Category Archives: drama

Life and Death Titles

Was Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds really inspired by Julian Lennon’s drawing of a classmate?  I don’t know, but I can believe it.  Great titles come out of other people’s mouths all the time.  They may come from bible verses (The Sun Also Rises), a character (David Copperfield), something in the text (Catch 22), a random search or out of thin air.  Getting a great title for your article or story is more important than giving a great name to your baby.  A kid can rise above a forgettable name.  Your writing might not.  For your work, selecting the right title may be a life and death decision.

Folks seem to like my titles, so I thought a few words on how I come up with them might be worthwhile.   (You can see several of my titles on the About Peter Andrews page.)  What makes a great title?

First, a good title arrests attention.  A friend in marketing said that if the initial impression your ad in a magazine doesn’t stop someone from turning the pages, nothing else matters.  The (now defunct) David Higham Prize winners list includes Black Faces, White Faces (controversy), A Shadow of Gulls (poetic), A Scientific Romance (contrast for all but SF aficionados) and Continent (a word that sounds vast, no?).  There are only a few clinkers in the list, and I invite you to scan through it and see which ones intrigue you, startle you or stop you.  Which ones would you consider reading?

Second, a good title is a promise.  It should be evocative and, if possible, emotional.  In the context of SF, my Crossing the Blood Brain Barrier tells readers this one speculates on something that can get into people’s heads (probably something bad).  Zombie Chic better be funny.  Last Contact evokes many stories about first contact with aliens and raises the question of why the relationship ended.

There is a caution.  When you make a promise to readers, you’d better pay it off.  By the end of What Makes Sammy Run? there has to be an answer to the question.  Which brings up another point, the title is a promise about you, the author, as well as the story.  It makes a promise about your wit, your poetry and your credibility.

Third, a title — especially for a book — should be memorable.  How many times have you heard an interview with an author, wanted to buy the book and had no idea what the title was five minutes later?  That’s a problem.  Neil Simon’s approach with his first play was to go with something that was already familiar, Come Blow Your Horn.  There are also rhetorical tricks, such as alliteration (The Great Gatsby) and sets of three (Bell, Book and Candle).  John D. MacDonald used a color in each title (The Girl in the Plain Brown Wrapper).

You can train yourself to create great titles.  The first step is to collect them.  You can start by writing down those that really hit you from the Modern Library list.  Once you write them down, you might strike out those that you’ve read or that have just become part of the wallpaper of our lives.  I say “might” because you should keep any you have a strong emotional attachment to.  If it hurts to take it off the list, don’t do it.  Once you have your starter list, keep adding to it.  Look at titles in anthologies, bestseller lists, etc.  The point is to sensitize yourself to good titles.   It will help you to pick up on one next Julian Lennon opens his mouth or you’re looking through your prose for poetic phrases that says it all.   Once you feel like you have a knack for recognizing great titles, keep a file of those that have not been used.  You might need them someday.  And don’t hesitate to just sit down and generate lists of titles (good and bad).  Add the best to you files, dump the rest.  Finally, test your titles on friends and families.  Would they read the book or short story?  (By the way, if they have a strong negative reaction, don’t assume that’s bad.  It may be very good.)

Titles become selling tools and calling cards, but they can also become starting points.  When I started writing Zeitgeist Rangers and Ice Parrots of the Himalayas, the titles were all I had.  Sometimes, the title gives you everything you need.

What else is up? Primarily, Innovation Passport seems to be off to a good start.  There’s a discount on the IBM page and the changing rankings tell me that people are buying copies.  Amazon, like summer camp, seems to make sure that everyone gets a trophy.  Going several levels deep into their bestsellers lists, I’ve managed to hold an unlikely position in automation (automation?).

I finally got some kudos on the start to a play.  It’s a romantic comedy, something way outside my usual work, and maybe that helped.  I’m only one scene into it, but it was good not to fall on my face.

Writing Backward to Move Forward

I just ripped 17 pages, a whole sub-plot, out of Warriors.  The script is bleeding, but it will heal.

For the first time, I’m below the magic 120 pages that a film script should be, but this wasn’t literary liposuction.  The problem was that, upon rereading what I wrote about two years ago, my teeth started to grind, my eyes darted from left to right and that little spot just under above the nape of my neck started to clench.  I could feel a massive rewrite coming on, provided anything was salvageable.  And I hate rewriting.

