Sunday, December 31, 2017

A look back at 2017

Well, here we are at the end of another year.

2017 was a crazy year for me--a year of challenges, a year of changes. But through it all, I kept plugging away at my writing. My goal of becoming a full-time writer is closer than ever, but I'm not quite there yet.

Since it's New Year's Eve, I'd like to do what I do every year at this time and review the goals I set for myself at the beginning of the year.

How did I do? Well, as it turns out, I missed a lot more than usual, but that's not a huge surprise--or even a disappointment.

That's because last New Year's Day, I was unemployed--and had been for 9 months. I was waiting to hear back on a job I had interviewed for, but I didn't want to jinx things. So I set my writing goals sky-high, assuming that I wouldn't get the job and would have 24 hours a day in which to write.

Things didn't turn out that way. I got the job (yay!), and besides spending a lot of time and energy learning my way around that, I also had to sell my home in Colorado Springs, pack up all my stuff and schlep it all down to my new home in Gilbert, AZ.

My writing time dropped significantly, from 4.5 to 1.5 hours a day, but I'm not missing many day. And, of course, I can pay the bills now, which makes for a much more sustainable lifestyle (it's hard to concentrate on writing when your stomach's empty and the bank's about to foreclose on your house).

Without further ado then, here are my goals for 2017 and how close I came to reaching them:

1) Complete eight new plays

Not even close. I only completed three new plays, but that's not entirely due to the unavoidable drop in my writing time.

I spent all of March and April making revisions that my publisher requested on two previously accepted plays. The revisions were time-consuming, but I have to admit, they made the plays a whole lot better.

And from October to December, I took a break from my playwriting to work on something a little bit different: a screenplay.

So I only had seven months to work on new plays. Taking that into consideration, having completed three plays isn't so bad.

2) Publish six new plays

I fell short here too, with only three new plays being released during the year. Since I didn't finish as many plays as last year, I wasn't able to make as many submissions.

But my hit rate on the ones I did complete was much better this year than last. In 2017, Pioneer accepted three of my submissions and rejected one. In 2016, they accepted two and rejected three.

I still haven't gotten any of my rejected plays picked up by other publishers, but I'm still waiting to hear from a few so I hope that'll change soon.

3) Have a successful premiere of The Purrfect Crime

Bingo. As previously reported on this blog, Palmer Ridge High School of Monument, Colorado performed the play in March of this year and it was a big success all around. Audiences loved it, and I got the feedback I needed to punch up the script before I submitted it to my publisher (they accepted it in October).

4) Get another production of Kill the Critic!

Not even close. The script was rejected by two more publishers and the LA theatre that had given it a professional reading in February 2016 didn't pick it up for a production.

It's still being considered by one publisher, but at this point, I'm focusing on my other plays. This one is just too risque fpr the schools and community theaters that form the bulk of my market.

5) Get another production of The Last Radio Show

Success. The play was performed in April by Johnston Heights Church in British Columbia, the only performance group that has done three of my plays (have I mentioned how much I love Canada?). My contact there told me that people came up after the show saying they had stomachaches from laughing so hard.

Unfortunately, publishers aren't seeing it that way. This script was also rejected by two publishers, but I'm still holding out hope as it's squeaky clean and is relatively inexpensive (if not exactly easy) to produce.

So there you have it. Two successes out of five. Not the best, but considering where I was a year ago, I'll take it.

I hope 2017 was a great year for you too.

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Trouble in Buffalo Grove

I just came across this video from Aptakisic Junior High School in Buffalo Grove, IL (isn't that a great name for a town?). In it, Sara Meyer, co-director of the school's drama club, talks about their upcoming production of Trouble in Paradise Junction. She also discusses the vital role drama plays in the lives of her students.

"I think it's really important for kids to have a different outlet, to express themselves, to be creative and enjoy exploring different parts of a character... It makes kids more thoughtful about why they do things and it's a fun way for them to kind of explore new parts of themselves and to discover that they have talents that they didn't know that they had."

I agree completely. There's no better way to learn empathy than to step out of yourself and into the wants and needs, the background and personality of another person. And that's what drama is all about.

Break legs, guys. I hope your show is a huge success!

Sunday, December 17, 2017

The Enchanted Bookshop video is now online

I've received several requests for videos of The Enchanted Bookshop, my full-length fantasy comedy that just came out in August. So far I've had to hold off the requests with a polite, "Just wait." Although the play has booked a ton of productions (78 to date!), I've only seen a few photos online and no videos.

Until now, that is. The Small Parts Players of Virginia, MN just posted a video of their recent production on YouTube (to view it, click on the video above or go to my Videos page). It includes the entire play, and although the colors are sometimes muted because of the lighting, the sound is excellent.

