Tag Archives: new writing

SHORT FRICTIONS: Collecting a Collection of Short Stories

picI first started talking about publishing a collection of short stories shortly after HOT MESS went live. Initially, I had a set of about eight short stories on themes around artificial intelligence and robots – some written, some ideas – and the group of them should have been out for your reading pleasure about a year and a a half ago.

Obviously, that hasn’t happened.That isn’t to say I haven’t been writing. I have. A lot. And two weeks ago, I realized that what I thought were a couple of reader-ready stories were actually several more than that. Also that I have a tendency to forget when I’ve finished something if I don’t make a big deal of it right away.

Therefore, this post is an announcement of an upcoming publication from yours truly.

Some of the stories I wanted to write wound up not being the ideas I thought they were, others were far longer than I’d meant them to be, and in at least one case, a criticism from a friend crawled into my brain and died there – which isn’t to say that story will never be written, but there were enough flaws with the idea that it needs some serious time and attention before it’s ready for popular consumption. Others, which would have been timely if I’d managed to get them published 18 months ago, now feel a little stale and in need of a reworking that might not have mattered if so much time hadn’t gone by. Some of the stories in the collection will already have seen the light of day, and some are no longer available in their original publications.

Some of these shorts have been sitting on my hard drive for quite some time – in particular, a piece about a vampire during the Holocaust which I wrote over ten years ago and have been too self-conscious to share since then*.

Well, self, time to get over it.

It will likely be a few more weeks before the collection is ready to go, so consider this a heads-up. I have a new book coming out. It will be available both electronically (through Amazon and Smashwords) and in print (via Createspace, which also feeds into Amazon).

The title will be SHORT FRICTIONS, and I hope you will enjoy it.

Meanwhile, I am legitimately terrified, and once the finishing touches are on the publication file, I will be hiding under my quilt in bed.

 

*I still remember standing in Blackstone’s Book Shop on Charing Cross Road, back in 2002, staring at a book I wanted to buy and thinking, on my student budget, I can justify buying this if I write something about it afterwards, then it’s research and that’s totally okay. Since then I’ve shared it with a few friends, as well as an agent who said she’d be interested in reading the novel, should I ever choose to develop it into one, I just haven’t actually published it anywhere. 

Now for Kindle! Mousewings: a post-apocalyptic urban fairy tale

“If you were three mice in a cage, one of you would be the weakest mouse. When the other two mice got hungry enough they would eat the weakest mouse. Eat it until its tumors were lying exposed on its back, or till someone from the lab came in and gave it a shot. Put it out of its misery. We’d do it for a mouse…”

It’s the end of the world. A disease decimates the population. A cancer-researcher’s home is invaded by two escapees from a housing project, making their way to the coast. A giant bird-turned-man haunts her memories. Mice turn cannibal under pressure; are human beings any different?

Over the last two years, I’ve uploaded my produced plays to Amazon. First POST, then Playing it Cool, then Stuck Up A Tree.

Now it’s time for Mousewings.

Bird behind Rin

Rob Flett and Catriona Grozier in Mousewings.

Mousewings was produced in Edinburgh during the 2007 Fringe – my last Fringe in Scotland (for the time being). Written in response to a call for work from the Bedlam theater, a venue run by Edinburgh University, it was also the first play I wrote for a specific commission. As part of the Traverse Young Writer’s Group, I received an email letting me know about the opportunity, and a short while later was sat opposite the venue manager and publicity manager in a pub near Edinburgh Uni, describing two possible plays they might be interested in staging. When I finished, the venue manager nodded and asked, “Which one are you more interested in writing?”

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Alastair Gillies and Rachel O’Conner in Mousewings.

Thus began production work on Mousewings. I contacted Emma Taylor, the director I’d worked with on Stuck Up A Tree, and asked if she’d be interested in working on this one. We held a casting call and found our Bird, Sylvie, Rin and Kyle, and the adventure began in earnest. I reached out to graphic design companies, and Definitely Red created a creepy, haunting graphic for our posters, postcards and program. Rehearsals were held in the Edinburgh Playhouse’s event space, discussions of the play’s relationship to pop culture introduced me to The Walking Dead (the graphic novels) for the first time, and I got to watch Emma and the cast bring this eerie twilight horror tale to life. It was nothing short of thrilling. The play hit its mark, earning reviews that proved it from a number of publications during the Fringe.

After many months and a few false starts, I’m thrilled to announce that Mousewings is now available on Amazon, exclusively for Kindle.

I hope you enjoy the play.

