Monday, December 31, 2018

A look back at 2018

It's New Year's Eve, time again to review my goals for the year and see how well I did.

Overall, the year was a mixed bag. I hit one goal and missed the rest, but the one I hit was a biggie so I'm feeling pretty good.

Here are the goals I posted on New Year's Day:

1) Get some traction on my Enchanted Bookshop screenplay

A year ago, I had left this goal pretty vague, refusing to define exactly what "traction" meant. I was thinking that a contest win or a request to read the script from a producer would count. But if you'd pinned me down, I would have said that my real goal was to get representation.

Well, that's exactly what happened. In May, I signed with Gravity Squared Entertainment in Beverly Hills, the management company that represents Homer Hickam, author of Rocket Boys (which became one of my favorite movies, October Sky).

Over the course of the year, I worked with them on a couple of screenplays, a movie version of The Enchanted Bookshop and a coming-of-age comedy about kids who sneak into an after-hours amusement park called Wonderland.

My manager sent out both scripts to a handful of places but didn't get any interest.  It seems spec scripts are a hard sell right now (when are they not?).

But last month, I finished a TV pilot for The Enchanted Bookshop, and he fell in love with it. We're now putting the final polish on it so it'll be ready to go out after the first of the year.

It's still a longshot, but I'm a lot further along than I was a year ago. Let's call this one a Success.

2) Complete two plays

For a long time, I'd wanted to write a pirate play but I couldn't figure out how to make it work. The problem is that historically, pirates tended to be male, while high school and middle school plays need most of the parts to be female.

That insanely prolific playwright Craig Sodaro came up with one successful approach. But I didn't want to copy him. I had to find a new way to do it.

Well, this year, I finally figured it out. The play would be about five pampered princesses who are forced to pose as pirates--and, in so doing, find the inner strength that didn't know they had.

The title? Real Pirates Don't Wear Tiaras.

I'm really happy with how the play turned out. But it was the only play I wrote this year.

Give me Half Credit for this one.

3) Publish three new plays

In August, Pioneer published my thirteenth play with them, a political satire titled Babka Without Borders. They did a fantastic job with the editing and artwork. But that was the only play I got published this year.

I didn't submit the pirate play until October so I'm still waiting to hear back from that one. And a couple plays that I submitted to other publishers got rejected.

Chalk this one up as a Fail.

4) Lead a workshop at the Arizona Thespian Festival

This year, I made a new push to get into this Phoenix-based conference, contacting all three of the organizers who were listed on their website. But I didn't get even so much as a no from them.

I don't know why it's so hard to break into this conference--the Colorado one was a piece of cake--but I'm guessing I need a personal recommendation form someone already involved with it.

If an opportunity opens up in the future, I'll jump at it. In the meantime, I'm going to move on from this one.

Another big fat Fail.

5) Develop one new play with a school or theatre group

At the end of 2017, a local teacher who had previously produced How I Met Your Mummy expressed an interest in working with me on a play. She wanted something that could be presented as a dinner theatre, and I came up with a play that pretended to be an awards dinner but would turn into a farce when a giant lobster escaped from the kitchen and attacked the wait staff.

While she loved the idea, in the end, we decided to go our separate ways. It would just take too much work for both of us, but we agreed to pursue something in the future. And I'm still looking for other schools to work with.

But in the meantime, we have to call this one a Fail.


One and a half hit out of five? Not a great percentage, if you want to look at it this way. But the one hit I got was a game changer, and I can't wait to see what the New Year brings.

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

All in the family

I never wanted to be one of those dads who expected his kids to follow in his footsteps.

My wife and I were blessed with two beautiful girls, and part of the joy of raising them was finding out who they were, what they liked, what they would choose to do with their lives. I would never insist they become writers.

Of course, that doesn't mean I wouldn't encourage them to become writers. After all, I'd wanted to be a writer since I was eight years old and all those years when I was struggling to break in, I kept thinking that if I couldn't do it, then maybe they could.

There was just one obstacle to my plan.

"I hate writing!" they'd tell me. "Why would I want to do that all day?"

And that's how dreams die.

So what did they become? Ashley, the older one, got a job as a news producer at a TV station, where she was paid to crank out news scripts under the tightest deadlines imaginable.

Brooke, on the other hand, was just hired as a publicist for a PR firm, where she's learning to craft economical yet elegant prose extolling the virtues of their clients.

In others words, writers.

So how do they unwind after a long day of writing? More writing. Blogs, to be exact.

Which is why I'm writing this post in the first place. Both girls have recently launched new blogs and I'm hoping that some of you find them worth following.

Brooke's blog is Roses and Rouge. It's a beauty and fashion blog and, in her lighthearted, inimitable way, Brooke offers a ton of tips and product reviews that'll help you look your best.

Ashley's blog is The Quarterlife Crisis. While she also writes on beauty topics, her posts reflect her growing interest in vegan and health issues. She also discusses the professional and emotional challenges she has had to face after being laid off twice in one year.

Check them out. I think you'll like them.

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Making it their own

Eleanor Drury Children's Theatre sure knows how to generate publicity because their production of The Enchanted Bookshop just got another great write-up, this time on the website Thunder Bay News Watch.

As it turns out, The Enchanted Bookshop is one of the first shows they've ever done that was not a widely known classic like Cinderella and The Jungle Book. But they decided to take a chance on it because of the many familiar characters.

"I think it's a lot different," Sarah Hughes, who plays Margie, says. "Normally we do stories you already know, but in this case, you don't know, and it's fun to find out."

What's more, director Aleksa Shermack gave the kids plenty of room to make the show their own, by creating their own choreography.

"We work really with the youth involved to create a show unique to the talents that we have in the show and the talents of the kids and youth involved," she said. "We include songs, media pieces, and dances that are heavily influenced and choreographed or arranged by the actual youth involved."

Sounds like an amazing experience to me. Break legs, guys. I know you're in good hands.

