Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Back in the Saddle: A Tuesday Post of Accountability

I have just finished my word count for the day! Huzzah. 

It's been a little too long since I've written steadily and this month I'm determined to get back on pace with my WIP. At the moment I'm just shooting for 1000 words a day for the rest of the month. I'll pick up the speed once I pick up the story momentum.

This morning it felt like pulling teeth. All awkward. All "Where are the keyboard keys I need to make the words?" 

But I did it. 

Now to do it again.

And again.

And again.

Again.

And once more with feeling....

Monday, March 2, 2015

Time to Panic

My writers group, UGWP, has this thing where you can 'call for a full.' You see, normally, we just hand in chapters or short stories, take them home, and then meet up the next month and give verbal critiques. If you call for a full -- that means that you hand in your full novel manuscript, let the group read it over the next couple months and then your work is the only thing discussed at the pre-arranged meeting date.

In January, I said I'd like to call for a full in May -- meaning that I will hand in my completed manuscript at our meeting on May 31. Everyone said cool and VOILA! I suddenly had a deadline.

Then I got cast in a couple rather large roles. Which is SUPER GREAT! Right? Oh yeah.

However, Dead Man's Cell Phone totally ate into my writing time...and I really, really, really need to get my manuscript done. And I'm suddenly down two months. So now I'm in full-fledged panic mode.

I'm gonna hafta write like the wind.

So I've decided to re-implement the Tuesday Posts of Accountability starting tomorrow. So, if you're working on a challenging writing project, please join me in sharing your progress over the course of the next few months.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Sarah Ruhl's Stage Directions

Dead Man's Cell Phone Production Poster (Designed by: Linda Nichols)

Sarah Ruhl is the second most performed playwright in the United States -- second only to the Bard his own self. This is the last weekend that it will be performed in Colorado Springs at the Springs Ensemble Theatre.

In other words: this is the last weekend I'll be playing Jean.

I cannot tell you how much I love doing this play. If I could, I would perform it every day. A lot of that love is due to Sarah Ruhl's writing style, which, as a writer, I sooooo appreciate.

One of the coolest things Ruhl does as a playwright is her stage directions. They're almost like poetry themselves. And, while specific, they still let the director, designers, and performers go to town creatively.

This is where there's a big ol' difference between writing for the stage versus writing for movies versus writing novels.

Movies tend to break things out simply: Character A and Character B fight. (And there you have about twenty minutes of any Transformer  movie.)

Novels (short stories, etc.), of course, will spell all of that out: Character A hurls a chair at Character B. The chair cracks in half over Character B's head, carving a gash across B's forehead. And on and on -- perhaps with Character A is drinking a gin and tonic.

This is how Sarah Ruhl chooses to present a fight scene in Dead Man's Cell Phone:

A struggle for the gun. 
Perhaps an extended fight sequence
with some crawling and hair pulling. 

That magical word 'perhaps' leaves everything open but she's also managed to convey exactly what this particular scene needs. Sure, you can do an extended fight scene and both Character A and Character B can be drop dead serious about what's going on -- that's definitely one way to go. But the other is to follow that 'perhaps' and you get something far more in tune with what the rest of the text suggests: this is a kinda ridiculous situation -- but there's a gun so you better take it kinda seriously. Somewhere in between is the sweet spot...and the writing in the stage directions hits that note just perfectly.

Something else that happens in Ruhl's writing -- and is noticeable in the above passage -- is that she breaks lines the same way poet's do.

A struggle for the gun. This is very straightforward. And it's its own paragraph/line/sentence. Note there's a period.

Perhaps an extended fight sequence This fragment is left hanging. But it's a singular thought too. This is like a line of poetry -- a piece that is it's own thing but is still connected to the next line...which is kind of a turn.

An 'extended fight sequence' call to mind something very serious. Then Ruhl changes the tone with the next line:

with some crawling and hair pulling. She finishes the thought with something unexpected -- which is how the fight sequence should work.

We know from the rest of the play that at least one of these characters should just not be involved in a fight sequence. Because it's ridiculous. Absurd. And the stage directions are written in a way that reflects this. It could be written like this:

A struggle for the gun. Perhaps an extended fight sequence with some crawling and pulling.

Reading it that way feels different. (At least to me.) To me, this way feels more throwaway.

I once heard an interview with Ruhl and she said that one of the most frustrating things about watching performances was that the director/actors/designers were so busy trying to put their own stamp on a piece that they didn't worry about 'birthing' the story. She already wrote everything down. The story is there...and she left enough flexibility to give the director/actors/designers to come up with something really creative. So why not just tell the story?