Buy or borrow Mousewings on Amazon.

DraftCover2 copy

NYC Theater Review: GORILLA by Rhea Leman (Scandanavian American Theater Company)

In the Scandanavian American Theater Company’s production of Rhea Leman’s Gorilla, five businessmen and their HR director navigate a weekend seminar on expression and trust. In what is revealed to be an evaluation that could cost them their jobs (and in some cases, far more), the characters’ relationships, personalities, histories and sex lives are laid bare, pride is chucked out the window, more than a few punches are thrown and questions are asked about the role of masculinity in the modern professional world.

We never get a solid sense of what Owen (Albert Bendix), Stephen (Oliver Burns), Robert (L.J. Ganser), Ernest (Alfred Gingold) and Lawrence (Khris Lewin) do for a living, only that for the past year they’ve been doing it rather badly. Their team has had the poorest performance in the company in a year of economic distress (the play is set in 2009), and now they’re at the last of a series of teamwork workshops designed to help them work with more trust and intimacy.

Dragging them down this path of corporate and personal enlightenment is Lillian (Jennifer Dorr White), from the company’s HR department; midway through the play, they are joined by their boss, Thrasher (Tullan Holmqvist), who makes it clear their suspicions of future firings are well-founded. Some murmurs of the role played by sexuality and gender make their way through the blend of analyses and posturing, and it’s in her sexual and animal metaphors that Leman’s play shows both strength and depth.

Gorilla never breaks the fourth wall, maintaining a setting within the walls of a single conference room in sanitized, businesslike shades (to call the pale tones “colors” seems over-ambitious). There are moments, such as one where Owen and Stephen negotiate a possible transaction, where the characters show how deeply imperfect they are – in one particularly insightful speech, Stephen describes his wife and her lack of confidence and her need for affection in a way that makes one wonder if he isn’t, in fact, projecting his issues onto her.

One nitpicky point regarding the translation: midway through Gorilla, Owen explains the meaning of the word to Stephen. Something – I’m not sure what – is missing in the exchange that takes place around the translation of “Gorilla” itself; maybe translation from Danish to English has dulled the comparison’s point? It’s frustrating that it isn’t clearer, since Leman can be assumed to have been making the connection to her play’s title in that moment. Addressing this point more clearly could have heightened the title’s impact for English-speaking audiences.

The individual characters are as specifically drawn as their roles require; while Ernest and Thrasher seem to have limited arcs, the others are more active. One feels as if there should be more weight to Lillian’s inability to make a tough choice, near the end of the play, particularly given the knowledge we’ve already attained via audience privilege.

This is a satisfying eighty minutes of theater, a naturalistic play with a story that gets you somewhere – even if, as the lights fade to black, you’re not exactly sure where you’ve ended up.

 

Rhea Leman’s Gorilla is playing at the Lion Theatre on Theatre Row, 410 West 42nd Street, www.theatrerow.org. For the curious, here’s the production company’s page on IndieGoGo: http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/gorilla.

Getting paid to write.

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In today’s blog, and in light of the issues I’ve read about online and e-published authors have had in getting paid, I wanted to say a few things about writing and getting paid for it.

I hope you’ll excuse me if I meander around a bit. Money for the fruit of my soul is an emotional subject.

I got paid on Thursday for a job I did last fall.

Due to a miscommunication, I never realized they’d requested an invoice.

Within days of raising a question about payment (uh…Monday?)…the money hit my account.

I’ve been wondering what was going on since at least October; I remember having a conversation with a friend who was part of the same project around then. And now I’m kicking myself – why didn’t I just ask the producer at the time, why did I step back and not bring up this question of payment earlier?

I didn’t want to seem pushy or petty. But asking “Hey, what’s up?” at a point sooner than four months after the fact would have saved a lot of time, and that would have been nice. As evidenced by how quickly we figured out what was up once I opened my mouth.

Anyway, I’m meandering.

What I wanted to say was this: it felt SO GOOD to get paid for something I’d written because I *felt* it. The piece I was paid for landed in my lap like a flash of inspiration, and having it produced (even abroad, even when I couldn’t go to see it) gave me the most wonderful, settled feeling in the world.

Getting paid for it today, seeing the money land in my account – that gave me a whole different kind of good feeling.

In our society, money is a potent type of validation. I remember the first time I got paid for writing something. A friend bought a short story I’d written. Later, I felt this kind of validation again when I earned money on my Fringe shows (most notably, “Stuck Up A Tree,” which is now *ahemavailableonKindle*). At the same time, we’re told not to ask about it – to the point where I put off a polite inquiry for four months! How crazy is that?