Monday, November 19, 2018

Pure imagination


The release of The Enchanted Bookshop--The Musical is still several months off, but progress is being made. Composer Stephen Murray tells me he has written 11 songs and is currently preparing the piano and vocal scores.

And yet some people just can't wait. Exhibit A: This Ontario production of The Enchanted Bookshop. Eleanor Drury Children's Theatre has taken the published script of the play and added two songs, giving the young actors an opportunity to show off their singing and dancing skills.

I think that's great. I'm always happy to see theatre companies tweak my scripts by adding an occasional song or character.

I was even happier to see that one of the songs they added is my favorite song from one of my favorite movies of all time, 1971's Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (forget Johnny Depp, Gene Wilder will always be the Candy Man to me).

No, not "Cheer Up, Charlie". The song they added is that ode to creativity, "Pure Imagination". What better song for a coterie of characters who depend on imagination to give them life?

Well, maybe the 11 songs specially composed for the script by Mr. Murray. They're coming, and you're going to love them. I promise!

Thursday, November 1, 2018

An enchanted trailer

I'm really loving this trailer that the students at a Alabama high school put together for this weekend's performance of The Enchanted Bookshop. Between the lush music, dynamic camerawork and spooky voiceover, it's extremely well-done. In fact, it's so spooky it almost makes the show look like a Harry Potter movie.

Break legs, everyone!

Sunday, October 28, 2018

Costume ideas for that book lover in you

Need some last minute costume ideas for Halloween (or any time, really)? In honor of their upcoming auditions for The Enchanted Bookshop, Encore Stage & Studio in Alexandria, VA offers some literary suggestions from their theatrical past.

Me? I'll be going as one of my favorite literary characters.

Friday, October 19, 2018

Reading for dollars (and much much more!)

Schools and theater companies across the country have gotten creative using The Enchanted Bookshop to encourage kids to read. And now our neighbor to the north is getting in on the act.

Eleanor Drury Children's Theatre of Thunder Bay, Ontario is launching a read-a-thon for students in this vibrant city on the shores of Lake Superior. From October 22 to November 16, participants are asked to log all books they read on this online form, and at the end of the contest, the most active readers will win up $50 cash (that'll buy a lot of books!) and four tickets to the show.

I'm especially glad that they're using this contest to shine a light on local authors. I used to be heavily involved with the Colorado children's book writer community and I know that a lot of those authors struggled to get the word out about their books, books that were just as compelling, entertaining and just plain fun as any title on the bestseller list.

The best part about this contest? Everybody wins. Even those who don't take home the big prize will discover books they wouldn't have known about otherwise. And that's worth more than any $50 check.

Good luck, everybody! And if you need some reading suggestions, check out these books favored by the actors in the show:

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Show Me State Bookshop shows how it's done

I just came across this performance of The Enchanted Bookshop by South Valley Middle School in Liberty, MO. I've posted several recordings of this play over the last year, but I wanted to make a special mention of this one because the cast does an especially good job bringing out the humor in the script.

You've got to go big with these characters, and these kids do. The result? Some of the biggest laughs I've heard for this show.

Nice job, everybody!

Friday, October 5, 2018

The Enchanted Bookshop sings!

Growing up in the small town of Beaver Dam, Wisconsin, I didn't get much of a chance to see Broadway shows or national touring productions. But the town did have a movie theater, and three times a year, the manager closed the curtain over the screen, removed the first few rows of seats and built out the stage so that the local community theater could put on a show.

The community theater produced a ton of plays over the years, but it was the musicals I loved the most. Fiddler on the Roof. MameCamelot. They were all so big and full of life. And I remember thinking, even then, that those shows were better than anything I'd seen on that movie screen behind them.

Which is all just a roundabout way of telling you how excited I am that Pioneer Drama Service has decided to turn The Enchanted Bookshop into a musical.

I've always wanted to write a musical. There's just one small problem. I don't know the first thing about writing music.

But Stephen Murray does. He's the Massachusetts composer who Pioneer paired me up with. Stephen has decades of experience writing musicals, and his songs have a fun, bouncy quality that make them perfect for the school market. I can't wait to see what he comes up with for The Enchanted Bookshop.

No word yet on when the musical will be released, but Stephen is working on the score as we speak so I expect it'll come out in 2019, probably in time for the new school year. Of course, when it does come out, you'll hear it here first, so keep coming back!

Sunday, September 23, 2018

Trouble in Paradise Junction hits close to home

You can leave your hometown, but your hometown will never leave you.

That was true for me when I wrote my small-town satire Trouble in Paradise Junction. And it was true for Iowa Central Community College theater director Teresa Jackson when she first read the script.

"I fell in love with the town and its citizens on my first reading and heard their voices in my head immediately," she says in this article in the Fort Dodge Messenger. "Amazingly enough, the playwright's 'voices' sound very much like the ones I heard in my childhood. I grew up in Missouri and the Ozarks was our stomping ground."

Okay, so that last part is kind of embarrassing. But I'm thrilled she feels that way because I really worked hard to capture the real, honest-to-goodness people who live in that beautiful area, instead of the "hillbilly" stereotype that so many plays and TV shows seem to be satisfied with.

Many playwrights say that they hear the voices of their characters in their heads, and that writing a play is just a matter of dictating those voices to paper. Well, I haven't always experienced that--I sweat over every line of dialogue I write--but I have to admit it did come easier with this play than any of my others.

If you'd like to hear some of those voices for yourself, order a copy of the script here.

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Babka Without Borders is now available

Another school year, another release of one of my plays. And I couldn't be more excited.

