Thursday, December 31, 2020

A look back at 2020

Longtime readers of this blog know I don't do resolutions. I do goals. They're more practical. More reachable. More useful.

For the purposes of this blog, my goals are mostly writing-related, but sometimes I throw in a health-related one as well. Because, after all, you can't be at the top of your writing game if you're not feeling and living your best.

Well, last year, I tried something different. Instead of broad, all-encompassing goals that were largely out of my control (get an agent!), I set more specific goals that were entirely within my control (submit queries to 100 agents).

I shouldn't have bothered. Why? Because I ended up reaching my real goal for the year, and did it well before meeting the arbitrary but exceedingly ambitious submissions goals.

1) Complete my first chapter book

Success. I finished the first in my (projected) book series based on my play The Enchanted Bookshop. This one had the three main Lits--Dorothy Gale, Tom Sawyer and Pollyanna--splorging into the novel Treasure Island in order to get gold that will help Miss Margie pay her rent.

2) Complete a second entry in the chapter book series

Failure. This didn't happen. I started a second book, this one based on Around the World in Eighty Days. I thought I had a concept, but I quickly ran into some hurdles I couldn't jump over and decided to come back to the story a later time, when I felt more inspired--or at least more jumpy.

And no, that time hasn't come yet.

3) Submit the first chapter book and series concept to 20 publishers

Failure. Middle-grade novel series are the domain of large publishers and most of those won't even glance at your manuscript if it's not represented. So I decided to hunt for an agent first.

4) Submit the chapter book to 100 literary agents

Success--sort of. I didn't make it to the full hundred. In fact, I only made it 37 before I reached my real goal for the year: landing an agent. As described elsewhere, the most excellent Stephen Fraser of the Jennifer DeChiara Agency offered to represent me in March and he acted quickly in submitting The Enchanted Bookshop to several large publishers, followed a few months later by his submission of my Edison Young series to many of the same publishers.

Turns out that even if I hadn't received an offer, it was unlikely I would have hit that magic number because I was limiting my search to agents that focus on children's literature and there's barely a hundred of those in the whole biz.

5) Submit the TV series to 100 managers

Failure. I didn't even send one. But that's okay because Stephen's agency has a staffer who specializes in selling their properties to Hollywood. The books series comes first, of course. But it's good to know that if it's a success, there's a pathway to bigger things.

6) Submit the TV series to 100 agents

Failure. See 5) above.

7) Write one more TV series episode

Success. I completed the origin story for the Lits in an episode featuring the indomitable Don Quixote. But until the books series finds a home, this script has nowhere to go.

8) Walk half an hour a day

Success--and then some. What with my day job and my writing time and my family time, it was nearly impossible to squeeze in some exercise time.

Then the pandemic hit, and I was forced (encouraged? allowed?) to work from home. That saved me a whole hour of commuting time every day, and I used half of that time to start working out on our elliptical a rather pricey purchase that had mostly sat unused for the year since we'd bought it. (The other half hour a day? I'm learning Italian through Duolingo.)

And, man, did it help! It got my blood pumping, shaved twenty pounds off my weight and even dropped my blood pressure by a few points (not as much as I would have liked, but still).

Four successes out of eight goals? Not too bad, I guess. More importantly, I'm excited for the new year. Due to the pandemic, publishers are slow in their responses and even slower in laying out cash for a new series. But now that a vaccine had been released, the end of that very long tunnel is in sight.

May all of us get there. Together.

Wednesday, December 23, 2020

An Enchanted Bookshop Christmas comes to life

I wasn't expecting much for An Enchanted Bookshop Christmas this year. It came out just three months ago, and with the recent surge in COVID cases, it seemed unlikely that anyone would be performing it this holiday season.

So it was the best Christmas present of all when my latest Google search turned up not one but three video versions of the play as well as an extensive gallery of photos from a fourth production.

Some of the productions are performing on stage in masks (see the Delaware school production above). Some are performing it on Zoom (like this Minnesota church production). And some are performing it the old-fashioned way (like the Georgia school production below). 

Of course, social distancing policies are a decision for the schools. But it warms my heart to see that even this year, my newest play is able to share its message of faith, hope, and Christmas joy.