As a freelancer, a self-owned business, you – much like reporters – are advised to follow (up) the money. Nobody is going to think less of you for asking a question.

And trust me. Getting paid for a passion project? The best feeling ever.

2012 was a weighted year. When I got my 1099s for my self-published work in the mail the other day, the amounts added up to a very small sum. Even smaller, once I sit down, do the math, and send money to the writers, illustrators, designers, co-editors and charities owed for the last quarter or two. Having made a somewhat significant sum a few years ago thanks to commercial freelancing, I appreciate the difference between getting paid to write, and getting paid to write what you love.

But what’s left will still be more more than I made on my creative writing in 2011. Which isn’t a bad trend to be following.

Addendum: I asked for some advice re: photography for this entry, because I stress about things like that, and here’s the best response I got.

Happy New Year! Where I’ve been, and where I’m going in 2013.

Photo Credit: Leah Alconcel

Photo Credit: Leah Alconcel

I hope you and yours had a wonderful end of 2012 and rang in the new year with more enthusiasm than I did – I conked out a little after 11pm EST and didn’t manage to greet 2013 until about 9am this morning.

Time for a quick look back, and a longer look ahead.

2012 was a packed year. I published HOT MESS, had short stories featured on blogs and in Amazon E-Book collections, put together a collection of Zombie Haiku, talked a lot about feminism and vaginas (both here and in public), organized readings, took major artists to task over unethical business practices (with results!) and more.

It was a year of both excitement and disappointment, of keeping things in perspective, of working on myself and how I relate to the world. My cousin and his girlfriend got married, and I fell off the Low Sodium wagon hardcore shortly after (funny how having a size 14 dress to fit into can motivate a girl!).

I wrote about physics, I wrote about politics, I wrote about gun control, I broke 100K tweets (don’t know whether to be proud or embarrassed about that), I edited a novel, contributed to a round-robin short story, got some help prettying up the blog, shared my self-publishing experience, interviewed innovative theatre producers

In other words, it’s been a busy year.

What’s up for 2013?

For the first time in years, I’m kicking off with a more-or-less clean slate. The writing projects I had planned to carry into this year are either at good resting points, or they’re not going forward due to external circumstances. I have an idea for a feature I’d like to play with, and I’d like to do more theatre work this year (last year, my short play MILLENNIAL EX was performed as part of Glasgay UK in a program of short works on marriage equality, and that’s re-whet my appetite for playwriting after a small break for other formats). I’m going to continue publishing my produced plays, which will join POST and Playing It Cool over on Amazon, just as soon as I lock down cover art for the new pieces (and by the way, if you’re interested in doing cover art for my plays, please let me know).

As I normally do around this time of year, I’m moving diet and health back to center stage: went grocery shopping yesterday and have gone back to only buying low sodium foods and healthy, nutritious snacks. We’ll see if that lasts much beyond my first day at work.

I spent a lot of time in 2012 on my mental health and well-being, and plan to keep moving forward with that in 2013.  I’d like to travel more, and have started trying to reconfigure finances so this is more than a pipe dream. I’d like to get more involved in activism and political issues – something I did more of in 2012 than I had in 2011, but still an area where I want to contribute in the future.

Thanks to everyone who helped make 2012 a memorable year – here’s to making new memories in 2013.

 

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All Your Edits Are Belong To Us

It’s stupid o’clock at night and I’m up and staring, bleary-eyed, at a monitor filled with prose.

I am inserting commas and full stops, changing tenses, and occasionally leaving what I later realize to be horrifically acidic commentary in the margins – calling out a character’s actions, bringing up the effect the writer’s having on me, as a reader, and advising as to whether I feel that’s the appropriate effect for the moment.

I’m in the middle of editing another writer’s first novel. I am fucking tired, and I’m terrified I’m going to miss a typo’d pronoun.

There’s not a lot I can say about editing that isn’t going to make me sound like a jerk. I’ve done it for over a decade. I’ve done it professionally. I’ve done it and gotten paid for doing it (and yes, I can send you a rate sheet).

I’ve edited as part of teaching undergraduate journalism. I’ve edited my own work, I’ve edited the work of my peers, and a few months ago on this blog I re-edited part of The Hunger Games to highlight  the entirely lackluster job done by its editor.

I tweet Twitterers from my home stream and correct their grammar, and call out people I’ve never met before (and whose points I agree with) because they’re lazy with their language in conversation. My excuse? “It’s the editor in me.”