The young actors are very talented, and I love seeing the enthusiasm and flair they brought to each of their roles.


Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Wicked questions

Last week, I had the delightful experience of seeing my play Wicked Is As Wicked Does for the first time. It was put on by Eduprize, a charter school that just happens to be located in my new hometown of Gilbert, AZ.

The students did a fantastic job. They were very funny and really made the characters their own. My only wish is that I could have seen the other two shows as they were down my entirely different casts.

Yesterday I was invited back by director and theater teacher extraordinaire Sonia Salberg to speak to her theater classes. I talked a little bit about my own struggles to break into publishing, and then I opened the floor to questions.

Oh, man. Were there questions! These kids were fully prepared, as they had been instructed to come up with a couple questions each as homework (always a good idea).

But the questions didn't stop there. As soon as the topic turned to their characters, and why I made certain choices, the hands popped in the area and the students started firing off question after question.

Here are some of the best:

1) Where do you get your ideas?

As described elsewhere in these pages, I get my ideas from all sorts of places: brainstorming, news articles, cartoons. Wicked Is As Wicked Does was different. This one came from a dream.

I had been brainstorming ideas for a new fairy tale play so my mind was humming with ideas, and when I went to bed that night, I had a vivid dream about a fairy tale land where the magic stopped. The fairy tale characters woke up one day to discover that their spells no longer worked, and they banded together to figure out why.

Well, when I started outlining the plot (something I always do; it makes the actual writing go faster) and I asked myself which characters from the famous fairy tales performed magic, I came to a realization. The Wicked Queen from Snow White, the Wicked Fairy from Sleeping Beauty, the Wicked Witch from The Frog Prince--they were all wicked!

So then I decided it would be a much stronger choice if, instead of the magic just stopping one day, it would be a much stronger choice if magic had been outlawed because it had primarily been used for evil. And the story just flowed from there?

2) What do you wear when you're writing?

This was asked by courtesy of a friend who couldn't be there but had apparently hoped that I wore some special outfit I wear to put myself in a creative mood. The dull truth is, I wear whatever I threw on that day.

If I'm writing in the evenings (Monday through Friday), I'm wearing whatever I wrote to work: usually, button-down shirt and jeans If I'm writing in the morning (Saturday and Sunday), I'm probably still in my pajamas.

3) Where did you come up with the name Grimstad?

I knew the sound I wanted for this smart alecky dragon in the play: something grim and foreboding sounding, with a little bit of foreignness. Well, after racking my brain for a while, I finally gave up and turned to a map. And I found the perfect name in a tiny village in Norway.

4) How much money do you make?

Okay, I didn't answer this one. But I did tell the student that I'll get about 300 productions this year and that a resourceful person can Google how much in royalties a playwright earns and do the math from there.

5) Do you use anything from your life in your plays?

I would like to say yes. I would like to say I'm an adventurous soul, my days spent hang gliding above the beach at Cozumel, my nights spent sipping wine at some bistro in Paris.

Instead, I go to work and then I come home and write. So no. I don't use my life in my writing. Writing is my escape.

6) Have you ever directed any of your plays?

Three times. Many moons ago, I directed my then 10- and 13-year-old daughters in the world premiere of Long Tall Lester. I directed a staged reading of The Butler Did It! in 2012. And I directed the world premiere of The Last Radio Show in 2016.

That last one turned out to be a monster of a production, and while the play was a success, and I had a ton of fun with the cast and crew, the experience made very clear that my talent, if I have one, is in writing, not directing.

7) What did you think of...?

A lot of students wanted to know what I thought about some ad lib or bit of stage business they added to the play. The truth is, I'm fine with it. I'm not one of those playwrights that think that every word is golden and that any change only serves to sabotage the playwright's intention. Instead, I view playmaking as a team project, and I love to see what students bring to it.

My only advice is to make sure that whatever you add 1) gets a laugh, and 2) is consistent with the character. You don't want to take an abrupt 180 that leaves your audience scratching their heads as to who character is or what she wants.

Monday, December 11, 2017

The Enchanted Bookshop in living color

I've said it before, but I love seeing photos of my productions, especially when they're my first glimpse of a new play. The Enchanted Bookshop came out in August and it's already been produced twenty-some times, but it wasn't until the Fort Worth Academy of Fort Worth, TX posted pictures of their show that I got to see what it looks like on a real-live stage.

The school did a fantastic job with the set. And the costumes are simple yet detailed enough to let the audience instantly know who's who.

I was especially gratified to read by a comment by one of the audience members, who said she enjoyed the show but felt a visceral reaction when the bad guys tore pages out of the books.

That was exactly my feeling when I wrote the scene.