What precipitated all this was my signing up for John Plummer’s “The Heart of Writing for Stage and Screen.”  I’ve been banging m head against various plays for the last year and, if no one has noticed, Warriors hasn’t set the world on fire.

Great.  I’ll just force myself away from the material by (paradoxically) jumping into it in a workshop setting.  John even said he would look at material beforehand, so I started pulling together my play, Breaking Momma’s Rules, and why not the script as well?

Maybe because it just isn’t good.  Not that the idea isn’t good.  Not that there aren’t good parts.  I still love Warrior’s climax.  But, overall, what I read was embarrassing, and I didn’t know why.

My bookshelf overflows with texts on writing film scripts.  I started pulling them off.  (Of course, the one I really wanted, I couldn’t find.  Sure.)  I reintroduced myself to some analysis/diagnostic tools.  Then I went to grab some actual scripts to practice on before I did the real work.  Scripts I knew worked, like Chinatown, Raiders of the Lost Ark and Romancing the Stone.  Where I left those was the next mystery.  No luck, but I did find The Body, an early version of Stand by Me.

I got to work teasing out character needs, plot points, dramatic situations, etc. from The Body and Warriors.  Tough, time-consuming and unpleasant work, but it yielded a few glimmers.  Most importantly, the theme of my script turned out to be something different from what I’ve thought it was.  Useful.  But my problem wasn’t solved.

I went back to the books and found Syd Field (a definite plotter, not a seat-of-the-pants writer) saying you don’t know anything unless you know your ending.  While I would never compose a work from the ending back, I just happened to have the ending to Warriors at hand.  What did I have to lose?  All I had to do was write backward, right?

But how, tell me, do you do that?  Mr. Field did not seem to offer any advice, any process.  But logic told me that people know how to do this.  Haven’t I heard from high school on that mystery writers work backward from their endings?

At this point, I did what I always do, I went to Google.  Enter “Writing backward.”  You get thousands of links about dyslexia.  Not helpful.  Luckily, I’m married to the search engine queen.  When I rushed upstairs, tears in my eyes, she had a website for me before I could complete my tale of woe.

And here it is: Writing Backwards: Plot Construction Using Reverse Cause and Effect .  Jeffrey Kitchen, author of Writing a Great Movie, provides a clear, step-by-step process that begins by looking at your last scene and then uses cause and effect to allow you to work backward to the beginning.  Wisely, he recommends that you already have a story in hand, saying “it’s hard to use this process until you’ve roughed out a plot.”  (Perhaps created by the seat of your pants?)  He also points out that writing backward is just one arrow in your quiver.  Not the Holy Grail.

The amazing thing I found was how extraneous material practically glows radioactive.  This is why a whole subplot about creating a new computer game is now gone from my script.  However, there is a problem that I discovered when I tested Kitchen’s method out on The Body.  Subplots tend to look extraneous when they really aren’t.  For The Body, I put all the “unnecessary scenes” into one list.  These, it turns out, can almost be tracked back independently as their own story, with great cause-and-effect logic.  I say “almost” because the subplot only is complete with a few scenes from the plot.  Subplot and plot intersect.  Nice.

In Kitchen’s article, there really isn’t direction on working with subplots or integrating them into the main plot, so I’m having to figure that out on my own.  No script is any good without subplots, but there appear to be special limits (like not having two subplot scenes in a row).

Oh, and I did keep one subplot in Warriors.  Why did it survive while the other is now gone?  Because it supports the theme while the other does not.  But it is not just a matter of alternating plot and subplot.  The two must be woven together in a delicate pattern.  And there must be overlapping scenes.  I’ve got some real work to do.  Rewriting.

What else is up

The Amazon page for Innovation Passport has been updated, and it looks good.  At last there is a description of the book.  Now the onus is on me to get out there and promote (including writing a related blog).

Meanwhile, the Graphic Novel of Zeitgeist Rangers is moving forward.  The timeline is now actually in Steve’s hands and he is doing sketches.  My next step is to get the story going by writing “Engines of Imagination” (which I’ve already begun).