This time it's Babka Without Borders, my lucky thirteenth play with Pioneer Drama Service. Here's the blurb:
What's babka, you ask? Only the tastiest, most delectable pastry in the world... and a key ingredient in this hysterical, fast-paced farce that's loaded with physical humor and a bit reminiscent of The Grand Budapest Hotel. Oh, did we mention that the babka becomes an aerial assault weapon that sparks an international war? You see, The Harmony Cafe could be any quaint European bistro if it weren't for one thing: an international border runs smack dab through the middle of it! One half of the cafe is in the Grand Duchy of Bunkelburg; the other half is located in the Royal Principality of Primwick. Luckily, the cafe serves the world's best babka, and Hildegard and her staff somehow manage all the multiple border crossings and red-tape to serve their delicious, sweet coffee cakes and keep the peace. But because the Duchess of Bunkelburg secretly entered and won Primwick's annual babka baking contest, the Prince of Primwick closes the border, making restaurant operations near impossible. But once that slice of babka goes flying across the border and hits a Primwickian patriotic zealot... well, now it's all-out war! It's hard to see how even The Harmony Cafe can maintain the peace, let alone stay in business! But with much farcical humor and good fun, the very same pastry that tore the countries apart brings them back together. This large-scale cast tale of love, espionage and the best babka east of the Danube goes to show there are no boundaries for good taste!
I made this one as easy to produce as possible--one set, flexible cast (8M/11F/2E plus doubling and extras) and minimal technical requirements. This gives directors freedom to focus on the physical comedy, which is where the heart of the play really lies.

For complete information including a script sample, click here.

Unfortunately, this release means I'm going to have to apologize to school custodians all over again. This is my third play which involves a kind of food fight (see also this one and this one).

But hey, tossing a few pastries around is a great way to make your audiences hungry for those valuable concessions. And really, who doesn't love a good babka?

Thursday, August 30, 2018

An enchanted interview

Local theatre productions rarely get TV coverage, youth theatre productions even less so. So I was thrilled to come across this TV interview out of Springfield, IL.

These well-spoken young ladies play Margie and Heidi in the M.A.S.S. Media Productions production of The Enchanted Bookshop and they do a great job describing their experience in the show.

Want to know the takeaway of the play? Zoe Chase (Margie) has a simple answer: Books are wonderful!

I couldn't have said it better myself.

Side note: M.A.S.S. Media is doing a sensory friendly show on Saturday afternoon for autistic and other special needs children, with subdued lights and sounds and the freedom to wander around and talk during the performance. I know this has been a growing trend in the world of live performance and I'm so glad they found my play to be conducive to that.

The show runs through Sunday, September 2 at the Hoogland Center for the Arts. So if you're in the area this weekend, I encourage you to buy some tickets and get yourself down there. I know it's going to be a fantastic show!

Thursday, August 9, 2018

Yes, Virginia, there is a National Book Lovers Day

If you've seen The Enchanted Bookshop, then you may remember the scene. The two jewel smugglers have given kindhearted bookshop owner Margie an ultimatum: return the diamond necklace they think she stole (she didn't) or they're going to destroy all the books:

MARGIE: Oh, Bombalurina! What am I going to do? I've been to very jewelry store in town and none of them have the right necklace!

BOMBALURINA: Meow meow! Meow meow meow!

MARGIE: What's that? You want me to lock the door?


MARGIE: Ooh, that's good. Maybe if it looks like we went out of business, those hoodlums will go away. (Goes to the RIGHT EXIT to try to lock the door.)

EDDIE: (Saunters IN just then with FINGERS.) It's a little early to be closin' up shop, ain't it?

MARGIE: What? Oh, uh, not at all! It's National Book Lovers Day! You know, the day people all over the country stay home and read a book!

When I first wrote that scene, I didn't even know there was a National Book Lovers Day. I mean, it sounded right. After all, there's a Moldy Cheese Day (October 9), a Middle Name Pride Day (March 10), a World Sauntering Day (June 19), There's even a National Nothing Day (January 16). So it only makes sense that the millions of bibliophiles should get their own day.

Well, that day is today. And it's kind of ironic, because it's also the day--one year ago--that The Enchanted Bookshop "booked" its first production (Ha! See what I did there?).

If you love books as much as I do, then you're going to want to celebrate this day the way it was meant to be celebrated: by curling up with a good book. And, if you feel really celebratory, visit your favorite bookstore and pick up something new to read.

Margie would be proud.

Thursday, July 12, 2018

That'll larn ya

Wow. Pumphouse Junior does a great job promoting their shows. Today it's an article in their local newspaper, The Daily Tribune News.

In it, director Laurel Anne Lowe explains that they like to do plays that offer a lesson in literature, mythology or other subjects, which is why they chose The Enchanted Bookshop.

But it's not just for the audience. It seems the performers are getting educated too.

"We've already heard from some of our young actors that they've been doing their 'homework' to learn about characters, like Pollyanna, Robin Hood and Tom Sawyer... The familiar characters are fun to dive in for them."

I loved reading these books when I was growing up so I couldn't be happier knowing that a new generation of readers is discovering these stories.

Oh, and one other fun thing about this production. I noticed in the cast list that they have an actor portraying Captain Flint, Long John Silver's parrot. I wrote it as a prop, but I would love to see what the young performer does with the part.

Captain Flint want a cracker?

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

One for the books

The Enchanted Bookshop seems to bring out the creativity in everyone. And Pumphouse Junior, a children's theater company in Cartersville, GA, is no exception.

They're producing the play this month and they knew they'd need a lot of books for their set. So what did they do? They asked friends of the program to donate them, with the promise to give the books to the local library when they're done.

What a fantastic idea! Not only does it promote interest in their production, not only does it get them a whole boatload of free props (always a benefit for cash-strapped theaters!), but it gives the whole community a stake in the show.

Of course, the library is the biggest winner of all.

Pumphouse Junior has already collected hundreds of books, and they're continuing to take them through the end of the run. Here's hoping they get hundreds more!

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Taking sides

Seems like everyone's on a team these days.

Team Marvel. Team DC.

Team Alicia. Team Blake. Team Kelly. Team Adam.

There's even a Team Coco.

Not too long ago, every teenage girl in the known universe was either Team Edward and Team Jacob.

Which is why I love the way Jackson County Community Theatre is using this concept to promote their upcoming production of Wicked Is As Wicked Does. The cast has split off between #TeamWicked and #TeamRoyal and is asking people to post pics under their favorite team.

