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Archive for the month “April, 2013”

WRITING CONFERENCE POST-GAME

So, I recently spent a weekend in St. Louis at the Missouri Writers Guild annual conference. It was a great time. As much as your friends and family may support what you do – whether it’s writing or model railroading or serial killing – there’s nothing like spending time with others who aren’t just supportive, but actually understand what it’s like to do what you do.

I arrived on Friday night to discover a hotel overrun with writers. But not just writers. Turns out ours was not the only event the hotel was hosting. There were also dancers, child beauty queens (think “Toddlers in Tiaras”) AND old people who build miniature replicas of stuff. My little writer-heart soared. SO. MUCH.MATERIAL.

So, after the obligatory turf war, the conference got under way. Took a while to get my wind back. Let me tell you, you get pounded in the tenders by a toddler running at full speed with a head full of hair-spray, well, you don’t walk that off right away.

After that though, it was a weekend full of enlightening workshops on a range of topics. Something for everyone from the person who has yet to put pen to paper to someone published several times over, wondering what to do next. There was quiet time for actual writing and lots of time to chat with very nice literary agents, editors and others. I got to bounce some of my ideas off people who may or may not help make them become reality, but were still great sources of advice and encouragement.

Oh, there was lots of food and a bar too.

And then I went home. Tired, but inspired. When you work in a vacuum, as writers often do, it’s easy to forget you’re not alone. If you write and want the public to consume your wares (that sounds dirty), you owe it to yourself to find a conference near you and go. You’ll thank me. Hopefully with alcohol.

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MILKSHAKE

Sometimes the drive across town with my three-year-old is pretty quiet; he’s too worn out from play time, I guess. Other days, he’s very chatty. On those days, we play little word games to pass the time. This often involves random lists of silly things. On one particular day last week, my boy was, as he frequently does, talking about ice cream. He is always on the lookout for an ice cream truck, operating under the delusion that I’m going to run said truck off the road and get him a treat.

There was no truck around this day. Woe be to that poor driver if there was. My boy wants some “blue ice cream” dammit.  Still, the conversation turned inevitibly to the frozen treat. It went something like this:

ME: I want a milkshake.

THE BOY: Milkshake? You can’t shake your milk.

ME: No. I mean, like ice cream.

THE BOY: There’s not milk in ice cream….

ME: Well, actually, there is. You kind of mix it up, and…

THE BOY: Don’t mix it!

ME: That’s how you make a milkshake. You…

THE BOY: You gonna spill it.

ME: Um…

THE BOY: You better put a lid on it so you don’t spill it.

ME: Okay. I’ll put a lid on it. Anyway, a milkshake-

THE BOY: Hey, Dad. We played “Red Light, Green Light” today.

I’m usually pretty mentally fatigued by the time we get home.

But that’s what it’s like talking to a…toddler?…preschooler? Pre-pre-adolescent? (So not ready for that yet.) In fact, on some level, that’s pretty much what it’s like talking to everyone. We try all the time to be heard. At home, at work. Everywhere. Then, once heard, to be understood. We wade through waist-deep chatter, get to the other side of the conversation swamp, but, by then, the leprecaun has moved the damn rainbow and the pot of gold is gone forever.

I mixed a LOT of metaphors there. My kid would totally get it though. He gets me.

And this makes me happy.

MEET ME IN ST. LOUIS

This coming weekend, I’m blowin’ this pop stand. Goin’ on the lam. Gettin’ out while the gettin’s good. Taking a powder. Hittin’ the road. Vamoosing. Road trippin’.

In other words, I’m off to a Writer’s Conference.

Specifically, the Missouri Writers’ Guild Conference in St. Louis.

“Why?” you ask.

Well, lots of reasons. A weekend surrounded by people who love making up stories as much as I do. A chance to rub shoulders with successful writers, publishers, editors and agents. Many small and large-group workshops on a variety of publishing topics. And,the big draw, opportunities to talk one-on-one with professional literary agents about your work-in-progress.

It’s like Comic-Con without the cosplay. Except for me. I’m going as Boba Fett. No chance those agents will forget me now.

This is an important part of being a writer – the conference, not the cosplay. That’s your call. Princess Leia’s gold bikini anyone?

If you want to write for public consumption, write as much as you can, of course, but also get up from the writing surface you choose to take up residence at (in? around? on top of?) once in a while and interact with all humans in general (except the ones creepier than you) and literary humans in particular. You get important feedback on your specific works and a general mood-lift. “Yes,” you can say to yourself. “These people are weird too and they’ve made it. I guess I can do it too.”

