Tuesday, March 9, 2021

Badger Crazy

A very nice high school student emailed me today saying that she'd played Kat in her school's production of The Butler Did It! earlier this year and wanted to direct a scene from You're Driving Me Crazy! for her theater class. The only thing is she couldn't decide which scene she wanted to do. Could I send her the scripts?

I wanted to help, I really did. But with the pandemic cancelling 80% of all school productions this year, playwrights and play publishers alike are struggling. We really need every script sale we can get.

Not to mention the risk that once a PDF of a script is out there, it's all too easy to make copies and/or forward it to other schools or theaters (not that any of you lovely people would do such a thing). And any electronic script I had would be an early version of the play and wouldn't include all the required legalese. So I had to decline.

But I recognize that many schools are struggling too, so I offered to mail her one of the free printed scripts that Pioneer Drama Service provides me.

I also did a Google search and happily discovered that a high school in Plainfield, Wisconsin posted a video of the play just a couple months ago. (That town, by the way, has a personal connection for me as well. When I was a kid, my family and I would often drive through it on our vacation trips up north.)

Actually, the play they performed was You're Virtually Driving Me Crazy!, the virtual adaptation that Pioneer released last year. But as I've explained elsewhere, the differences between the two are minimal. And this particular production is really good, with lively performances and all of the action being set inside actual cars. (One of the benefits of social distancing: it forces you to get creative.)

So I emailed the student a link to the video. I hope it helps her. And, if you've been considering this play--one of my most popular works during the pandemic--I hope it helps you too.

But if it's at all possible, please buy a perusal copy. Pioneer's E-view system makes it fast and easy. And it'll help keep them and me in business for when the world finally does open up again.

Thanks for your support!

Friday, February 5, 2021

Trouble in British Columbia

They say the show must go on, and that's never been truer than now with the COVID-19 pandemic making its way around the world and schools having to find new ways to keep their theatre programs alive.

Oak Bay High School in Victoria, British Columbia, took on another whole set of challenges when they decided to film their production of Trouble in Paradise Junction for online streaming. Not only did they have to learn how to do the camerawork and editing themselves, but their rehearsal time was cut from their standard twenty weeks to just five.

There is one big advantage to filming it though. It allowed them to perform the scenes in various locations throughout the school rather than just on the stage, giving the show a more cinematic feel.

The streamed performance can be viewed on the school's YouTube channel, but it's only available from 5pm to 11pm EST today or tomorrow.

For the complete story on this ambitious production, check out this article in the Oak Bay News.

Friday, January 1, 2021

A look ahead to 2021

As a writer, I always find it hard to set concrete goals for the year. A story idea that excites me now may not excite me three months from now, when I finally have time to work on it. 

And then there are the vagaries of the publishing world. So much of what we decide to write depends on what we've been able to sell. 

So I'm a little torn about this coming year. I have some ideas what I want to accomplish, but I have no doubt most of those goals will change before the year is half over.

But having some goals are better than having no goals. So consider these a snapshot of where I am today--and nothing more.

My new year's goals

1) Sell a middle-grade novel series

My agent is pitching two of mine right now: The Enchanted Bookshop and Edison Young. 

If I sell either one, then I'm going to be VERY busy. Publishers want to have the next few books in the pipeline before they launch the series in case the first one's a hit. And although I've mapped out where I want those series to go, I've only just begun the next book in each series.

2) Write the first book in a third middle-grade novel series

If I don't sell either series, then I'm going to need something else for my agent to pitch. That's why I'm currently adapting another play of mine as a novel (actually more like a chapter book).

Which one? None other than Wicked Is As Wicked Does. Although it hasn't been as successful as I'd hoped, I love the characters, and the story hints at a whole post-fairy tale world that would naturally lend itself to a series.

That title, though, is a little long. So I'm just going to name the series The Wickeds, and give a more detailed title to each book.

3) Write another school play

Plays are what launched my publishing career, and some of them are doing very well so I'd like to keep that going.

But which play? Well, I've got an idea I've playing around with for a few years, and it may finally be time to put it to paper. I don't want to give any details yet (nothing sabotages your excitement for a new work like talking about it), but I hope to share some once I get the first draft written.

4) Buy all my books from independent bookstores

This goal has nothing to do with my writing career. But it does have something to do with the community I want to be a part of.

Book publishers have actually done pretty well during the pandemic. But bookstores have not--independent bookstores even less. People stuck at home have found it all too easy to buy their books from Amazon and have them show up at their doorsteps a day or two later.

But that's not the way to promote a vibrant literary community.

The east valley of Phoenix, where I live, has a wonderful independent bookstore in Tempe, called Changing Hands Bookstore. They promote local authors, hold writing classes, sponsor book clubs--all the things needed to keep a literary community alive. They've also adapted to the pandemic pretty well, shifting over to contactless curbside service for those not ready to venture into the store itself. 

Now I love Amazon as much as the next guy. And I have to admit I bought way too many books from them last year.

But no longer. This year I'm going to buy 100% of my books from Changing Hands or, if I decide to go used, from one of the many independent bookstores on Alibris (they need love too!).

Summing up

I think that's enough goals for this year. Like I said, I'm sure they'll change as the year progresses. But at least I have a plan for now. Something to shoot for. Something to keep me going when the going gets tough.

After all, you don't have to reach your goals to be successful. You just have to keep reaching.

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.