With Lucky Numbers so far along and the calendar pages turning since the proposal was sent out, a brief letter was sent to the editor.  Just a reminder.  I’m hoping that a (positive?) answer will come soon.  If we get a yes, that will mean another blog.  And rewriting.

Searching for an (Honest) Author Web Site

Bleak.  Dismal.  Vapid.  Why is it an authors who can make you turn pages so quickly you get windburn have such awful Web sites?  I understand that the obligatory stuff has to be there: Bio, Contacts, Books, How to Buy the Books.  But can anyone present this boilerplate in a new way?  (And I don’t mean with crawls, flashing text or typographical excess.)

I’ve been looking at author Web sites out of pure hubris.  Somehow I got it into my head that my fiction would sell.  And the word is that you gotta have a Web site.

To be fair, Scott Turow has a site worth looking at.  Neat.  Clean.  Easy to navigate.  The only problem is that it is very stingy.  Way back when when I was an editor of the “fun” IBM sites, I had an ironclad rule.  The page must be worth the click.  Not the case here.

It is the case with the best overall site I found, Theresa Meyers.  I’ve never read any of her books, but I imagine that her fans are delighted by the excerpts (which are more than the few paragraphs doled out in most author sites), FAQs (that sound like real questions from fans) and her bio (not a resume, for once — the best part of the site).  I’m willing to bet that her site actually sells more books than those who blast their readers with book covers and blurbs.

I do like one site that offers postcards based on the covers.  Another author will provide personally signed bookplates upon request.  I don’t think she even asks for the postage.  These are nice touches for fans.

Many have blogs.  Most are worse than the Web sites.  But, while I can’t say much for her Web site or the design of her blog, I think Monica Burns does the job with her blog.  It don’t plan to follow it myself, but it looks like those who read her books get what they come for.  She actually talks about life as a writer, which is pretty much an exception.  (Though I’ll admit that the one that talked about dipping bras in imported beer caught my attention.)

The best feature on author Web pages, when it is there, is “inspiration.”  This is like the “making of” tracks on DVDs.  It is fun to see the creative process exposed, where problems cropped up, the tenuous connections between characters and real people and the research into locales, professions, etc.  I suspect I like this stuff mostly because I write, but I guess fans like it, too.

It takes a lot of effort to write a book.  Every one of these writers, I’m sure, wants readers (and, yes, probably some fame and fortune).  What a shame it is when the book does not find its audience.  You used to have some chance that the publisher would promote the work effectively, but I think this is more and more in the hands of the author.  Until a career is rolling in a Stephen King way (his site is not terrific, btw), these Web sites (and similar venues) are really essential, so it is a distressing that most are disappointing.

Occasionally, you find a podcast (and YouTube has some nice examples to look at), but where is the interactivity?  I’d like to see some real reader questions, a bulletin board that is active, opportunities to chat with the author.  Do any authors have wikis?  Do the blogs actually cite other blogs?  (Okay, I’m guilty here, too.)  The most I see are pictures of strangers from signing.

Overall, the Amazon pages beat most author Web sites.  I hope to do better.

(If you have favorite sites or parts of sites, please let me know.  Great examples should be honored and shared.)

Notes on what’s up

BIG mistake, my talking about finishing Lucky Numbers.  I’ve been accused since of taking a vacation.  So it is not done, okay?  I still have a two-page epilogue.  And that won’t be written until the last minute, I promise.

I got the full cover proof for Innovation Passport this week.  The back leads with the generous quote by Greg Dawson (which is also on the About Peter Andrews page).  The “rough cut” electronic version is already available via Safari Books.  And folks in India can buy it for 1,530 rupees.  I’m anticipating good things.

Drama took a good turn (at last).  I got some kudos for the dialogue in a piece presented on Monday.  I also got a free bowl of soup for some script doctoring.

…and, the work on the Zeitgeist Rangers graphic novel is developing in a way that pleases me.  I’ve done character descriptions, titled sections and even done some world building.  Enormously challenging, but fun.

Finishing the First Draft of a Novel

If you are the typical mystery writer or JK Rowling, you write the ending first.  Finishing a novel is all about cutting and pasting the last few pages onto the manuscript and then printing it out.  But even if you are a “seat of the pants” writer, many elements may be fixed.

