook Up and I got a bunch of other plays in the wings. Bill has been in California for a couple days. He'll be back on Saturday. Saturday. The next day off. Yay!

Friday, May 2, 2008

Blown Wide Open

It's really hard to just be open to possibilities. I'm not sure why that is. It probably has something to do with change, and not liking change, and that sort of thing. Some of it probably comes from being a perfectionist, in my case anyway.

But it's difficult to be open to trusting yourself and just letting whatever happens happen. But something has been blown wide open in All Shook Up. It started when the character, Abe, who I had previously mentioned, showed up. And now, two more characters have shown up. They are just shadows for me right now, but they are there, just waiting. I mean, they've been trying to have a baby for years and are searching for a baby they could adopt, so I am going to assume they're used to waiting. Pretty patient, those two. Or at least the husband is.

This is something I get to do more and more with my writing. I just trust in the process, trust in myself to go in the proper direction, even when it seems like I'm butting my head against a brick wall. But if i just hold on with enough tightness to stay with the play and don't strangle the life out of it because it's going in directions I never dreamt were possible, then I am all right.

There's a couple things I can think of specifically that have me addicted to being a writer. The first one is that 'a-ha!' moment where the warmth of realization that you are going in the right direction spreads through your chest. The writing then is loose and flowing like honey. And getting to that moment is wonderful. It makes slogging through the muck of bad writing days that much more tolerable (someone remind me of that when I complain about bad writing days).

The other thing is something that only happened to me once, and I hope it happens again. I was working on a short story (this was before I was a playwright--back in the stone ages of black hawk college!) and as I was writing a particularly emotional scene for both myself and the character i was writing about, I felt as though I had left my body and she had just taken over. I cried with her, I felt her anxiety and fear, and her relief that the situation had been fixed. And it was a scary wonderful rush of possession by a character that I don't think I've felt since. I might have in small doses, but nothing like that first time it happened. Crazy, eh?

Sunday, April 27, 2008

writing through

After the incredible frustration of the last post, I have broken through some of it.

I was doing character research and realized that I was trying to force the play and the characters to be something they aren't. I am thinking this play is going to turn out to be something else entirely, which is fine and good. sometimes i forget who is REALLY in charge of my writing.

I came up with a new character who I saw in one instant, complete, walking around, and a huge chunk from the play that was missing. It was so strange, but it was good, and I knew it was right, because I felt that knot of anxiety, frustration and upsettedness just disappear the second he walked through the door in the play. And the funny part? All he did was enter, look around the room, hook his thumbs onto his belt and stand there, working a toothpick in his mouth. It was like he was just waiting in the wings for his time on stage, and came on and waited for me to direct him. Or, rather, he waited until I was ready so I could hear what he had to say and see what he had to do. I had so much of a giant storm of frustration and anxiety about this play that I couldn't see I had a fully formed character just waiting for the right moment.

What else is funny about Abe is that that is a huge part of his character: he's just enough off-kilter to make everyone think he's the strangest guy ever, but he's cool with it, he is who is he, and he isn't made to feel like he made a mistake by just being himself. And he's a patient man. VERY patient man. I mean, he waited weeks for me to notice him, he's got the patience of a saint!

So I kept at it. I just kept reading and writing and crossing out and getting frustrated and wanting to throw the play out and go be an accountant, but instead of just indulging in what would make me supposedly feel better, I just kept writing. I know intellectually that that is a hard thing to do. I don't think emotionally it's registered yet with me that I wrote through.

It was like when I was dating Tad, and I had to write the play I had submitted a proposal for prior to spring break for a reading in the next school year. I had written a scant few scenes, but really hadn't finished the play, and i thought that might be bad luck. And despite the fact that it caused fights and friction between Tad and I for other reasons, I was on the plane back home and i realized that I had written an entire play in a week. And I smiled to myself as I realized it and I smiled for weeks afterwards. But it didn't dawn on me when I did it, it was only after when I was doing something else.

I trusted my mind and it took me there. Thanks, Buddha!