At the conference, there will also be time for writing in solitude without screaming children and noisy pets. There might also be drinking.

There probably will be drinking.

I hope Bilbo Baggins is buying.

PLAY FESTIVAL: RECAP SO FAR

So, this is still going on:

NEWGROUND playwrights fest

Last Friday night, my play FERGUSON PAYNE’S SOLE PROBLEM, a comedy about the writing life, fate versus free will, and footwear, went up as part of group one, along with three other fabulous shows:

SAYING GOODBYE by Dana Moss-Peterson, a sweet little play about an elderly couple on an epic journey.

THE BACKFIRED MESSAGE by Jason Platt, a comedy about love and loss set against the backdrop of a fortune cookie fortune-writing company. Sure, sure, we’ve all seen that setting before :), but this is a funny show.

THE RETURN by Dee Canfield, an epic about family and the secrets that define us.

(All these descriptions, by the way, are my own creation after seeing the shows as part of a packed audience. The other playwrights may describe them differently.)

So, night one got done and I thought, “Wow, my play, as much as I like it and despite the warm reception, was the weakest of the bunch.” That’s not a bad position to be in. The point is this was an un-toppable night of entertainment.

Or so I thought.

Then Night Two came. Maybe, I was just more relaxed since my play wasn’t one of them being performed, but I may have liked these plays even more than Night One, though it’s a tough call:

LEAP DAY by Dana Moss-Peterson about a chance meeting between a man and the love he lost one year and one day earlier.

POTSDAM by Shea Doyle about the plight of Germans in America during World War II.

1706 FARNAM by Mary Katherine Gale is a little story about a woman returning to her childhood home to confront secrets about her family and herself.

THE RED OVEN by Devin Hansen is a quirky comedy about a man working for his aunt at a rundown movie house in the 1980s who is visited one night by the ghosts of James Cagney, Mae West and John Wayne.

I loved all these plays. If I had to pick, though, I’d say The Red Oven is my favorite only because, as an offbeat little comedy, it’s more in keeping with my own play.

With each of these works, as both author and audience, I found much to love. Also, caving to my inner competitiveness, I saw many things of which I was envious. (“Oh! That’s an awesome character! I wish I thought of him!” Or “Damn, that’s a great line! Wonder if I could steal that.”)

As I write this, Sunday afternoon, Group 1 is going up. My play is probably onstage RIGHT NOW. I have geographically-resilliant goose bumps. April 26 will see Group 2 again, Group 1 on April 27, and Group 2 for  a final time on April 28.

If you’re in the area, go see the show. If not, go find a local theatre near you and check out the plays they’re putting on with actors and crew and maybe even writers from right there in your own community. These theatres put out fantastic entertainment – usually with very limited budgets. Hell, maybe you’ll even get the bug and get up on stage yourself or a write a play of your own.

Let me know if you do. Giving people the gift of entertainment in whatever way you can is a great thing.

GET FUZZY, DUDES

Back in their golden age, the 1930s and 40s, the daily newspaper comic strip was an event. People couldn’t wait to read the latest exploits – both funny and adventurous – of their favorite characters. People talked about comic strips around the water cooler at work. A good strip was the equivalent of a viral video with lots of hits.

But over time, a lot of the classic, older strips, though still producing, lost their edge and maybe their relevance. But they’re still there, day after day. Sarge still pounds on Beetle Bailey. Dagwood still naps through chore time and crashes into the mailman. Garfield still eats lasgna and pushes Odie off the table.

Charles Schultz died in 2000 after fifty years drawing the legendary comic strip “Peanuts”. That was, it seems to me, the, perhaps unofficial, death of comic strips. Since then, everyone’s kind of been spinning their wheels.

There are some exceptions, at least in my opinion.

One of them is “Pearls Before Swine” by Stephan Pastis. The strip features a rat, named Rat, who is arrogant and hostile, and his friend, the kind-hearted Pig, They hang around with Goat, the level-headed one, and Zebra, who is constantly feuding with the dim-witted crocodile next door who wants to eat him. The strip is a melange of light social commentary, witty repartee, and bad puns. It’s actually a tad out of place on today’s more staid comics page (my local paper doesn’t even run Doonesbury).

The other strip I really like is “Get Fuzzy” by Darby Conley.Everyman Rob Wilco has a kind-hearted, if dimwitted dog named Satchel (could be a brother to Pig in some sort of weird, illustrated, inter-species comic cross-breeding scenario) and a hostile, but also sort of dense, cat named Bucky. This strip is perhaps a little less nasty then Pearls can be and Conley tends to focus a little more on high-concept word play rather than bad puns. But I like it.