I’m not giving anything away by saying that, because Lucky Numbers is a love story.  Somewhere, the heroine will go through ritual death, feeling she has totally messed up the objectives she’s had (including finding love).  But the couple will get together and profess their undying love within the last few pages.  The bad guy will get his come-uppings.

Does this make my job easier?  No.  Not at all.  If I just do a paint-by-numbers (no pun intended), I’ll be bored and so will the reader.  And, yet, I can’t go too far off the mark.

How do I, as a writer, with the end of the journey in sight, keep engaged?

First, I give myself permission to go off track.  Whatever is written can be cut or rewritten.  So, within limits, I can pretend I don’t have limits. (Get it?)

Second (and this may be a corollary to the first), I give my characters permission to do whatever they want to.  If the bad guy wants to run away and avoid facing the good guy, he can try.  (But the good guy may go after him.)  If the heroine feels neglected or angry, so be it.  If the hero makes a wrong turn on the way to the rescue because he trusts his GPS system, that’s tough.  I expect and hope for surprises, even if they end up in the bit bucket.

Third, every scene must have emotion.  This has been true throughout.  I don’t know how you can engage your reader emotionally if you, the writer, aren’t.  But the words flow too easily when you know what is coming next.  I have had to come to a full stop repeatedly as I’ve been writing the last few scenes.  This writing in stops and starts is a bit like being on a restricted diet.  I feel like I am tempting writer’s block every time I wrench myself away from the keyboard, but I’m convinced that it is the right thing to do.

I’ve also made a point in these last few chapter of walking away from the day’s work mid-scene or even mid-paragraph.  That way, I don’t go at it cold the next day.  And one more thing on finishing this up.  As much as I want to rush to the end, I also want to slow down.  I’ve come to like the characters.  I’m reluctant to say goodbye to them.  And, even though I’ll have them in rewrite, they’ll never again be as fresh and alive to me.

Notes on what else is up.

I just finished the last pages of the galley for my nonfiction book, Innovation Passport.  Blurbs are on About Peter Andrews page.  Galleys have to be about the most tedious thing in the world.  Reading for those typos, poor phrases and inconsistencies for the fifth or sixth time.  Negotiating one more time with my coauthor.  Seeing pieces that could be better (but it’s too late).

Blurbs, on the other hand, are fun.  By definition, they are all positive, so it’s like asking folks for compliments you can put in print.  Even better (for me), several people said nice things beyond the quotable blurbs.  And the time so many people dedicated to the reading and evaluation really humbles me.  I am immensely grateful.

Drama has gone down the tubes.  I have been totally rejected by four consecutive festivals.  (And the readings I’ve had with my two drama groups have made me want to apologize to the actors.)

On the other hand, I’ve sold another short story, one of my favorites, Peter’s Shell.  This puts me into double digits in my current foray into SF and fantasy.  In fact, with a bit of tuning, I’ve been able to sell almost everything I have written in recent times.  It puts the pressure on to finish some material that has been yelling at me from the sidelines.  Art Nerds is now on my to-do list.

Finally, an unexpected consequence of using a dictation program.  For my current work, I’ve had to edit out, “oof! ouch! hey!” and other expletives.  No.  I am not writing for DC Comics.  The problem is that the smaller cat, Kyoko, has decided that my dictation is an invitation to get close.  In the middle of a paragraph, she’ll jump into my lap (oof!).  Unpredictably, the claws will come out (ouch!).  Or she’ll decide to poke me with sharp paws (hey!).  All this is dutifully captured by MacSpeech, in one form or another.  Now it is not as bad as when I failed to turn the mic off when I got a call from a salesman, but it is pretty weird all the same.

Lucky Numbers Goes to Where?

The proposal for suspense/romance Susan and I have been working on went into the mail today.  Where will it take us?  That remains to be seen.  It was terrific fun to write.  In fact, I already have most of chapters 4 and 5, which were not required for the proposal, done.  Our daughter Carol came down and claimed that when we have the characters tease each other, we are really using them as proxies.  Perhaps.

We actually went out a day late since Susan got nervous about the synopsis.  Getting a summary to the right length and making it a good read is tricky.  It requires a lot of abstraction.  My advice is to find ones you like on the Web and actually type in Once Upon a Time in your first draft.  I also did some other things, mentioned in a previous post.  Yesterday, Susan revisited the synopsis with “peril” in mind.  She did this before we went off for a faculty dinner.  During dinner, she kept turning to me and saying “doubt and heat.”  When we came home, some hours later, she inserted plenty of heroine doubt and a bit of romantic lead heat.  Nice stuff now, and it is closer to what actually emerged in the chapter we wrote.