Great idea, guys! I hope you have a fantastic show.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Indiana summer camp gets creative

Youth theatre is alive and well in Brownstown, Indiana. That's where my fairy tale parody Wicked Is As Wicked Does will be performed next month. And that's where a record number of kids are participating in a free summer theatre camp to prepare for the production, as reported in this local article.

The camp originally planned to cut off enrollment at 75 kids, but when they had almost 100 sign up, they decided to let them all in, which forced them to get creative. With so many experience levels among the campers, the leaders found themselves relying on the older kids to help bring the younger ones up to speed.

"They are so energetic and eager to learn," said camp leader Stacey Williams. "It's fun to watch them grow in confidence as the week goes along."

Thanks for all your hard work, Stacey (and the rest of the crew!). Sounds like the kids are having a fantastic time.

Monday, June 18, 2018

1000 and counting...

A big shout-out to Honey Creek Community School of Ann Arbor, MI. They just gave me my 1000th production with their performance of You're Driving Me Crazy!

And let me tell you, it took a loooong time to get here. I got my first two productions in 2006, when my wife and I ran a children's theatre company in Colorado Springs and I penned a couple of plays for our students.

It was a long dry spell after that until 2010, when I got my third production as a result of a national playwriting contest (I didn't win). Then things really started heating up in 2011, when Pioneer Drama Service published my first play with them, The _urloined Letter.

I'm now getting about 300 productions a year, so the next thousand shouldn't take nearly as long.

So no, I couldn't have achieved this milestone without my publisher. But just as importantly, I couldn't have done it without all of the school and community theatre directors who've chosen my plays. So to you I want to send out a great big...

Friday, June 1, 2018

Beating the odds

They say you can't break into Hollywood with a cold query.

They say you can't break into Hollywood if you don't have connections.

They say you can't break into Hollywood if you're over fifty.

Well, they must be wrong, because I just did it.

Yesterday, I signed with Gravity Squared Entertainment, a management company based in Beverly Hills. They work in a variety of fields but their specialty is turning books into movies. As far as I know, they've never signed a playwright before, but they must have liked something about my plays because they're hoping to do the same with them.

Make no mistake. It's still a longshot getting a movie made. Only around 500 feature films are released in Hollywood each year, and although streaming services like Netflix and Amazon Video are fueling a rapid growth in that number, the fact remains that a lot more screenplays end up in the trashcan or "development hell" than on the big screen.

The play that got their attention was, you guessed it, The Enchanted Bookshop. My managers say it has a Night at the Museum or even a Shrek feel, and think it might get picked up by one of those two streaming services, since they're both ramping up their offering of children's films.

Surprisingly, they don't think the script needs much work. The main thing, they say, is that it needs to be bigger. They want to see a lot more book characters popping in and out of the story, so that's what I'll be working on over the next couple months.

But first I need to polish a different screenplay, an original script that tries to recapture the spirit of The Goonies.

More on that one later...

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Bookshop reaches the Emerald Isle

I love seeing photos from productions of my plays, but they're even more special when they represent a new country for me. That's the case for these stills from last weekend's production of The Enchanted Bookshop in Drinagh, Ireland.

The WACT Youth Theatre performed the play as part of a night of one-acts. I've never visited the Emerald Isle myself, but I wish I had, just so I could have seen this great-looking production.

Nice work, everybody! I hope you had fun!

Friday, May 18, 2018

My 7th year sales

I just received my annual royalty check from Pioneer Drama Service and I'm happy to report that this year was another record-setting one for me. That's largely due to a little play called The Enchanted Bookshop. In the nine months since it was released, this play made almost as much money as my other eleven plays combined.

Not bad for a bunch of public domain characters.

My total number of productions was 312, a 37% increase over the 228 productions I had last year. Strangely enough, I'm still reaping the benefits of the ten months I was laid off in 2016 as the last three plays I wrote during that time were released this year. That includes The Enchanted Bookshop (July), Wicked Is As Wicked Does (August) and The Purrfect Crime (January).

No surprise, but The Enchanted Bookshop was my #1 play for the year, blowing the roof off my previous record with a whopping 108 productions (Rumpelstiltskin, Private Eye had 63 productions two years ago). I'm thinking it'll do even better in the coming year as plays usually do best in their first full year of publication. In fact, the play has already booked 41 productions over the next few months.

My #2 play was You're Driving Me Crazy!, which has been a big hit with schools due to its short playing time (40 minutes), flexible casting (7 to 13 actors) and minimal set (four chairs). It dropped quite a bit from the 61 shows it snagged last year, but still managed to pull in an impressive 37 shows. It remains especially popular in Canada, with 8 of those productions coming from our neighbor to the north.

Million Dollar Meatballs surprised me this year with its strong showing at #3. It got 34 productions, the same number as the previous year, which was its first full year--traditionally the best year a play ever does. Schools gots to have their farces.

I was really pleased to see my #4, Trouble in Paradise Junction, do so well in its first full year, with 30 productions. My publisher told me that this large-cast satire of reality TV is her favorite play of mine. It holds a lot of meaning for me as well, since the perfect little town at the center of the story was largely based on my own hometown.

My #5 play was The Stinky Feet Gang with 23 productions in its first full year. I owe a lot to Lori, the editor at Pioneer who fought to put this one on their slate. It had a slow start last year but appears to be heating up now.

I'm sorry to see Rumpelstiltskin, Private Eye, my #6 play, continue to drop in popularity. It had 63 productions two years ago, 40 last year and just 19 this year. I don't why it's dropped so much, but I suspect there are so many fractured fairy tales released each year that its hard for an older one to get much attention. One nice surprise, however, is that at the end of this month, it'll get a production in Germany, my 11th country.

My #7 play was How I Met Your Mummy, which also struggled. It dropped from 30 productions last year to 14 this year.

The Butler Did It! is my feast or famine play in the #8 slot. It had 34 productions three years ago, 14 two years ago, 30 last year and 14 again this year. Here's hoping it pulls off another strong showing in the coming year.