Also, I was watching 'Step it up and Dance' on Bravo yesterday morning. At one point before Tovah got eliminated, one of the judges told her something along the lines of the following: 'You're a beautiful girl, completely gorgeous, but when I see you dance, I don't see someone who has to dance or die.' Tovah was a good dancer, but it did seem she had no heart to it. She felt blocked, like she had something to write, or in her case, dance through, before she really saw what it would do for her (she's only 21 I think so she has plenty of time).

And that's what it is. Regardless of your art you do, dance, painting, writing, singing, whatever, it's do it or die. If you can go without doing it and you don't die inside, then do something else. The only reason to do this is because your every heartbeat and breath depend on you doing it.

Friday, April 25, 2008


I've been working on this play that came from a portion of my 365 project. It's working title is 'All Shook Up'. It came from an idea that a young woman was being visited by Young Elvis in her dreams and in each dream, they end up making love, and eventually, the young woman finds herself pregnant, without having had sex in waking life. The first scene I wrote was a disjointed dream sequence during which she gets a call about her sick mother and after she realizes Elvis has once again left the building, she has her first bout of morning sickness.

This was fascinating for me, because I am interested in magical realism. I'm not sure this actually falls into that category since my heroine, Rebecca, is just having these dreams about Elvis, but I like the idea that something from her dream life has hopped the gap into her waking life. That sort of thing really gets my brain excited.

But the waking life scenes, which comprise most of the play, aren't jiving at all with the dream scenes. I know that dreams are really crazy and disjointed and they don't need to follow the rules of waking life, but I feel like in a play or any other form of writing, the dreams need to reflect something that is going on in the rest of the play. And I think that's the trouble I'm having. I mean, am I wrong to think that? I've always been told that everything in the play has to propel it forward to it's natural end. If things don't do that, they need to be tossed. But what are you supposed to do when trying to force the dreams to work within the context of the waking life parts of the play the dreams just kind of deflate?

I know what the problem is: it's trying to force the play to fit within the parameters I want it to fit into. And that doesn't work in my experience, but I'm just stuck with this idea that the dreams have to reflect the waking life.

Maybe I'm just being too literal about it. Maybe I'm being too bash you over the head with the message of the dreams. Maybe I can be more obtuse about it without being all performance arty about it. I don't know what to do about it, but it's definitely a source of frustration.

I think what I will do is continue to flog it and see what happens.

I'm also frustrated because while the events in the play itself are kind of extraordinary, the people of the play are pretty damn flat. I think it's because I haven't done enough character work, but I feel kind of like these characters are just NOT going to open up. Maybe I named them wrong (that has happened before; give a character the wrong name and he or she will just stare at you, like you took away his or her voice). Maybe they're in the wrong play. But I don't think so. I think Mama Playwright has just been lazy.

Lately, my self-esteem has been flagging as a playwright. I'm not sure why exactly. Nothing in particular has happened. I've been reading some good plays and I've been reading a book called 'One Continuous Mistake: Four Nobel Truths for Writers' by Gail Sher, which might be the source of the problem.

I was going to write about this book in another post, but I guess I could write about it now. I try not to buy new books about the writing process. It's a plague that has spread: reading about writing instead of writing. It's easier that way, to commiserate with someone who has more writing experience and such, and then not write yourself. And it's a temptation. But 'One Continuous Mistake' takes the Buddhist principles behind The Four Noble Truths and applies them to writing in a way.

Sher outlines the Four Noble Truths for Writers on the back of the book:

  • writers write
  • writing is a process
  • you don't know what your writing will be until the end of the process
  • if writing is your practice, the only way to fail is to not write
And that's some powerful shit right there. All truth. No bullshit. She cut right through it all and just says it. This is what writers do.

And that's what you get with Buddhism in general, a cutting through all the bullshit to the heart of the matter.

This book says it simply. Making writing your practice means you give attention to showing up every day to write. No exceptions. Because to not show up is to fail. And there's something wrong anyway when you don't write. Everything feels off, until you sit down and the words come.