The title above, by the way, is a gratuitous nod to the WWII ad campaign of Lucky Strike cigarettes, “Lucky Strike Goes to War.”  The military needed a chemical used for their distinctive red circle logo.  It became a  green circle logo for the duration.  This has nothing to do with our novel, but I’ll make up a rationale if anyone wants me to.

I’m still working on a budget of no less than 10,000 words per week.  Since I am taking two university courses that require lots of writing, some of the words end up in Reflection Papers.  I’ve reflected on how credit cards affect students, the rise of immigrants in the classroom, teaching environmental lessons without bias and more.  Education is facing some disturbing challenges, and I expect that some of what I’m learning and some of the attitudes in fellow students will be grist for more fiction.  But not for a while.  When I was younger, I tried to translate today’s experience into stories immediately.  I’ve learned to let it all ferment for some time and come out in unexpected ways.

I continue to wait for a number of decisions on stories and plays.  Several are overdue, but I did get an early response from one editor.  Her answer was “no.”  She found the ending frustrating.  She also said, “This story will sell, but not to me, sorry.”  Is that a vote of confidence?  I found it amusing.  It’s still one of my favorite pieces.  (Which has meant trouble in the past.)

“The Charisma Plague” is in print, to my delight.  It is a difficult story because it has an unreliable narrator, and I was happy to find an editor who was willing to take a chance on in.  He made an interesting connection to swine flu in the introduction.  That’s something that wouldn’t have occurred to me.

Meanwhile, my hottest piece of fiction is a play, Breaking Momma’s Rules. It’s a one act where I am trying to balance the serious intent with a good amount of humor.  I know how to do this in a short story, more or less, to my satisfaction.  Drama, as I keep learning, is different.  It’s about halfway done, but I need to really study one acts if I’m going to keep doing this.  Elements continue to elude me.

One thing I keep running up against in writing is the temptation to take the easy route.  Some of the demands of story seem to be beyond my capability.  But the most important thing I’ve learned is to give myself permission to fail in trying something new.  It happens. All the time.  And I survive it.  But when I don’t fail something really good happens.

For instance, I hit a point in the novel when the hero was thinking about a wonderful/horrible discussion with the heroine.  One thing I wanted to have happen was for him to have a sense of wonder about what she could do in her job.  I actually wrote some lines that alluded to her magic and did what was necessary to bring the story forward.  But then I pressed myself to actually see some real circumstances where she got people to talk/work across boundaries.  And I was able to express these in moments that, for me, came to life.

A bigger and more critical challenge was the rewrite of chapter one.  Mess up that chapter, and you are dead.  What we had worked fine.  Cutting away the first two paragraphs made it work even better.  (Probably well enough.)  But I wasn’t happy.  And I wasn’t confident that I could make changes that really accomplish what I wanted and still keep Susan happy.  On Saturday morning we chatted about introducing the character, which is what I thought would be key.

The character is talented.  She is also pretty tough.  Could we get past where she was and what she was doing to making her real in far fewer words?  I think we did.  Everything was made more immediate.  We saw our character not just get a small success in the beginning, but celebrate it (right before we plunged her into a nightmare, ha!).  We both were very happy with where it came out, but I would not have bet on the reworking, against a tight deadline, working.  Hope our luck holds.

The Great Dictator: A secret weapon for words on paper

How do you get 10.000 words on paper in a week?  My answer has been to mix up typing with dictating.  If I just did one or the other (as a friend did), I suspect I’d end up with carpal tunnel or laryngitis.  I’ve been at this now for 10 weeks (100,000 words), so I can say my process works for me.  It may not work for you.