The _urloined Letter and Wicked Is As Wicked Does tied at #9 with 10 productions. For The _urloined Letter, that represents a tie with its previous best, an impressive showing for my first play. As for Wicked Is As Wicked Does, those 10 productions represent a bit of a slow start. As a brand new fractured fairy tale, it should have done much better. Will it get some heat next year? I think so, as it has already booked 8 productions.

Rounding out the list is Long Tall Lester with 7 productions (its worst year yet) and The Purrfect Crime with 3 productions, which should have done much better in its inaugural year. It's my most female-heavy play and fairly easy to produce (one set, mostly) so I've got to think it'll do much better next year.

So a few down results, but the up results are so strong that I can't complain. Plus, as they say in baseball, there's always next year.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Danville Bookshop makes connections

The Enchanted Bookshop got a nice write-up in the Commercial-News of Danville, IL, where the Red Mask Players are performing the play this weekend. (Fun fact: This is the same theater where Hollywood icon Dick Van Dyke got his start.)

Positive feedback is always a good thing, but I'm continue to be thrilled by how people have taken this play to heart. In the article, reporter Brianna Kirkham writes:
[Director Ruey] Sandusky said she feels a special connection to the story because she's an Oakwood librarian herself. 
"I think a lot of kids aren't reading as much now," she said. "I love this play because it inspires people to read more."
Thanks for the kind words, Ruey. I hope you have a fantastic performance!

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Pioneer launches photo contest

My publisher has just announced their first photo contest, which I think is a fantastic idea. For full details, check out their Facebook post below.

I hope all of my loyal followers submit something. I've seen a lot of great photos from my plays, and I think any one of them could win the big prize.

Good luck!

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

I get profiled

I was pleased and a little surprised when my editor Jeremy Johnson said he wanted to interview me as the second in Pioneer's brand new series of Playwright Profiles. Well, that profile came out in their newletter today and I'm really happy how it turned out. Jeremy and I had a wide-ranging conversation, covering everything from where I get my inspiration to whether I'm as big a cat person as my plays suggest.

To read the interview, click here. And if you want to get all of the Playwright Profiles (as well as a ton of other helpful articles), be sure to subscribe to Pioneer Drama Service's twice-monthly newsletter. You'll be glad you did!

Saturday, April 28, 2018

More feedback from Hollywood

To add to my latest post, I just received a second set of feedback on my screenplay for The Enchanted Bookshop, this time from a well-known screenplay-hosting service (sharp readers will get my reference above).

Not surprisingly, these comments covered much of the same ground as the previous ones. This reader didn't have a problem with Book Fairy, but she did think that the way that Margie gets the locked book from Lady in Red seemed contrived. She also felt that the book characters were too passive. In her view, the plot is almost entirely driven by Eddie and Fingers.

One point this reader made that the other did not is that some of the dialogue seemed clunky and forced. I wish she'd provided more details as I'm not sure which exactly dialogue she's referring to.

Writers like to say that you can ignore advice that comes from only one source, but if two or more sources agree, then you've got to take it seriously. Well, both of these readers agree on the weakness of the book character's goals and the implausibility of the Lady in Red's scheme. You'd better believe I'm going to review those in detail over the next few weeks.

The good part? Neither reader thought the screenplay was uncinematic, even though the scenes run long and the entire story takes place in what is essentially a single location. So I guess the revisions only need to be minor. The readers also loved the premise and think the scene where the characters hide out in each other's books (something I new with the screenplay) is a hoot.

Now to get to work on those tweaks...

Thursday, March 29, 2018

You get what you pay for

Feedback is vital to every writer. We can cut and embellish and schlep words around all we want, but until we learn what others think of our stuff, we're just scribbling away in an isolation chamber.

So where do you find that feedback? A writer's group can be a big help when you're starting out. But if you want to take your writing to a professional level, then you need to hire a professional reader.

Eleven years ago, when I first started writing screenplays, I hired several professional reading services to give me feedback. As I discovered, almost all of these places are based in Los Angeles and are staffed by people who read full-time for the studios and earn extra cash by freelancing on the side.

The notes weren't cheap. Two to three pages on a feature-length script set me back $150, although some top-notch reviewers can charge upwards of $1000.

But they were well worth the money. The readers zeroed in on exactly what was wrong with my screenplays.

And there was plenty. The gags were derivative, the situations were implausible and--the kiss of death for any screenplay--the characters were completely unsympathetic.

 I tried to use the feedback to make my screenplays better, but I never got them to the point where I felt comfortable submitting them to managers and production companies.

Well, I must have learned a thing or two over the years because I just received my first set of notes for The Enchanted Bookshop and they were much more positive. In fact, the reader suggested only three minor tweaks to the script:

1) Change Lady in Red's tactics

As anyone who has seen the play knows, Lady in Red tries to sell Margie, the lonely bookshop owner, a cookbook with a lock on it. Why a lock? Because that's where the stolen necklace is hidden. Her intention is to leave the book at the bookshop so that the smugglers can pick it up later.

Well, the reader found it completely implausible that Lady in Red (Mystery Woman in the screenplay) would expect anyone to buy such a book. Also, Margie would be instantly tipped off when the smugglers showed up the next day looking for "a book that don't open". Instead, the reader suggested that Lady in Red pretend to be interested in buying a book, then sneak the book onto a back shelf when Margie isn't looking (which she ends up doing anyway).

It's a great suggestion. Unfortunately, making this change means I'll have to dump some of my favorite gags in the play, but as Faulkner said, we have to kill our darlings. So out they go.

2) Focus the book characters' goals

The reader thought that the book characters bounce back and forth too much between two unrelated goals: saving the bookshop and stopping the jewel thieves. I wanted the book characters to start out being concerned about the shop to get the story moving, then switch to pursuing the other, more urgent goal when they discover the stolen necklace. The reader, however, thought it would be a stronger choice if I tied those goals together somehow.

I'm not sure this is a valid concern, but I'll think about it.