Tuesday, November 24, 2020

A virtual aloha

As further proof that theater is returning, though often in virtual form, I finally got that production in Hawaii I've been waiting for. I haven't been able to confirm the date yet, but sometime in October, Hana Arts in Hana, on the eastern tip of Maui, performed my play You're Virtually Driving Me Crazy, a virtual adaptation of my collection of driver's ed skits. 

Groups like this truly are the lifeblood of the community. Besides offering after-school art and drama classes, Hana Arts strives to keep native culture alive through workshops in hula and oli (traditional chanting), as well as their colorful and authentic dramatizations of local legends like the one seen above. 

Oh and yeah, this makes my 50th state.

Monday, November 16, 2020

Kansas bookshop goes on

Despite the pandemic, live theater is slowly coming back to, well, life, this fall as schools and community theater around the world figure out how to adapt mask and social distancing rules to their venues.

One of those theaters is the Holton Community Theatre in Holton, KS, which gave The Enchanted Bookshop the honor of being the very first production in their brand spanking new digs. Unfortunately, they had to cancel their final weekend of performances due to rising COVID cases, but they were able to perform their first two shows on November 7 and 8.

And by the way, the talented actors put together some charming in-character videos promoting the show. If you'd like to get some ideas for your own promos, like their Facebook page or check out this video featuring that dubious duo, Eddie and Fingers.

Friday, October 23, 2020

The room where it happens

It's small, but it's mine

I've written a lot of places. Sometimes it feels like I've written everywhere. Coffee shops. The backseats of cars. Motel lobbies. Poolside cabanas. The middle seats of airplanes. Pop-up campers. Busy teachers' lounges. Cramped little corners of lakeside cabins. Once I even wrote in an old train station that had been turned into a swanky mall (Denverites will know where I'm talking about).

But my favorite place to write has always been home. And now that many of us have been forced to spend a lot more time at home, I thought it would be fun to share my little space.

Fifteen years ago my wife and I lived in a wooded area outside Colorado Springs called Black Forest. Hundred year-old ponderosas grew for miles in every direction, and my office was in one corner of our house, with windows looking out at those ponderosas on two sides.

It was gorgeous. But it wasn't necessarily the best place to write. The natural beauty that surrounded me was a distraction in itself, and I often caught myself staring at a mule deer munching grass along the edge of our driveway or one of the area's unique squirrels with their tufted ears and jet black fur instead of writing.

Which is why the office I have now may just be the best place I've ever written.

My wife and I bought the house in 2017 when we first moved to Arizona. The office itself is a cozy little room with an exterior door and windows on either side of that door. This allows me to get my daily allotment of sunshine so I don't feel like a mushroom on those marathon days when I'm scribbling away for hours in order to meet some crazy deadline. But the office looks out on a simple courtyard--a relaxing sight to be sure, but not one that's going to distract me.

Not the world's most scenic view, but it works for me

Because of the COVID crisis, and the economy, and the fact that apartments in the Phoenix area are way more expensive than they should be, both of our daughters have moved back in with us. As have their adorable but very opinionated dogs. So these days it often feels like our house is bursting at the seams.

And that leads me to the other great advantage of my office. It's situated at one end of our house, directly opposite the activity center at the other end, so even with the TV blasting and everyone talking and the dogs in full woof, I can barely hear a thing.

Like most writers, I used to write at a desk. But when we moved into the house I discovered that the office was smaller than I remembered and the desk was bigger than I remembered and there was no way I was ever going to fit it inside the office unless I set it on its end.

So I got rid of it. Now I do my writing in a leather recliner, and I would never go back. With a laptop, who needs a desk anyway?

Who says you have to hunch 
over a desk when you write?

My office is a place dedicated to reading and writing, with a bookcase in one corner and cast photos and newspaper clippings from some of my shows on the walls. But my favorite spot is the top of the file cabinet, for that's where I display some of the mementos that directors of my plays have been so generous to share with me. 

Look at the photo below, and you'll see the knife from The Butler Did It!, the KUKU sign from The Last Radio Show, the sarcophagus lock from How I Met Your Mummy and the diamond-studded cat collar from The Purrfect Crime.