One Fuzzy strip in particular has stayed with me long after Dagwood’s exploits in domestic angst or Edison Lee’s brilliant mind has dimmed in my own. It was the January 9, 2010 strip. I’ll try to describe it here, but you can see it for yourself here.

In the first panel, Rob Wilco is sitting at the kitchen table eating breakfast. He glances up, mid-chew to see a slightly worried looking dog he doesn’t recognize sitting next to him.

Rob: Who are you?

The Dog: A deceptively tricky question. Subjectively, I am a consciousness traveling through what I perceive to be space and time.

The next two panels have Rob and the Dog just sort of staring at each other. Then the final panel:

Rob (pointing at his plate): Waffle?

The Dog: Yes. It is. That one was easier.

That strip just kills me. So much so that three years after it ran in my local paper, I went looking for it on the Internet. Why do I like it so much?

Well, for one, WAFFLES. Duh.

But I also like it for what it says. It’s reaching for something more than the typical daily four panel comic. Yeah, the real point is to just make the reader chuckle for a couple seconds before moving on to the obituaries, but I like that, with this strip, in that couple seconds, I’m also thinking about something bigger than what the Lockhorns are fighting about. I’m laughing at the biggest question of all: WHO THE HELL AM I? The dog doesn’t know. Neither do I. Not really. Who does?

I’m no philosopher. The only class I ever withdrew from in college was an entry level philosophy course because we spent the whole first week dissecting what it would be like if a chair had feelings. (Conclusion: it would suck to be a sentient chair. It took a week to get there.)  But that strip…

I’ve read Plato and a Platypus Walk Into a Bar: Understanding Philosophy Through Jokes by Thomas Cathcart and Daniel Klein. I’m reading right now Doctor Who and Philosophy: Bigger on the Inside which is edited by Courtland Lewis and Paula Smithka. So, I guess I like flirting with philosophical thought without the commitment to a philosophical ethos. Also, humor helps.

Chairs with feelings? Not funny.

Dogs with existential angst? Hilarious.

Whatever that says about me, sign me up for more.

STUFF I’M READY FOR MORE OF

Every so often, I think, “Man, X was really awesome. I wish I had more X.” Then, I think, “Goddamn, that sounds way too much like algebra. I need a drink.”

The point is, we all experience things – food, drink, film, lubricants or other myriad experiences we crave to have again. Sensory overloads or deprivations we can’t wait to strap into again.

I thought it would be fun to compile a few of those cravings of my own here. Feel free to share yours in the comments.

A third season of “Flight of the Conchords”. Sure, Brett went on to win an Oscar for “Man or Muppet” from “The Muppets”, but Jermaine needs you, man! And so do I.

The return of Pizza Supreme flavor Doritos. Seriously. I WANT THEM RIGHT NOW.

An “X-Files” movie that finally climaxes the mythology arc of the show. That sounds weird. And sort of dirty. According to the mythology woven throughout the nine seasons of the show, the aliens that were present on Earth long before humans and became the black oil (or something) were set to re-colonize the Earth in 2012. How awesome would it have been to have a movie come out IN 2012 where Mulder and Scully kick alien ass? Sure, that boat has sailed (stupid calendar), but they could still do a great movie. Come on, Chris Carter! And, hey, Vince Gilligan, “Breaking Bad” is about done. You’re looking for work, right?

A simpler time, by which I mean 1979. When I was my kids’ age, outside of school, I had almost no “structured” time whatsoever. And I was fine with that. I ran all over, biked or walked to and from school and to friends’ houses. Stayed out until dark. Didn’t have a whole lot of after-school activities. And now, as an adult, I’m only a little weird. I sometimes feel like my kids, whose whole days are monitored and structured might be missing out on something.

A “Greatest American Hero” remake. Remember that show? William Katt played a high school teacher who gets stuck in the desert with Robert Culp’s FBI agent. Some space aliens hand Ralph a suit and cape that gives him super powers, but he loses the instruction manual. The whole show was Culp and Katt fighting crime with Katt usually crashing into things because he didn’t know how to fly. The plots were thin, but the chemistry of the characters and the concept were good. Ten-year-old me ate it up. In the modern age, post 9-11, an age of environmental awareness (sort of), threats of terrorism, and, frankly, a need to laugh a little too this could work if someone was serious about a quality show. Make it happen, Hollywood. I’m waiting. *Taps foot impatiently.*

Sleep. If you have young children, you know what I’m talking about….what were we talking about?

WHAT’S ON MY TABLE?

Ah, April!

The time when a young man’s fancy turns to love…

of a good spring cleaning!

Or something like that.