3) Dump the Book Fairy

The reader thought the Book Fairy simply wasn't needed. To her, this world-weary sprite seemed a little juvenile for the audience I'm targeting and had no real purpose in the story other to explain some things that would be better explained by the book characters themselves.

I have to smile at this one because my original draft of the play didn't include Book Fairy as a character at all. It only mentioned her in passing. But then, my publisher suggested I pull her in to provide a juicy role for some young actress. I played around with the idea a while, wrote a few test pages. And when I found that she made the story much stronger, I decided to keep her.

Still, the reader has a point. Something that works on the stage may not work on a screen. I'll have to weigh this one carefully.


So there you have it, a glimpse into the kinds of things that Hollywood thinks are important.

If you're part of a writing group that challenges you, inspires you, makes you better, then I say more power to you. But I still recommend that writers of all levels look into hiring a professional reader, especially if you want to submit to your work to a major contest or publishing house.

Sometimes you really do get what you pay for.

Friday, March 23, 2018

Bringing characters to life

Besides seeing your plays on stage, the best part of being a playwright is hearing the impact your plays have had on people.

That was the case yesterday when I came across a Facebook post from Tiffany in GA. She had just seen a production of The Enchanted Bookshop and described the play this way:
A story about a bookstore that no one visits anymore because no one ever reads books anymore! Sound familiar? Such a perfect modern day tale that reminds us that the characters of a book really can come alive if we just give them a chance! When was the last time you read a book and then missed the main character when it ended? I know I'm inspired to dust off some of our old books and bring the characters back to life!
Thanks, Tiffany! That means a lot to me.

Friday, March 9, 2018

Cornhusker Bookshop builds community

And here's another article about one of my plays, a preview of a production of The Enchanted Bookshop by the Kearney Community Theatre.

In it, co-director Judy Rozema describes how theater builds community in their small Nebraska town. Not only did they get a huge turnout for auditions (75 children for 25 roles), but the kids who got cast come from 15 different schools and represent a wide variety of interests, from die-hard theater types to math whizzes to musicians.

"It just shows you that the arts can involve everyone. It encompasses all sorts of groups of people and personalities. It brings them together to make something that is a joint effort across so many areas of different interests."

More than half of the kids have never acted before.

"And they are loving it," Rozema adds. "This is something that is timeless, something that's not going to die regardless of what the funding does."

Thank you, Judy, and all you hard-working directors out there for making this something possible.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

'Bama Rumpelstiltskin earns raves

I remember the first time I saw my name in print. I was about ten and it was printed in the local paper, the Beaver Dam (WI) Daily Citizen.

I don't remember what it was for, probably some Cub Scout activity. But I remember how proud I felt. And I remember all the greeting cards my parents received with a clipping of the article inside (yes, in those ancient days of the 1970's, they actually sold greeting cards that said, "I saw you in the newspaper...").

So I think it's a pretty big deal when young actors get a mention in their local paper for the hard word they put into the production and the excellence of their performances.

That was the case for this article in The Greenville (AL) Advocate. It's a review of the middle school's production of Rumpelstiltskin, Private Eye and the author makes a point of giving a shout-out to every single performer in this large-cast play.

I hope these mentions mean as much to them as mine did to me. And who knows? Maybe one of them will grow up to see their name in print a thousand times over as a playwright or actor... or even a kindhearted critic.

Saturday, February 24, 2018

Trouble in Paradise Junction video now online

Well, what do you know? My Video page has seen an explosion of hits lately and is now the most popular page on my blog.

I guess I shouldn't be surprised. Directors like to get set and costume ideas from previous productions. Actors like to see how other students performed their parts.

Well, if you're in either of these camps, you're in luck. I just came across two complete videos of Trouble in Paradise Junction.

One of these takes a few more liberties with the script than I like, even changing the title slightly (for the record, I'm good with minor tweaks, not wholesale changes to the dialogue). But the performances in it are excellent and I think both videos will be helpful to other schools and community theaters seeking inspiration.

But--as they say on those late night informercials--that's not all. I also posted a second complete video of The Enchanted Bookshop and the first complete video of Wicked Is As Wicked Does.

And to make the page more useful, I've added info on the length of each video and whether it's the entire play or a particular scene or excerpt.

So enjoy. And keep on posting those videos!

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Great promo for The Enchanted Bookshop

It's kind of hard to read here, but the small print at the bottom of this poster offers a great deal for those attending an upcoming production of The Enchanted Bookshop. Come dressed as your favorite book character and get in free.

What better way to promote a love of reading while getting people excited about your show? I even saw a couple of book lovers on Facebook debating whether to dress as Jane Eyre or Clarisse La Rue.

Me? I'd go as this guy.

Saturday, February 3, 2018

Babka Without Borders to be published

Well, this was a good week. Just days after Babka Without Borders took 2nd place in the Robert J. Pickering contest, Pioneer Drama Service accepted the play for publication.

It's my lucky 13th play with them. And to be honest, I didn't think they'd take it.

As I mentioned before, this play is fairly political and veers dangerously close to satire (which George S. Kaufman famously said is what closes Saturday night).

Also, the play is set in 1910 -- not exactly the most popular time period with high school drama groups and community theaters.

But I'm really glad Pioneer did decide to publish it. It's very funny, even silly at times (a war launched over a babka-baking contest?). It has lots of meaty roles for both males and females. And it has an important message, one that both sides of the political aisle can agree on.

I first came up with the idea for the play during one of my brainstorming sessions. Having just finished writing The Purrfect Crime, I felt it was time for another restaurant play (Million Dollar Meatballs was three years old and had become one of my biggest hits). So I racked my brain to come up with a new twist on this familiar setting.

That's when I remembered a real-life restaurant I once read about. Restaurant Den Engel is just like any other quaint cafe in Europe except for one thing. It lies along the border between two countries: the Netherlands and Belgium.

An image immediately struck me: a restaurant where the border doesn't run along the edge of the restaurant but smack dab through the middle of it.

The kitchen is divided between two countries. The dining room is divided between two countries. Even one of the tables is divided between two countries.