I think the distractions Sher talks about in this book are mounting a heavy attack on me in the form of self esteem issues, because that has been the biggest block to writing for me in the past. And the same old song and dance go a little something like this:

  • your writing is stale, it's been done before, you have nothing to say
  • just because you've been published doesn't mean you're good
  • nobody is responding to your work you've sent out because you suck
  • all your characters sound alike and you will never figure out how to make them different
  • all your ideas are stupid
and so on, and so forth until I just stop writing all together.

and this can't happen.

so some of the frustration with this work is because I'm trying to distract myself, or rather, allow myself to be distracted. And this is the time to really just work through it. It's just hard to do it on your own sometimes, so being able to write it out definitely helps. And it takes the power out of the self esteem issues in a way.

This could start a whole rant about self esteem issues and depression, but I think it's time to end this post and get ready to go get to work.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

x files

Someday I will write about my own writing, I swear.

For Christmas this year, Bill bought me the entire series of The X Files. God, do I love that show. I remember spending pretty much the entire time I was at Black Hawk OBSESSED with this show. I had cable on and off after I left the Quad Cities, so I lost touch with the show somewhere around season six or seven, and it was probably just as well, since it really sucked during what is termed 'The Doggett Years'. But I got it, and it's awesome, so we are watching the entire series.

I have to say, the show is not nearly as good in some respects watching it again. The first season should be handled with kid gloves since the show was still trying to figure out who it was, and Darin Morgan hadn't really started writing regularly (and Chris Carter was, which is to say, similar to George Lucas writing his own dialogue, but I digress...). There were some great episodes in season one though. 'Ice' was so much better than I remember and 'Beyond the Sea' is still one of my all time favorite episodes in terms of writing and acting, and really, Eugene Victor Tooms from 'Squeeze' and 'Tooms' is the total bomb. It's just too bad that character ended the way he did that season because he would have been fun as hell to see again. And 'Eve'. The casting director on that show was a frigging genius. There was never an end to the amazing actors who played total wierdos. But the acting and writing were awkward, Scully needed a desperate wardrobe and make-up make-over, and Mulder wasn't delivering his trademark quips as much.

But season two is where things really start cooking. Gillian Anderson's real life pregnancy caused a serious change in the show. Without it, the rest of the series would have been different. In order to facilitate her absence from the show to give birth, Scully was abducted. There was an amazing two part episode 'Duane Barry' and 'Ascension' during which this happened. There was a really horrible episode between 'Ascension' and 'One Breath' called '3', which will never be spoken of or watched again. Terrible. I can't even adequated describe how badly written this episode was.

Here's the thing. The first season was a slow slow SLOW build. Nothing these days has a build like that. If The X Files started today, it wouldn't have lasted. Obviously, I am glad Fox took the chance on it, but it also shows me that starting in the middle of the action is so important. There were other problems with this show, like creator Chris Carter's lack of planning and his rumored inability to keep a show bible (which shows that when you're writing something of this magnitude, you have to keep a bible to keep it straight, or you end up with everything going to hell in a hand basket.

The thing is, the idea of Scully being abducted seemed so spur of the moment, at least in terms of television. And sometimes that can be good. I am all about spur of the moment and going with the flow of the work. But as I'm watching this show again, I am realizing how much it really does pay off to examine what you're doing closely and try not to force your hand in the work.

Monday, April 14, 2008


I've been thinking a lot about voice, and the differences in voice in characters. I've had this problem consistently with my characters that they all sound the same. I've been seriously writing plays for four years now, and one would think that I would have the whole voice thing sorted out. I don't think it's that big of a problem for some plays as it is for others. But a play I was reading at the doctor's office today made me think more about it.

August: Osage County by Tracy Letts won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama for 2008, and that's pretty awesome. I have a copy of Bug somewhere that I bought to read and promptly misplaced (as it is with SO many things I buy--I need to stop being such a clutterbug!) and I kept hearing great things about August: Osage County so when Bill and I were in Little Rock on Sunday, I bought a copy of it. The next day he won the Pulitzer for it. I've been carrying it in my bag since Sunday and while I was waiting at the doctor office, I read it. I'm about halfway through.