  1. Have something to say every day.  I usually try to work this out at least the day before.  It is always good for a writer to be making notes anyway.  Might as well make sure a few are aimed toward upcoming writing.
  2. Put the outline right in front of you.  For the nonfiction, this is pretty easy.  The structures for essays, articles and books are well known.  If you’ve been at it a long time, the appropriate shape for the outline is second nature.  For the novel I’m doing with Susan, a synopsis was part of the deal.  I didn’t write write a word of the text until we both were happy with what the book would (generally) look like.  I will add that I have reservations about working from an outline with fiction.  I’ve been much happier in recent years “winging it.”  And during this period, I’ve done a number of flash fiction pieces where I started dictating (didn’t type any of them) with only the title in front of me.  But, in each case, it was a title I loved.  BTW, Zombie Chic was just accepted by Bards and Sages.  It will appear in their October issue.
  3. Don’t get hung up with the outline.  It is there to make you productive, not to tie you down.  I never know exactly what I am going to write, even with nonfiction.  With fiction, the characters sometimes take over and make things crazy.  Which is the way I like it.  If they surprise and delight me, they are more apt to do the same for readers.  At least, that’s what I believe.
  4. If it is dictated, look it over as soon as the scene is finished (if your characters don’t dash right into a new scene).  I love my MacSpeech dictate.  I can consistently write, er, speak, five pages an hour.  But these are not perfectly transcribed (even though I have an options window in front of me throughout).  Careful reading right after dictating can save a lot of effort playing Sherlock Holmes with garbled text later.
  5. Do rewriting the old-fashioned way.  Trying to dictate corrections is technically tough.  And I’m suspicious of it anyway.  I think taking on the text with fingers on the keyboard is necessary.  And I’ve never printed out a page without seeing something that got by me on the laptop’s screen.  I still like pencils.

Again, what works for me may not work for you.  But with my 10,000 words on Lucky Numbers drafted and a story placed in the last week, I do have some evidence on my side.  (For those who care, about 7,000 of those words were dictated.  And note one word of this blog was.)

Some odds and ends:

Got a marketing call this week on Innovation Passport, which made it seem more real.  I also did a word count on the ms as a whole.  82,000.  No kidding.  We were shooting for 70,000 and thought that was ambitious.

There was some drama in the drama group.  We heard a reading of the first act of a new play, and all the comments were about the spelling and grammar.   (No kidding.  One attendee, script in hand, counted 70 things that needed correcting.)  We all need to use the tools of language, but it is a waste of a group to just do proofreading.  I made some pointed suggestions (like dump the first scene).  I thought I did so politely.  I hadn’t critiqued this guy before, and I got a lesson when I asked him to read a part in one of my works.  The character is comical with lots going on, including a cheating wife, an alluring neighbor and a battle with a business.  The playwright I’d critiqued can handle humor well, but slumped in his chair and muttered the lines without expression.  Painful.  (Overall, the piece went over well anyway.)

What do you say when a young writer asks for things she “should” read?  Beats me.  I complimented a terrific poem by a woman I’ve known since she was about nine.  I actually was geared up to read it because I’d been captivated by Wilfred Owen all weekend.  (Wonderful stuff I finally got around to reading.)  But what “should” be read?  I’ll need to ask some questions before I can say anything sensible.

With Innovation Passport mostly on its own, I’ll soon be turning my attention to the next nonfiction book, “The Innovation Underground: A Subversive Guide to Grass Roots Innovation.”  I’m excited by this, but dusting off the outline and making sense of it hasn’t been easy.  The experience from Innovation Passport is telling me to remix what I have so it will actually be interesting from page one.  Time to take a deep breath, square my shoulders and pretend I know what I’m doing.

Maybe My Characters Need an Analyst

I’m stuck.  Not with writing.  I’m basically keeping up with what I promised myself when I started writing full time.  Come what may, 10,000 words a week.  But one of my treasured projects, with the first draft completed and a lot of the first part done a number of times, isn’t going where it needs to go.

This is a full-length play called Timing and Balance, and it takes on the experience of being at a post-Columbine high school.  How do you keep things secure and still allow kids to be kids?  I’ve worked through to find answers, but my characters seem to be from a film, not a play.  Getting to that next level in the dialog isn’t easy.  I’ve learned that a lot of my approaches won’t work.  Sort of a Tom Edison version of progress.  Not especially satisfying.  Later this week, I’m going to try to reimagine the play as a radio.  Since I have a lot of action in it, this will force me to focus on what people have to say to each other.  It will be an exercise. (Don’t you love exercise?   No?)  If that doesn’t work, I may need to interview my characters, put them on the couch or even resort to waterboarding.  I’ll losing my patience.