This marks the first time I’ve ever edited someone else’s novel. It wasn’t easy, but it was a hell of a lot easier than writing a blog post about editing. Because what can you say about editing?

You’re essentially telling a parent with a pretty decent kid – all the limbs, everything where it should be, no vestigial body parts and no major diseases – that their happy, healthy kid isn’t good enough yet. You’re pointing out every pimple, every crooked tooth, too-short eyelashes, the pouches of fat around the kid’s middle. “You don’t say that like that,” you say. “Wait. Wait. Take an extra beat there before you keep talking.” It’s like pageantry coaching, only on the page instead of the stage.

Now imagine you’re doing this to the firstborn child of one of your close friends. And as much as you respect your friend’s dedication to their child’s career, there are a few things that could really up her chances of winning. Or in this case, honing a successful and clear representation of the author’s original intention, in the author’s voice, plus finding all his typos. And you don’t just have a responsibility to the parent who hired you, you also have a responsibility to the book itself (or the toddler and her beloved tiara). If you slack or try to spare feelings, it will ultimately hurt more than it helps.

I’ve been reading pieces and versions of this book for a few years now. I’ve seen a couple different incarnations of the book, and I’ve peeked in intermittently, over the years, on the journey the author’s had in writing and now self-publishing it. This time, I fixed typos, changed pronouns, and did my best to help make the experience of reading the book frctionless. It was the first time I sat down and read the book all the way through. Beginning to end.

Saying anything more would be spoilers.

A Grand Design – Cover Art Input Needed

Last week, I announced my intention of publishing my produced plays, to date, on Amazon. Given that the plays are in performance-script stage, and putting them together is largely a matter of technicalities, I started planning my cover design – because that’s really what I need at this point.

I spent a few minutes discussing my ideas with a co-worker (happy to name him/link to his tumblr if he sees this and would like, but also want to respect his privacy) and his perspective as a graphic designer was (as the opinions of graphic designers always are) quite useful.

Basically, he confirmed my feelings: my produced plays should have a unified look, which meant a unified design that can stretch across multiple plays (while also separating them from my other fiction).

So I started looking at the published plays I own. Here. Have a look:

 

(And yes, that is my foot in the corner.)

 

So, these plays. I could talk about these plays a LOT. Like seeing David Tennant for the first time in PUSH UP, and thinking, “Man, he just LEAPS out from every single other person on the stage.” Or how much it meant when Jo Clifford, who was my MFA supervisor in Edinburgh, personally addressed a copy of EVERY ONE to me. Each of the other plays has its own story; if people want to read, I’m happy to blog them in the lean times. Or maybe they deserve their own book.

Anyway. So, having studied the plays, here were my thoughts:

1. Samuel French and the Marlowe both demand that the reader know the playwright before purchasing. The newest of the plays, Ali Smith’s The Seer, was probably a well-performed piece, the play’s blank title and lack of imagery doesn’t really speak to me; I saw it (probably reviewed it) but the blank cover doesn’t give me any kind of aide memoire. I don’t remember much about The Seer, or ever feel inclined to pick it up. No good for a newish playwright, then.

2. The black-and-imagery with the colored spine of the NHB releases speaks most strongly to me as a reader. The images are evocative. They feature live performance stills – and this is where my plan to use these as the template falls down. I don’t have live performance shots of all these productions. I could do video capture stills, but…

3. A number of plays (Clifford’s is just an example) featured imagery rather than literal representation of events portrayed in the script; Yazmin Reza’s DESOLATION is another example of this. (Reza, for those who don’t make the immediate connection, also wrote ART). THE NIGHT SHIFT by Mark Murphy is somewhere between items (2) and (3), with a stylized image that evokes the mood and staging of the play, if not the literal photos one might expect to see.

Where did all this bring me?

The following four versions of an image. Your thoughts would be much appreciated. I’ve settled on the basic elements: the lefthand colorbar and wash over the rest of the image (color will probably change from one play to the next) and the representational photography, but the way those are used, the photograph itself, the fonts that the play names (which, for those who want to know are POST, Playing it Cool, Stuck Up A Tree and Mousewings)…those are all open for discussion.

But I’m trying to make a basic template. And I’d appreciate your input. Here’s what my ideas amounted to on Thursday night:

Please share this on Facebook, Twitter, Reddit…anywhere you think might be useful. Opinions on this one are crowd-sourced. Let me know what you think, and know your thoughts are appreciated.