And the puffin? Well, I could say it's my favorite animal, and that would not be wrong. I could say it inspires me to write about exotic creatures and far off places, and that would also not be wrong. But the real truth is that it was one of our daughters' Beanie Babies when they were younger and I couldn't bear to part with it after they grew up.

So yeah, writing is important. But it's not everything. 

A few mementos from my shows

Monday, September 21, 2020

Lights! Camera! Murder! is now available

A play which took me years of on and off writing and revising and tweaking to complete, went on to get rejected by several publishers, and was finally given up for dead has just been published by Brooklyn Publishers.

The play, of course, is Lights! Camera! Murder! I've told the whole crazy story before, so let me just say here what a joy it is to finally see this play in print. It's my first play with Brooklyn, and my 18th play overall.

Ordering info and a free script sample can be found on Brooklyn's website. Here's the blurb:

It's 1948, and Hope Holloway is an ambitious young press agent on Dial M for Migraine, a detective movie that's three weeks late and half a million dollars over budget. To finish the movie, temperamental leading man Roger Drummond has to film one last scene, a scene in which his character drinks a poisoned cup of coffee. 

Roger gives the performance of his life, writhing in agony as he collapses to the floor. But when the scene is done, and Roger remains sprawled on the floor, Hope has a horrible realization: the coffee really was poisoned! 

Worried about the bad press this will generate, Hope quickly hides the body so she can solve the murder herself. But who could the murderer be? Alberto Bologna, the hotheaded director who's only pretending to be Italian? Gwendolyn Chambers, the bubbleheaded starlet who can't read her cue cards without squinting? Tommy Novak, the gawky production assistant who has a crush on Hope? Or one of several other unlikely suspects? 

With its crazy characters and snappy dialogue, this sassy send-up of the Golden Age of Hollywood is guaranteed to be a blockbuster hit!

The theater world is still largely on hold with the COVID-19 crisis, but I'm hoping to see this play on its feet soon, maybe early next year.

Thursday, September 3, 2020

An Enchanted Bookshop Christmas is now available

Just in time for the new school year, Pioneer Drama Service has released the latest addition to the growing series of Enchanted Bookshop plays. 

It's titled An Enchanted Bookshop Christmas (echoes of those heartwarming Hallmark specials?) and it's my very first holiday play. The play's web page, including a script sample and complete ordering info, can be found here.

Here's the blurb:
Revisit or discover anew the beloved literary characters of the bestselling The Enchanted Bookshop in this very merry prequel. This time, they're joined by a whole crew of Christmas-themed characters, including the Nutcracker Prince, Amy March, the Velveteen Rabbit, the Little Match Girl, and even Ebenezer Scrooge himself! 
As the play begins, it's four days before Christmas and Miss Margie, the scatterbrained owner of the shop, is thrilled to have two very special guests — her serious-minded sister Ellen and book-loving niece Annabelle.  Ellen was recently laid off from her position as an astronomy professor, and she's certain she'll never find a job again. 
Her luck changes, however, when high-tech billionaire Philip Brantley stops in at the shop and Margie convinces him to hire Ellen for his new space project. With Ellen out shopping, Margie has a brainstorm to wrap the bookmark that Philip wrote his phone number on it and give it to Ellen as a Christmas present. After all, what could possibly go wrong? The present could go missing, that's what!
Now it's up to the Lits to solve the mystery of the missing bookmark and save the day for Ellen — all without giving away their magical existence. It's a hilarious, heartwarming tale that reminds us that the best gifts don't come wrapped in pretty paper and bows.
Of course, An Enchanted Bookshop Christmas had to be a prequel as the original play concluded (spoiler alert!) with the Lits disappearing into their books forever. And that was just one of the challenges in writing this play. After all, how can you create any kind of tension in a story when you know the heroes will survive for another play? Well, I came up with a neat little solution that I think works well.

Another challenge was deciding which characters to include. In my post about the original play, I explained how I came up with the six literary characters who formed the core of that story.

One of the most important criteria for me was that the characters be instantly recognizable from their costumes. This narrowed things down pretty quickly, and I ended up going with Dorothy Gale, Tom Sawyer, Pollyanna, Robin Hood, Heidi, and Sherlock Holmes (of course, Pollyanna may be the odd girl out here, as she's not particularly well-known outside the 1960 Disney movie).