Our director said that if we have any questions, to look to the script first. Everything is there. And it is. We've taken Ruhl's notes and tried to make magic. I think we've done pretty good too. Here's a review from Broadway World Denver. If you're in Colorado Springs this weekend -- you can snag tickets (hopefully) at 719-357-3080.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

The Year In Reading 2014 and Onward to 2015

According to Goodreads -- my only real authority on anything reading-wise -- I read 64 books in 2014. My first thought upon seeing that was, "Bummer. I didn't read the 100 I set out to read."

My second thought was "Whoa! 64!"

I also made a pretty good dent in what I dub my Complete Works Of Project. Basically, I said I'd work my way through William Shakespeare, Stephen King, and Jane Austen. And work I did. I haven't hit the end of Will and Steve, but I did read all of Jane's Completed Works. (I still have to read her juvenalia and some of her incomplete works to say I've read everything...but that's a project for a different time.)

Surely, having read so much last year, I must have an opinion on some things, yes?

Why yes I do.

Jane Austen
The woman is, of course, a bad ass. My faves are Northanger Abbey, Emma, and the quintessential
Pride and Prejudice. I also really enjoyed Persuasion, which is kind of like a baby P&P. Sense and Sensibility gets an 'okay' as far as I'm concerned.

I have to tell you, five outta six ain't bad.
Jane's Mistake Park



But, man Mansfield Park can go suck it. What a preachy load of preachiness. Everyone's a jerk. When you're cheering for the rival, there's a problem.









Stephen King
I've read almost 40 King books at this point -- including his two newest ones Revival and Mr. Mercedes. (See? Say you're gonna read a living writer and they come out with multiple books in a year, just to make sure you can't quite catch up...ever.)

Revival -- what a dark bummer of a book. A great bildingsroman, but dark. Damn. Not even horrific. Just DARK.

Mr. Mercedes -- more of a mystery/thriller kind of romp. Easily on par with J.K. Rowling's new nom-de-plume Richard Galbraith stuff. So, not bad. Not great. But not bad.






William Shakespeare
All I'll say is that I'm reading his early comedies right now and I'm trying not to hate him as a misogynistic butthead. And this is after coming off early histories....

Faves of 2014
The Martian by Andy Weir (badass survival on Mars)


The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving (surprisingly funnier than I anticipated)


The Secret Place by Tana French (the ultimate frenemy book)


What If? Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions  by Randall Munroe (non-fiction, crazy shit)

Not so Faves of 2014
Mansfield Park by Jane Austen (sorry, Jane, this one's a stinker)
Writing with the Master by Tony Vanderwarker (the story of how John Grisham didn't actually help a dude write a novel)


Now that 2014 is over and in the books (ha!) time for my goals for 2015.
1. Continue to plug away at William Shakespeare and Stephen King.
2. I've added in Virginia Woolf.
3. 56 books total for 2015 -- not necessarily all Complete Works Of Project.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Better Read Millennials, Stephen King's Ancestors, and a Piece of Writing You'll Never See

Here's a round-up of cool reading/writing news that I've come across recently and thought you'd enjoy too!

According to a new Pew Research Center Study, as Slate reports, Millennials are better read than previous generations. 

No real surprise that James Patterson is the top-earning writer -- coming in at $94 million this past year -- according to Forbes' list of top earning writers. And, of course, my super-hero Stephen King is also on the list.

Speaking of Stephen King...

He'll be on "Finding Your Roots," hosted by Henry Louis Gates, Jr. on September 23. Check your local listings!

And King has also done a recent interview in The Atlantic where he talks about teaching English...with great sympathy for teachers.

Onto another hero: Margaret Atwood. Unfortunately, you'll have to live another 100 years before you get to read her new work. She's agreed to write a piece for a time capsule-ish art project.

Friday, July 18, 2014

ART

Here's what I've been working on -- stage managing! The guys, in order of trailer appearance are: Emory John Collinson, Matt Radcliffe, and Aaron Jennejahn. The director is Sarah Sheppard Shaver.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

How Joining a Theatre is Helping Me Hit My Reading Goal

Good news! Recently I joined one of the best theatre ensembles in Colorado Springs: The Springs Ensemble Theatre (SET) -- so I'll be doing a lot more theatre throughout the year. It's super-exciting to join such a professional group of people and lots of things went through my head when I joined up: auditions! lighting! set construction! an inordinate amount of paint and make-up! fundraising! (And, yes, fundraising actually did cross my mind.)

What didn't actually cross my mind -- and it's very strange because duh -- was the amount of reading involved.

In five days, SET will meet to discuss the plays pitched for the next season. There will be debating, discussion, and voting. But in order to do all of that...first I must read.