Magic Numbers is now Lucky Numbers.  Part of the story takes place in Las Vegas, so it makes sense.  I’ll keep my fingers crossed that is it a change for the better.  I’m absolutely delighted at what is happening in the collaboration.  Having someone take your ideas and develop them into something that is bigger and more enchanting is a bit like having a house full of elves that do your work while you sleep.

By the way, Sniplits has created a fan page for me.  And I actually got a question – do I prefer writing short stories.  Being me, I responded with about four paragraphs.  I think it took me as many words to answer yes as it took for me to write some stories.

And I made a discovery.  A web site I created as part of a course still exists.  Writing for Publication draws on my many years as a nonfiction writer to provide a guide for those who want to try it themselves.  I did not complete the site, but I may do so now that it has been rediscovered.

Recalled to Life

I feel like I had the great welcoming into the drama group on Monday night.  I’d met a few people in the other sessions, but everybody made a point of introducing themselves to me this time.  I’ve been working very hard at providing useful criticism, and I make a special effort to understand what the writer intends with the work, rather than what I would do with the same material.

It’s all about respect, which can be scarce in drama groups, given the egos involved.  By giving respect, I’m getting it.  I think you learn a lot more from listening than from getting your point across.  And three people actually came to me separately after we broke up to ask me to bring some of my writing in.  (They mean plays, and I don’t have any plays at the moment.  That’s a hard thing to confess.)

Anyway, the six lines topic was one I introduced, “That’s a great question.”  People worked wonderful twists on this (including setting up “To be or not to be” as the great question.  With my own topic, you’d think I’d score big, but I didn’t pull out anything.  I’d done three scripts with very strong situations (death of a politician as explained by the son who is running against him; drunk, naked, newly tattooed kid explaining his situation to his dad; breaking the bad news of where we are to a new arrival to hell).  Unfortunately, none of them were well-written.  And in a night of really enchanting stories, they would have branded me as a loser.

Oh, and I’m recalled to life because, as Anne Shirley would say, “My life is a perfect graveyard of buried hopes.”  I’ve had more rejections since my last lamentation.  Including two no comment ones from markets that usually give me encouragement.  But today, I pulled myself back together and sent out two and put Waverley into the Baen mix.  (The Charisma Plague is still being chewed on, so version four is not posted yet.)  I’m always better when I rise up, shake my fist and take some steps forward.  Once I got a rejection notice with instructions on how to fold it into an origami swan.  Now those were the days.

Putting work out there is important, but actual writing separates the writers from the wannabees. The work does continue.  In addition to getting big chunks of Charisma done (mostly added scenes I don’t feel I need by the group says I do), I have a complete draft of Whinging.  It does everything that a story needs to do, in my opinion.  Now it needs some rewriting.   Something new?  I’ve got a time travel police piece (say that five times).  It’s on hold at the moment while I get some research from cops.  But I won’t wait very long.  My goal is always to be working on something new and something old.

Best news of the week was from an artist friend.  We talk weekly about writing.  He told me that he has pinned a note up in his workspace, “It’s supposed to be fun!”  It’s a mantra he credits to me, and it’s quite an honor to be quoted by a successful artist.  Take inspiration from wherever you find it.  (And you can quote me on that.)

A rejection, a second drama meeting and chewing on a tale

Always great to open the email and find another rejection for a story.  Today, I found that Waverley, which is a sort of nostalgic/aliens/pied piper tale, didn’t make the cut.  Again.  It is one of my more personal and unusual pieces, so it wasn’t a big surprise.  Reading tea leaves?  It took three times as long for it to be rejected as is typical for the pub.  (Great information supplied by one of my favorite sites, Duotrope’s Digest.)  Of course, maybe the editor just got busy.

Last night, things went a bit better.  I went to the drama group again.  There are some heavy hitters there, and I saw the first act of another piece by the star of the last session.  It was a death row story from two different viewpoints.  Not my sort of thing, but the dialogue was so good, it was irresistable.  I had my own work read by real actors, which was fun.  This was for the “six lines.”  I had to be humiliated first.  I had got the assignment just the day before: “You don’t know who I am.”  In my rush to complete something, I actually wrote seven lines, so I had to be told I was not going to be allowed to present, etc. etc.  They relented, and there was some appreciation for the twist at the end.  I’ve put the whole thing below.  See what you think.

