Monday, August 23, 2021

Belmont diary: First draft done

Or, in the theater world, END OF PLAY.

It always feels good to type those three magic words. It feels especially good when you have a hard deadline and you manage to finish five weeks early.

That's how I felt today as I emailed the completed script of my commissioned play to Chris Parsons and Susan Dempsey at Belmont Day School.

Six weeks ago, when we first discussed the play, I wasn't sure I'd make it. At ninety minutes, the play is one of the longest ones I've ever written. It also has by far the most roles. In the past, a play like this typically took me more four to six months to write. Knowing that, I started writing an extra half hour a day--two hours in total. That definitely helped. 

But I got lucky too. I don't know if it was the pressure of the deadline or just the story itself, but everything just seemed to click. All the characters came to life with their own unique personalities and their own agendas. The plot points all fell into place. And things that I'd introduced in the first scene suddenly took on a whole new meaning when I got to the last scene. Amazing when that happens, but it happens more often than you'd think.

As for the goals I set for myself after completing the rough draft, I was only moderately successful. I was able to cut the lead role's lines from 163 to a slightly more comfortable 154. But balancing the acts proved to be a little tougher. I only managed to slim down Act One from 56 to 54 pages and boost Act Two from 24 to 25 pages. I wish I could have done more, but I was afraid that any additional surgery would kill the patient.

One of the challenges with this particular play was coming up with a place to hide the treasure which the audience could figure out for themselves but wouldn't be so obvious that everyone would figure it out. I think I came up with a good one--a location that's fully visible to the audience for the entire duration of the play. I even provide a clue in the form a riddle that one of the characters finds, but it's coded enough that it should he tough to solve.

Still, every mystery writer knows that solving the mystery isn't enough. You also have to include a big fight scene or some other physical confrontation after the mystery is solved to serve as the climax. Something that puts the detective or whoever is solving the crime into real danger. It adds tension. It adds excitement. And it shows exactly what the hero was risking all along by poking their nose in.

In The Butler Did It!, the climax was the murderer attempting to smother the helpless butler with a pillow. In Lights! Camera! Murder! it was the murderer trying to trick the perky publicist into drinking poison.

This play is lighter than both of those so I made the climax lighter as well. Instead of putting a character in danger, I put the treasure itself in danger through some humorous swordplay. I think the moment works well, but I'll have to see what Chris and Susan think.

That's another reason it was nice to finish early. We now have five weeks to revise the play before rehearsals start October 1.

And that may prove to the hardest part of all.

Wednesday, August 11, 2021

Still waiting...

So it's been sixteen months since I signed with a literary agent and I feel as far from getting a book published now as I did then.

Book publishing is slow. And COVID hasn't helped. Because of the uncertainty of the effect the pandemic would have on book buying, editors put off making offers and already scheduled releases were pushed back several months or more. Things are opening up now, but I'm not sure the publishing work is quite back to normal.

I currently have three books out on submission--one has been out since April 2020--and I've only gotten a few rejections (which is good) and no nibbles. The proverbial molasses in January is faster.

The first book to go out was a chapter book adaptation of The Enchanted Bookshop. It isn't the play that many of you are familiar with. Instead, it's a new story featuring many of the same characters and their adventure inside the novel Treasure Island. My agent, the illustrious Stephen Fraser, submitted it to seven publishers--all big houses where I wouldn't have a chance of getting read without a rep.

As far as I know, it has received one official rejection but I believe that Steve heard from several other publishers that they're not really interested because he's stopped pushing it. And that's disappointing. I thought the concept was a natural for an easy reading chapter book series but that one rejection said that the premise seemed familiar and that the execution seemed old-fashioned, especially with characters like Pollyanna and novels like the Robert Louis Stevenson swashbuckler.

I can't argue with her. It is old-fashioned. On purpose. I can't use contemporary characters and novels with obtaining the rights and I can't be sure those will even be available to me. Besides, the popularity of the play has proven that teachers want to teach their students about these classic books. I still think the book series would find a ready tie-in with library summer reading programs and grade school curricula.

The second book was a middle-grade novel about a kid inventor titled Edison Young and the Ravenous Robosaur. I first wrote it way back in 1999, way back when the world was still innocent and carefree (yeah, right). The novel badly needed updating, but I was able to take care of that in a couple months and sent it off to Steve in August. He absolutely loved it and promptly submitted it to six publishers and even handed it off to the agency's film agent.

So far, Edison Young has received four rejections. One publisher loved the humor but said the set-up and execution felt overly familiar. Another said she found the concept intriguing and the imagery well-done but she didn't fall in love with the writing enough to take the plunge. A third thought the book was too short and the story undeveloped. And the last one brushed it off with a perfunctory "not my cup of tea."

Steve hasn't given up on this one yet, but new markets are few and far between.

And that brings us to my third submission, a chapter book version of Wicked Is As Wicked Does. This one is a direct adaptation, featuring all the characters and plot points of the play. But that title is way too long for a possible series so I shortened it to just The Wickeds.

I was worried about this one. The first two got immediate and extremely enthusiastic responses from Steve. In fact, he read them both in just a few days. And he sent them out to publishers a day or two after that.

This one was different. Six weeks after I sent it to him, he still hadn't read it.

Wait. Let me change that. He started it, but hadn't finished it. Which may be worse than not starting it at all. At least that can be blamed on being busy. Stopping halfway through can only mean one thing. It didn't grab him.

I thought the book was done for. Kaput. Dead on arrival.

Then, a few days later, I got the email. He finished it. And he loved it, calling it "completely hilarious."  As it turns out, he really had been too busy to finish it. He had a boatload of deals to negotiate.

He ended up sending The Wickeds to--not six, not seven--but eleven publishers. That was a month ago and I still haven't heard anything.

Do I wish things moved faster? Yeah. Is it driving me crazy? Kinda. But I just keep reminding myself that I'm in a much better position that I was two years ago, when I didn't have anyone representing me.

The books are out there, somewhere. And any day, I could get The Call (or, more likely, The Email) telling me I'm going to be a published novelist.

In the meantime, I've got the play commission to keep me busy. And a couple more play ideas I'm burning to write.

This is, after all, is the writer's life. Never stop writing. And never, ever stop hoping.