I'm so absorbed by this play! It's just absolutely beautiful, and I get it so hard, it hurts, you know? Like the emotional component to the play is suffocating with family issues and the past and the present and the future crashing all down on these people. MAN. I love this play so far.

But this post is not about me gushing my love for this play. This post is about voice. The characters in this play, they are all very distinctive on paper. Especially Violet. I love the way Letts writes the dialogue, like he's coping it verbatim from his head. DUH. Of course that's what you do. Letts has a wonderful sense of voice for his characters. They all have very distinctive voices, and I would do well to learn now to capture the essense of the character in his or her voice that makes him or her unique to everyone else in the play. Sometimes characters sound alike. But even when the characters I'm dealing with come from the same ilk, they need to have voice things that make them different. I still have to learn to do this.


My whole life has heavily revolved around music. I became obsessed at the ripe age of nine perhaps, when my friend, Tracie, and I discovered Duran Duran. From there I went through the crappy pop music phase (Nelson? Linear? Srsly) and the hair metal phase (first concert: Firehouse opening for Slaughter, which Tracie won tickets to and we went together) and the late setting in cornchip phase with Jennifer. Jennifer and I had a public access show on music (I kid you NOT) and we both wrote for a new defunct music magazine in the Quad Cities, OIL, the Music Magazine, and the Rock Island Argus.

There was a long time where I wanted to be a music journalist, and that dream died when I realized journalism would suck my soul away, and I decided I liked my soul.

But writing about music never stopped.

In fact, I have several works inspired by Stuart Davis, Elvis Costello, and tons of others. Music has always been so important to me.

I was thinking about this the other day when I was listening to 'Closing Time' by Leonard Cohen. I am a very late comer to Leonard Cohen. I discovered him by reading an entertainment magazine while I was waiting for my car's tires to get put on. There was an article about a movie that was made about him and his music and his influence, 'I'm Your Man' and the magazine reprented the lyrics. I read them and I had one of those moments where my breath was just snatched by the words to this song. I hadn't heard it ever, I was pretty sure I'd never heard Leonard Cohen sing before, but I was obsessed and had to hear that song. After I heard it, I was hooked.

How does this relate to my plays? There's this emotional experience I have when I hear certain songs: 'Closing Time', 'Lightning Crashes' by Live, 'Am I Wrong' by Love Spit Love, "The Luckiest' by Ben Folds, 'Back to Black' by Amy Winehouse, 'Half-Life' by Duncan Sheik, 'Slide Away' by Oasis...there's so many more, but there's an emotional reaction and experience I have when I hear these songs that I would love to translate into my writing. I want others to get that charge from my work that I get from a good song.

The funny thing is, if I do accomplish this, if I give a work I create an emotional charge that I feel I get from a song, how am I going to know if anyone else feels it, experiences it? I don't think I would ever know. And I don't think I should be bothered by it either. If I feel it, certainly others should be able to feel it. I just hope that's how it ends up.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

All in the Family

First, I hate the title for this work. There's already a TV show with that name and I don't need my work getting confused with that, not that there's anything wrong with that, but anyway...

This play started as part of my version of Suzan-Lori Parks' 365 project. I wrote seven scenes from this play, and right now, it looks like all seven are going to stay. There's definitely got to be some expanding of that work because there's things that are happening too soon in the play that should happen later, and that sort of thing.

The play revolves around Amber and Billy, and their quest to become pregnant. After yet another negative result, Amber and Billy's father, Peter, decide that maybe they should use his sperm to inseminate her eggs, since Billy's seems to be lacking. Billy, is, of course, not too keen on this idea, especially since Peter's much younger and very recently acquired girlfriend, Samba, is pregnant, and Billy thinks Peter is just using this as another opportunity to down him.

I'm still playing around with a bunch of different ideas for it, but right now I need to focus on artificial insemination and everything involved in that. I believe the internet will be fun for me tonight.

Introducing 'Dramatecture'

This is my playwriting blog. I will write about new ideas for plays, detail the construction of new work and characters, and write way too much about playwriting theories and such in general. Welcome.