And I gave it one more twist. Whereas the Netherlands and Belgium have long been at peace, I wanted to explore what would happen if the two countries that share my restaurant went to war.

How would the restaurant's staff serve their customers? Would the babkas that the restaurant is famous for suddenly become contraband? And how would a certain maitre 'd win the heart of the waitress he loves now that they're supposed to be enemies?

You can find the answers to all these questions when the play is released this August. Until then, you'll have to satisfy yourself with this short scene (though you can find more on my Free Scenes and Free Monologues pages). In it, the lovelorn maitre d' mentioned above woos that most serious-minded of waitresses.

LUISA: Peter, please. You're in my way.

PETER: Forgive me, Luisa. I only want to ask you a question.

LUISA: Can't you see I'm busy? If Hildegard catches us chatting again, she'll have our heads!

PETER: Too late. I've already lost my head. Over you.

LUISA: Please let me pass.

PETER: Then say yes, and you can be on your way.

LUISA: But I don't even know what the question is.

PETER: I will gladly tell you the question as soon as you tell me yes.

LUISA: I tell you no.

(LUISA tries to go around him, but PETER blocks her way again.)

PETER: All right. Fine. I'll tell you the question. Luisa Brandt, will you go to dinner with me tonight?

LUISA: Dinner? That's your idea of a date?

PETER: What's wrong with dinner? You eat, don't you?

LUISA: If I'm lucky.


LUISA: Look, every morning I make my family a hearty breakfast. Sausages. Eggs. Maybe some ham. There are so many mouths to feed, I barely have time to feed my own. Then, as soon as I finish there, it's time to rush over here. Babka. Kolaches. Knish. All day long I rush around serving food.  Just once I'd like to do something that doesn't involve food!

PETER: Ah, but this is different. This time you'll be the one who is served.

LUISA: You're wasting your time, Peter Bergmann. There's nothing between us and there never will be.

PETER: Give me one good reason why and I'll leave you alone.

LUISA: You want a reason? I'll give you a reason. We're from two different worlds. I'm from the Grand Duchy of Bunkelburg and you're from the Royal Principality of Primwick.

PETER: Oh, but that's such a little thing. Are our countries so different?


OSKAR: He didn't ask you.

GRETA: Well, someone has to tell him the truth.

PETER: Frau Ziegler, how can you say our countries are different when we share so much in common? A common border. A common language. We even have a common love of babka.

GRETA: If you call what those people make babka.

OSKAR: Have you ever tried Bunkelburg babka?

GRETA: I don't have to. It's from Bunkelburg. That's all I need to know.

LUISA: (To PETER.) Do you see? There can be no peace between our two countries. Not as long as a border separates us.

PETER: But Luisa, in love there are no borders.

LUISA: What do you mean there are no borders? What do you call this line in front of you?

PETER: This? Why, this is nothing but a bit of paint on the floor. See, I will show you.

(PETER boldly steps across the line.)

KARL: Um, you can't do that.

PETER: Well, I've done it.

KARL: I know, but you need to show your passport or you're going to get me in trouble.

LUISA: Peter, please. You don't want to get Karl in trouble.

PETER: No. I wouldn't want to get Karl in trouble.

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Seguin Letter takes 3rd at district meet

Congratulations to these talented students from St. James Catholic School of Seguin, TX. Last week, their production of The _urloined Letter placed 3rd at the district level of Texas's University Interscholastic League One-Act Play Contest, making them alternates to State. 

But that's not all. Tex Hermes, who played gumshoe Nick Bullitt (in fedora, above) was selected to the All-Star Cast, while Maddy Dugi, who played femme fatale Trouble Maecker (in red), was named to the Honorable Mention All-Star Cast.

Great job, everybody!

Monday, January 29, 2018

Babka Without Borders takes 2nd in Pickering

It was just announced that my full-length comedy Babka Without Borders took second place in the 2018 Robert J. Pickering Award for Playwriting Excellence.

It's the second time I took second. In 2013, my full-length farce Kill the Critic! garnered the same award.

The award includes a $50 prize, so I'm very happy about that. Of course, it would have been even better if the play had taken first place as that would have come with a full production, but I can understand why it might not have won. The play requires a large cast (9M/12F) and a small-town community theater may have a hard time recruiting that many actors. That's why I targeted the play to high schools, which usually have a lot of talented students wanting to perform.

Still, it's nice to get this vote of confidence, especially since the play took me so far out of my comfort zone. Set in a cafe that straddles the border between two warring nations, Babka Without Borders is my most political play and includes a healthy dose of satire. And yet it keeps one foot solidly in the world of farce.

It's a quirky play, no doubt. But I like it.

And now it seems at least a few contest judges in Michigan do too.

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Another Enchanted Bookshop video

Texas's Fort Worth Academy has just posted a video from their recent production of The Enchanted Bookshop. It's only one scene, but it's one of my favorites--the scene where we first meet the bumbling smugglers Eddie and Fingers as well as the eternally tongue-twisted Officer Ketchum.

And this production includes one other twist. Margie, the lonely book lover who owns the shop, has been turned into a guy.

I think it works well--and shows just how flexible this play can be. Many of the famous book characters can easily be played by either gender--Robin Hood, for one, or the devious Fagin. Not to mention the non-literary characters like the smugglers.

Some schools have even gone so far as to add other book characters to the cast.

If it works, I say go for it. But if you're a drama teacher and you want to make the most of what this play has to offer, don't stop there. Can you team up with other teachers at your school to promote the joy of reading?

Maybe the English teachers can have students read from some of the books mentioned in the play. Maybe the school librarian could launch a reading contest with prizes to be awarded at the intermission of your performance. Maybe the art teacher could have students design their own book covers--whether for real-live books or for books that only exist in their imaginations. Maybe the entire school could have a costume day, when students are encouraged to dress up as their favorite book characters.

When it comes to sharing a love of reading, the possibilities are endless.

Thursday, January 4, 2018

The Purrfect Crime is now available

One thing about getting published. It never gets old.