Lastly, I’m working on version four of an SF story for Baen’s Universe.  They have an online workshop for newbies.  The good and the bad of any critique group is there, but I am working hard to make my work less “distant.”  This is a real problem with my work.  (Years ago, an editor described my work is third person, over the hill, in the next county.)  I have dug into the discussions in the workshop, and I think I finally, “get it.”  Version 3 had encouraging results.  Version 4, I’m hoping will be closer.  And I’m going to take what I’ve learned and see if it will help Waverley.

Six Lines

JO

 Look, Buster.  I hope you’ve gotten an eyeful because it’s time for you to move on.  Take your monobrow, your fat butt and your cheap shoes over to the snack table.  You’ve got a better chance with the clam dip than you’ve got with me.
 

ED

Nice.  Nice.  But I’m going to give you a second chance.  I may not look like Tom Cruise, but I am Valentino, reborn.  Five hundred years go, I was Don Juan and I gave pleasure to a thousand women.  Two thousand years ago, I was Marc Antony and Cleopatra died for my embrace.

JO 

Well, no one is dying for your embrace now.  They’d prefer to be dead.  You’ve got a less than zero chance with me.  Now go satisfy yourself with a bowl of nachos.

ED 

I like you.  I enjoy the thrill of the chase.  It heats things up, you know?  The other women here will just have to wait in line.  I’m all yours tonight.

JO

Do you see that rather big man near the door?  He works for me.  Once I saw him pick up a jerk, a jerk much larger than you, with one hand and stuff him into an aquarium.  I’ll call him over here. 

ED

 Call gorilla over if you must.  I’ll keep trying.  There is a tie between us that transcends time and space.  Our hearts are linked.  Through all of history, we have known each other.  Insults and threats can never keep us apart.  You will be mine.

 
Jo 

I didn’t want to say this.  You’ve forced me to tell you the truth.  This will hurt you.  I know that you have been a great lover throughout all of history.  The greatest!  And we have met, the two of us, over and over again.  You always love me.  And I always love you.  You know… a mother always loves her son.

Dramatic beginnings

I’ve made my living by writing for decades now.  In the past year or so, I’ve ventured into new territories of fiction.  About two weeks ago, this took a strange turn when I joined a local drama group.

Drama?  Drama?  I don’t know upstage from downstage.  I’ve never spoken a line in a theater except from a seat in the audience.   But my friend Bob, who recently had a play produced by this gang, invited me to come to one of their twice monthly workshops.

I almost backed out.  Having been involved in numerous writing groups over the year, including a summer at Clarion, I felt I should bring some of my own work.  It can be hard to take criticism from someone who doesn’t stand up to take a few blows.  As stated, my collected works includes no plays.  I have a completed screenplay, but that seemed like overkill.  Rummaging through stuff that represented my current efforts, I found a curiosity that could work as a monologue.  In fact, more people had heard me read it aloud than had read it.

I asked Bob what he thought  and he told me you needed to give your manuscript to the group’s guru ahead of time.  So I emailed it.  Almost by return mail, I was told that 1) I needed to go to the back of the line and 2) monologues were not appropriate unless part of a larger work.

I read this as “sit down and shut up.” Luckily the response came in email, not face-to-face.  My wife said theater culture is different from storywriting culture.  So I took a deep breath, asked that my manuscript be withdrawn and decided to show up and see what happened.

I’m glad I did because one of the key people there had several portions of his play read, and they were brilliant.  The scenes worked, alternating humor with heatbreaking conflict.  It was better than some evenings I’ve spent on Broadway, and I would have slit my wrists if he hadn’t said he’d been working on it for six years.

We had several other one acts, including one by Bob that was quite impressive, and a few the did not crush my writer’s ego.  I felt like I was able to offer some effective criticism, too, which is nice at your first time at bat.

The group also has an exercise of six lines, three by each of a pair of actors.  This was charming and apparently did not require waiting in line.  We also had a monologue, not connected with any larger work.

On Monday, I go to my second meeting of this group.  I have some lines ready, but I probably won’t pull them out this time.  I’ll have them, though.  Just in case things get dull.