I have  a little home office upstairs in my house. I had an office in the last house we owned too, but it was in the basement. It was a decent room, except for the bugs and the occasional mouse. Oh, and the fact that I froze down there about eight months out of the year. It was bigger than what I have now. Plenty of room for my…friends, four-legged and four-plus-legged.

So, in the newer house, the office is upstairs. Much like the old office, however, it gets pretty cluttered, pretty quick. And, like the old office, nothing much ever happens on the cleaning front.

It’s been going on that way for years. I clearly cannot be trusted to do this by myself. Because of that, and because I needed an easy way to fill this space this week quickly (did I mention, in addition to cleaning, April also brings spring fever?), I present for you now an itemized inventory of the things on my work table, which I will then sort and file away, leaving a pristine, fully functional work space.

Hey! Where you goin’? We’re just getting started. Scoff if you want, but someday, when the cornerstone for the official library dedicated to me is laid, this blog post will take the place where my “papers” would have in a bygone era. How that works is your problem. I’ll be dead.

So here it is:

Two Nook readers. One is mine, the other’s my kid’s. We’re a Nook family. When the first generations e-readers came out, I liked the interface on the Nook better so I went with that. Since then, Kindle has pretty much leapt past Nook and Nook is threatening to sputter out of existence-as-we-know-it. But still, here we are.

Several CDs waiting to be loaded onto my iPod. Judging by the bands – U2, Everclear, Bare Naked Ladies – you’d think I haven’t bought any music since 1990. I have. Honest. Just not what’s represented on my work table right now.

A Roger Ebert quote.  Upon the recent death of the famed film critic, he was quoted a lot. This was one of my favorites:  “I believe that if, at the end of it all, according to our abilities, we have done something to make others a little happier, and something to make ourselves a little happier, that is about the best we can do. To make others less happy is a crime. To make ourselves unhappy is where all crime starts. We must try to contribute joy to the world. That is true no matter what our problems, our health, our circumstances. We must try. I didn’t always know this, and am happy I lived long enough to find it out.

Someone’s conception of what a TARDIS really looks like that I found on the Internet. I have no idea who did this, but it’s a schematic of what the time and space travelling vehicle from Doctor Who really looks like when it’s not disguised as a 1950s British Police Box. It’s presented in pseudo-science babble. Perfect for geeks.

Various charger cords for electrical thingys.

The Fabric of the Cosmos by Brian Greene – Started reading it two years ago. Never finished. That’s not a knock on Brian Greene. Quantum physics and related disciplines are intriguing to me, but when I read about them, the knowledge doesn’t stick. My fault, Not Dr. Greene’s.

A hand-drawn St. Patrick’s Day Card from my daughter. We’re not Irish, but she likes to make cards.

Downton Abbey: The Complete Scripts – Season One. Did I mention I’m a geek?

A print out of a 2008 newspaper review of a play I was in. The play was “Twelve Angry Men” and it was awesome. Not because of me, but I was in it.  Why is it on my desk five+ years later? Not a clue. Latent narcissism combined with bad cleaning habits?

Which, come to think of it, is probably why I wrote this post.

You can all come back now.

ON THUNDERSTORMS AND CREATIVITY

Actually, I’m not sure the two things in the title have anything to do with each other. I just really like that title. Here, look at it again:

ON THUNDERSTORMS AND CREATIVITY

Or maybe this way:

On THUNDERSTORMS and CREATIVITY

I think maybe I like that title because the whole household (well, everyone but, remarkably, the three-year-old) was awakened by a thunderstorm one day last week in the early morning hours. Storms with lots of thunder and lightning are…electric. Just ask Ben “I just charred my skivvies for science” Franklin.

Going to sleep with the rain going pitter-pat is soothing. Reading a book by a picture window while a storm rages outside, equally so. There’s something about the rumbling, the lightening, the way a storm can turn day into night that fuels the senses.

Ergo, the storm which left me exhausted from lack of sleep, fueled my creativity.

You know what it feels like when you go outside right after a heavy storm? You really can feel a charge in the air. Experiencing real creativity is like that. Thunderstorms create electricity and dead earthworms (shut up, they do to. You ever see an earthworm wandering around when it hasn’t been raining?). Brainstorms create a downpour of ideas and new projects.

The fact that I haven’t been extraordinarily more productive since the night of that storm, other than a catchy title on this post is no matter. I’d say I’ve been a normal week’s worth of productive. It does nothing to undercut my thesis. Nothing at all.

NOTHING.