I knew I wouldn't be able to stick to that rule in the new play. Sure, all of the new Christmas-themed characters are well-known and well-loved. But they're not visually iconic in the same way that the original six were.

Of course, the Nutcracker Prince had to make an appearance in the Tchaikovsky ballet have made him a happy part of many people's Christmas traditions. Sadly, to make room for the new characters, I had to axe some of the older ones (namely, Robin Hood, Heidi, and Sherlock Holmes). But with his pompousness and love of big words, the Nutcracker Prince ably filled Sherlock's shoes.

I love the book Little Women and I desperately wanted to include one of the March sisters in the play. And yes, I realize that, strictly speaking, Little Women isn't a Christmas story, but the novel does open with that famous scene by the hearth with the sisters (well, three out of four of them) complaining about how miserable the holiday is going to be. And admit it. When you thick back to the multiple movie versions, that's the scene you think of first.

 Of course, the natural choice would be Jo as she seems to be everyone's favorite sister (she's definitely mine). But Jo is too close in personality to Dorothy, and I didn't need two clever, headstrong leader types.

Meg and Beth seemed a little dull for what I was looking for. That left Amy. Fans of the book have some pretty strong opinions about this youngest member of the brood. Some consider her the most admirable of the four because she knows what she wants and isn't afraid to take it. Others resent that she often does so at the expense of her sisters. Still others (writers mostly) will never forgive her for what she did to Jo's manuscript (of course, I had to include a gag about that in the play).

Greta Gerwig's 2019 film went a long ways toward redeeming Amy in the eyes of many, but even in that film she remains very much a brat. And that made her perfect for my purposes, as she lent a smart alecky tone to the proceedings.

Of all the characters, I had the most fun writing her, and I think she got many of the best lines. Will she make an appearance in a future installment? You'll have to wait and see.

The Velveteen Rabbit was one of my favorite stories growing up. The way this ratty old stuffed animal came to life at the end really stuck with me, so I knew I had to include him. But reading the story again as an adult, I was stuck by how--well, emotional--he was. That gave me a fun personality play with.

Of course, the fact that the toy was contaminated with scarlet fever provided a couple of gags, one of which involves a bottle of hand sanitizer (which I thought up before this whole COVID crisis, I swear). An additional advantage of including this character is that as a rabbit, he can easily be played by a boy or girl.

Although this story isn't normally identified as a Christmas story, the rabbit was originally given to the Boy as a Christmas gift so it worked well. I had my third character.

Then there's the Little Match Girl, who would provide sweetness and light (and make a perfect counterirritant to Amy with her constant griping about being "poor"). This one was a bit of a cheat because the original Hans Christian Andersen story actually takes place on New Year's Eve. But who can forget the image of her peeking through the window of the rich family's home at the huge feast laid out for them--something we normally associate with Christmas?

I also had to include that well-meaning couple from O. Henry's The Gift of the Magi. Do you remember their names? They're James and Della Young, and while they play a smaller role here, they get some of my best lines as well as one fun scene where they seem destined to repeat their ill-fated gift-giving forever.

Of course, Ebenezer Scrooge had to show up as the curmudgeonly antagonist. One early version had him going through his famous transformation behind the scenes over the course of the play and while that was an interesting concept, it stole the focus away from the main plot. Still, a hint of that remains in the play, and Scrooge ends up a much nicer, more compassionate figure than he was in the beginning.

All that was missing was the fat man himself. I didn't want to include the actual Santa because that might suggest that Santa himself is no more than a literary character (didn't want to go there). So instead I had one of the characters make a surprise appearance dressed as Santa. I think this will be a big hit for audiences and put everyone in the proper holiday mood.

One set of characters that didn't make the cut? The lively denizens of The Elves and the Shoemaker. This isn't always thought of as a Christmas story but does take place at least partly on Christmas Eve. I would have loved to include them but the large number of elves got a little unwieldy in practice. I ended up giving them an equally crucial role in the story, being the characters that, in their book at least, inspire Annabelle to believe in Christmas.

So there you have it. One new play, seven new literary characters come to life.

Whether you're putting on a special Christmas performance this year, or holding off for another year, I hope you'll buy at least a perusal copy. I truly believe it'll warm your heart.

And isn't that really what we're all looking for these days?