My twelfth play, The Purrfect Crime, was released by Pioneer Drama Service today and I'm just excited about it as if it were my first play.

There's the first look at the artwork (love the cat, guys!). The updating of this website. The scripts. The T-shirt. And of course, the long, nerve-wracking wait to see how popular the play is.

But this one means even more to me than most because it was the last play I developed in Colorado Springs before moving to Phoenix last February.

I lived in Colorado Springs for 23 years. I started a children's theatre company there. Launched my writing career there. Wrote 3 novels, dozens of theater reviews and 22 plays, 7 of which received their first staged reading or world premiere there.

Most importantly, I made a lot of great friends there.

I love Phoenix. I love the palm trees. I love the hiking. I love the funky little restaurants that can be found in every strip mall (and there are a LOT of strip malls). And yes, I love the climate (even in summer!). This is where I plan to live the rest of my life.

But a little piece of my me will always remain in that lovely little city at the foot of Pikes Peak.

Since The Purrfect Crime was one of those plays that premiered in Colorado Springs, I've already written at length about its development. If you're interested in reading those posts, click here for the complete thread. If you're thinking about producing the play and would like to read an excerpt or review the ordering information, click here.

In the meantime, let me leave you with the play's blurb:
Here's a pun-filled tale of feline fortune that all ages will love! Poor "Big Bob" Little. When this cantankerous old rancher dies. nobody mourrns -- not his eldest child, Cecilia, a hard-driving, money-hungry businesswoman; not middle child, Annie, a holistic, dizzy lass hoping to turn the ranch into a bovine meditation retreat; and not even youngest child, Little Bob, a lovable loser obsessed with the percussive arts. That's why it's no surprise when Bob leaves his entire $36 million fortune to his cat, Wiggles. Just what is a kitty to do with that much money? Enter a pair of purr-suasive cons who claim to be the world's foremost pet psychics. Not to let the cat out of the bag, but it's really an elaborate ruse to steal the kitty's diamond-studded toys. But when the corrked cat burglars learn that Wiggles needs a will of her own, they hatch a plan of have it all -- The Purrfect Crime! Can the family work together to stop a cat-astrophe? Or will they just end up fighting like cats and dogs? The Purrfect Crime is a claw-some blend of hiss-terical humor and cat-scratching action. Let the fur fly!

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Writing twaddle

Happy New Year! Have you made any resolutions this year, maybe one to finally write that long-simmering stage play or novel? Well, you might find some inspiration in this article from the UK newspaper The Guardian.

In it, Travis Elborough and Helen Gordon share some of the hundreds of writing quotes they've collected in their 2017 book Being a Writer.

My favorite? This little gem from Katherine Mansfield: "Looking back I imagine I was always writing. Twaddle it was too. But better far write twaddle or anything, anything, than nothing at all."

This reminds me of the advice my high school writing teacher Ms. Aanrud always told us: Write something. You can always edit it later. But you can't edit nothing.

I've lived by these words ever since. Even when I can't think of anything to write, I'll scribble the worst dreck I can come up with just to get the juices flowing again.

It works. Sometimes it can take an hour or more of painful, pointless scribbling, but it works.

What's the best piece of writing advice you've ever gotten?

Monday, January 1, 2018

A look ahead to 2018

I love New Year's Day. The year is so fresh, so new, so full of hope. Everything seems possible. All that's needed to make it possible is some sensible goalmaking and a lot of hard work.

The hard work is yet to come. But here are my goals for this year, whether sensible or not.

1) Get some traction on my Enchanted Bookshop screenplay

I'd always promised myself that if one of my plays became a hit, I would try to develop it into a film. Well, that finally happened last year. The Enchanted Bookshop burst out of the gate as soon it was released in August and it's been going gangbusters ever since.

It currently has 79 productions either already performed or scheduled, and if these numbers continue, it'll become one of the most produced plays in the country.

I wrote a handful of screenplays around a decade ago, but I never did anything with them. Oh, I paid for professional feedback, but that feedback was never positive enough to give me confidence that they could get produced. So the screenplays just sat on my hard drive--unsubmitted, unread, unproduced.

Well, not any more. This play has already proven itself on the stage and I feel it could be just as successful on the big screen (or more likely, the small screen). All I need to do is finish it, which should take another couple of weeks, and then I'll start submitting it like crazy.

I know it's still a million to one shot, but at this point I'll take anything to show I'm on the right track. A contest win, a request to read the script from a real-live producer. It's all good.

2) Complete two plays

This shouldn't be too hard, but it does require focus. It takes me about six months of writing 1.5 hours per day to finish a full-length play. So if I concentrate solely on writing new plays and don't get sidetracked by other projects (screenplays, revisions of older plays, changing plays midstream, etc.), I should be able to achieve this goal.

3) Publish three new plays

I'm already a third of the way toward this goal. My play The Purrfect Crime will be released by Pioneer Drama Service any day now.

That means I only have to get two more plays accepted for publication. I currently have one play in review at Pioneer, three plays at other publishers and the two new ones I hope to write. So as long as my hit rate stays above 33%, I should be able to reach this goal too.

4) Lead a workshop at the Arizona Thespian Conference

When I was still living in Colorado, I led workshops four years in a row at the very large and very successful Colorado Thespian Conference (including a hugely popular one on the Hero's Journey in Star Wars).

I was hoping to teach a similar class in my new home, but so far I haven't gotten any response from the organizers. In the new year, I'll redouble my efforts to put my name into consideration.

5) Develop one new play with a school or theatre group

Most of my plays are unproduced before they get published. But every year or so, I like to work with a school to develop and premiere one of my scripts. The director and students bring fresh ideas to the material, and the audience response gives me important feedback.

I have already been throwing around ideas with a local middle school that produced one of my plays in 2016. If we can agree on a premise and a date, it should be a go.

But I'm always open to working with other groups. If you're involved with a Phoenix-area school or theatre company and would like to participate in such a project, please email me by clicking here.