And read a lot.

There are about twenty-ish plays to read.

I must say, to be required to read as my first real theatre task...it doesn't get much better.

There are a couple original plays being pitched -- so they're not published yet and not on Goodreads. However, with my reading challenge being 85 books this year...I'm super glad that most of these plays count towards my total. Nothing like checking off several different goals with one swipe, eh?

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Maggot Pie: Braggin on a Buddy

I cannot cannot cannot tell you how much I love this gal Traci and her writing. Go read it. Now.

Maggot Pie

Friday, March 7, 2014

A Clockwork Orange: The Book, The Movie, The Play

Tonight is the opening night of Theatre 'd Art's production of A Clockwork Orange -- in which I am playing Alex's mother and the orderly who straps him into the cinny contraption. Aside from the insane story, the insane in-your-face staging (we're doing it promenade-style), and the insane insanity inherent in the piece itself...this has been a basic, not-insane lesson in storytelling for me.

At this point I have three experiences with the story of Alex DeLarge: book, movie, play.

Basic storyline (for those who may not know): Alex is a Beethoven-loving gang leader in a dystopian world dominated by troubled teenagers. One night his raping and pillaging goes too far and he kills a woman, is betrayed by his droogs, and is carted off to jail. He hears about this new psychological treatment created by this dude, Ludovico, which gets you out of jail faster and decides to participate in the treatment. The catch: he will get sick every time he is confronted with violence. He will be made "good," but only because the doctors have mind-fucked him. As he tries to sort out his new life, the question becomes:

Is being good at the cost of personal choice bad?

To illustrate his point, Burgess created several scenes of crazed depravity at the opening of the story. And this depravity is what got me thinking about how certain elements in a story are told. The (what I'll call) visceral-ness of A Clockwork Orange is revealed in a different way for each manifestation of the story. In each of the variations, there is an alteration in how some things are handled.

The reason these situations are handled differently for stage, screen, and page is because different mediums create different levels of visceral-ness. It seems painfully obvious. I've heard some people say movies can do some things better than books and vice versa...but I'd argue it's not a matter of better or worse, just different. Throw in a third medium, like theatre, and there's and additional round of elements that work differently. (Man, I feel like a need a thesaurus.)

However, adaptations can tell the same story with the same level of visceral-ness. You just have to adjust how the story is shown/told.   

For example:

Sex with the Girls
In the movie version of Clockwork, Alex hits on a couple girls at the music library and they go home and have lots of sex -- portrayed in a time lapse. Now, movies have an automatic 'fourth wall' built in. There's some distance created by the screen. So how to make Alex's Lots-o-Sex scene impactful to the audience?

The visceral element of the scene is inherent in the amount of nudity (totes nude, folks) and the time lapse element itself which indicates hours are passing and they just keep having sex in a variety of positions, attitudes, states of dress, etc. Not to mention how long the time lapse goes on....This scene is one of many used to show how jacked-up young Alex is.

However, Burgess didn't have a time lapse available to him with just words. If a picture's worth a thousand words, then a time lapse would probably be worth a gazillion and Clockwork would be more like a Proustian exploration of depravity and the reader would be so bored by the infinite descriptions he wouldn't get to the hospital scenes until Volume 7. What does Burgess do to show how fucked up Alex is?

In the book, the girls are ten. Ten years old.

See what happened there? It took one sentence and a fragment and I bet you're thinking: That's fucked up. The reaction is from your gut. It's visceral in its visceral-ness

The play doesn't have that scene at all, and I bet I know why...so to illustrate, I'm going to talk about another scene:

The Rape Scene
I said before that movies have an inherent fourth wall, and generally plays do as well. However, while we understand Malcolm McDowell touched his co-stars and wore a penis mask on his face, we're still protected by the screen.

In theatre, you're watching a real live human touch another real live human right in front of you. The only protection is air.

Our production is even more intimate than that. In a promenade-style, you go to the action, it doesn't come to you. When Alex rapes F.Alexander's wife, he has her bent over a couch right in front of your face. In the end, the lights go off at the very crux of the moment -- and the audience breathes a sigh of relief. The theatre doesn't have to go as far to create a visceral reaction because it's right there. If we cut the clothing off of our actress's breasts and stripped her down like Kubrick's movie, it would be far too much.

Going back to the Sex with the Girls scene -- if a theatre did that, it would be too much. Plus, I think there are laws....

So, the next time you see a movie or a play based on a book and something's different -- just keep in mind that sometimes things get changed so the impact of the story is the most effective.

And here's the trailer to Theatre 'd Art's production. Opens tonight! If you're in Colorado Springs, we run this weekend, next weekend, and the weekend after.