After all, what if we hadn’t had a thunderstorm? My creative endeavors – books, plays, getting out of real and meaningful housework and avoiding my family – might all have cratered had I not been awakened at 3 a.m. by a storm, reawakened at 3:30 by my kid saying said storm was scary and again at 4 a.m. by the storm. There’s no way to know.

THUNDERSTORMS AND CREATIVITY – THEY GO TOGETHER.

THEY ARE THE CHOCOLATE AND PEANUT BUTTER OF METEOROLOGICAL ACTIVITY.

I wrote this blog post didn’t I?

Thunderstorms also make logic air-tight.

I’m really tired. Also hungry.*

*MMMM. Chocolate and peanut butter. *Drool*

MY PLAY: AN UPDATE TO THE UPDATE

So, this is happening:

NEWGROUND playwrights fest

I am one of the seven playwrights who wrote one of the eight one-act plays, four of which will go up each night. My play FERGUSON PAYNE’S SOLE PROBLEM will go on as a quasi-hybrid staged reading/full performance-thingy (it’ll be good, trust us) in “Group 1” on April 19, 21 and 27. Check out New Ground Theatre’s website for more information.

Here’s a bit from the press release:

GROUP ONE:

(Performances Friday, April 19th, Sunday, April 21st and Saturday, April 27th)

Ferguson Payne’s Sole Problem by William Allen Pepper; directed by David Turley

A play set inside a weary author’s head when his characters start questioning their fate. Abe Lincoln appears as himself (and footwear and doughnuts also appear as themselves).

Leap Day by Dana Moss Petersen; directed by Patrick Gimm

A chance encounter leads one person to their dreams and another to let go of the past.

The Return by Dee Canfield; directed by Don Hazen

Past and present generations connect when a young woman delves into family secrets. Will the truth further estrange her from her family, or help her to make peace with the past?

The Backfired Message by Jason Platt; directed by Patrick Gimm

A humorous look at relationships, business and other forms of insanity all centered around a fortune cookie.

GROUP TWO:

(Performances: Saturday, April 20th; Friday, April 26th, and Sunday, April 28th)

The Red Oven by Devin Hansen; directed by Don Hazen

A comedic portrayal of a young man in the projection booth of an old theatre who meets three iconic screen legends with their own selfish agendas.

Potsdam by Shea Doyle; directed by Chris Jansen

1706 Farnum by Mary Kay Gale; directed by Chris Jansen

A woman returns to her home after her estranged mother dies. Is it to help the survivors, or unburden her conscience?

Saying Goodbye by Dana Moss Petersen; directed by Don Hazen

A heartfelt tribute to the playwright’s grandparents.

Go on. Take a chance on these! Support local theatre! What have you got to lose? If you hate ALL the plays (and, really, what are the odds of that?), you can always go get drunk later and forget them.

WHEN IS PROCRASTINATION NOT JUST WASTING TIME?

In the March 7 Dork Tower comic strip, a character muses how he’d love to write a novel, but just doesn’t have the time. That’s upwards of 60,0000 to 100,000 words! Then he decides to tweet about his lack of time – his 52,000th tweet or about a million and a half words.

That’s funny.

‘Cause it’s true.

Here’s the strip. Go laugh, then come back.

Writers do spend a lot of time on Twitter. They spend a lot of time playing with the cat, getting snacks and packaging toe jam for future reference too. But Twitter, in particular, has captivated them.

Why? Well, honestly, it’s partly to promote their work, or their “brand” by mixing it up with their fans and anyone who could become a fan.

But we also like Twitter because we’re lonely lonely LONELY people. Being a writer requires bring okay with being alone a lot. We’re okay with that. But sometimes that witty comment or interesting observation won’t wait until the spouse comes home. So we inflict ourselves on Twitter.

Does time spent doing that take away from writing time? Maybe a little. Writers who juggle writing time with full time day jobs and family that like them enough to want to see them once in a while feel this acutely. Writing in short bursts here and there is hard, especially with a long form work like a novel. It’s hard to see the whole picture when you can only take time to look at a few pages in any one sitting. Carving out even more time for Twitter seems to undermine the goal. right?

I’m not sure about that. Twitter provides me with contacts, tips for finding info I need to improve the work, and just plain fun. Fun is good for the brain. In moderation, as with all things except alcohol and chocolate chip cookies where more is definitely MORE, Twitter is a good thing. I spend less time actually writing the novel, but I think the quality is better.

At least that’s what I tell myself. You may disagree. Go ahead and comment if you want to disagree. I dare you. Tell me your favorite time waster- er, guilty pleasure – er, productivity enhancer.

I won’t be looking anyway. Too busy with the cat video link I just got off Twitter. Pass the Cheez-Its.

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