Tag Archives: new writing

Plays of Place: Edinburgh Fringe Plays

While living in Edinburgh, Scotland, my favorite month of the year was August. Why? Because of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival (currently running in Scotland’s capitol city).

At my first Fringe, I saw at least a hundred plays. Then I lost count.

Three of the plays I saw over the years – Playing it Cool, Stuck Up A Tree and Mousewings – remain especially important to me, because they were mine. They were markers of what I accomplished each year I was in Edinburgh, and now when I look at them there are so many memories crushed up between their lines it’s like opening a photo album.

Playing it Cool, a romantic dramedy that takes place in my home town of Buffalo, New York, had its world premiere at the Pend Theatre at the now-defunct Gateway Campus of Queen Margaret University. It’s the earliest of the three plays, and I was astonished to see, while watching videos of the production, how much stronger it played on film than in the tiny pend theater. It taught me the necessity of using space well in theater, and of making physicality a necessary part of your script. This would come in handy on my next Fringe play – which you’ll hear more about in the future – Stuck Up A Tree.

But back to PiC. Through the Buffalo theater community, including playwriting professors, local directors and adjunct faculty, and the support of the head of the University at Buffalo’s theater department, we received funding for two actors and the local director to travel to Scotland and perform Playing It Cool  for a week’s run.

Other than a few attempts at getting the shows picked up, I haven’t done much with these play scripts, and it occurred to me the other day that this is one of the problems with playwrights: our work may be staged, but what happens once the curtains fall down?

Over the next few months, I plan to release the scripts for my three Edinburgh Fringe plays on Amazon; likely through KDP. This will require formatting and artwork, as well as some thought about how I want to package each piece. So it’s going to take me some time. Ultimately, it’s likely a hard copy version containing all three plays may be available. I’m trying not to think about the details too much just yet, and come up with a good over-arcing strategy – advice welcomed.

The three plays are very different – romance, a children’s show, and a post-apocalyptic tale of class conflict & survival – and form an interesting snapshot of my early playwriting career. I’m excited (and a little terrified!) to be sharing them with you – part of why I’m writing this blog, because it makes this more of a promise. Now you can bug me about this, if I drag my feet.

Gulp.

Zombies for Sale!

Art by Nick & Miranda Doerfler

Like Zombies? Want to help raise money for a good cause?

Miranda Doerfler and I have co-edited a short collection of Zombie Haiku, by internet users from around the world. The collection was published yesterday, Friday the 13th, and is now available on Amazon, Smashwords and in hard copy on Createspace.

  • If digital isn’t your thing, you can buy a paperback copy of the collection from CreateSpace for $6.99.
  • Own a non-Kindle e-reader, or like reading things on your computer? Then Smashwords is where you can pick up a free-range e-copy in multiple formats for just $.99.
  • Tied to your Kindle? We’ve also made a copy available for Amazon Kindle users, again for $.99.

Miranda did a brilliant job putting the final product together and (with her brother, Nick) on the artwork. The range of poems each writer submitted were so much fun to read and work on, and the collection is really, really fun to read.

Part of the proceeds will be donated to Doctors Without Borders. So it’s not just about having a good time…it’s always about helping to save the world!

Want to buy a copy, but need some guidance on formats? Comment below and I’ll help you get it sorted. Authors who have not yet received a code for their free copy (available from Smashwords) should get in touch with Miranda or myself and we’ll sort you out. 

Writing Spaghetti

Right now my “writing plate” feels like it’s full of a dense, stodgy pile of concept-rich spaghetti. Everything is tangled up with everything else, and once I get through this plate of stuff I know it’s going to take a long time to digest.

I try to do three entries a week here, and after the pointed focus of the recent vaginathon, it’s been tricky to find a topic that doesn’t feel self-indulgent and limp by comparison. It’s because of where my various projects are at, I know: that frustrating time between initial brainvom and settling-in.

I have two short stories that need to be worked on; in putting together a collection for this fall, I’ve wound up with little screaming chunks of fiction waving their arms and running around my mental writing desk. I’m trying to keep them in a drawer and only take them out one at a time. Working on one becomes a distraction from the other, then working on the other takes some of the tension out of working on the first.

One, I have to go back through and re-thread a point, because of something I took for granted that turned out to be false. It reminds me of the maps they make of the London Underground – disproportionate, based on connections. I can choose a different point – something that fits the descriptions and scenes I’ve already written (in which case the tapestry of the story still needs to be reviewed in full, to make sure the patch doesn’t show) or I restitch the scenes from the ground-up. Either option will work. I’m just not sure, yet, which choice will result in the stronger story.

The other has a distinct theme in my mind that isn’t coming out yet in the text. The full text of the second story has not been written yet. So this is okay, if gelatinous.

A friend’s novel needs proofread. I should go to the gym. I should be out in the city, enjoying today’s gorgeous weather, doing something instead of home and hunched over the computer, particularly given the abatement of the heat wave of the last few days.

At the very least, I should take a shower.

I’ll start with the shower.

Public Action/Performance: Reading The #VaginaBlogs in Union Square Monday Night

It’s been a week since I first heard about Vaginagate; just four days days since one of my personal heroes performed her groundbreaking and award-winning play The Vagina Monologues in Michigan, in theatrical protest of the censure of two women representatives on the floor of the State House.

Over the weekend and through the day on Monday, I organized a solidarity action with a group of women in New York City; internet participants contributed links to their own #VaginaBlogs, speaking out about what had happened and how it related to women’s health and women’s issues in America today.

I arrived in Union Square with a colleague who had volunteered to come along, though she didn’t intend to read. There, we eventually found @ItsMeMarisol and her daughter, as well as @gavechase, @storygirlsarah, and one of the editors of The Veillee Blog. It was about twenty minutes past six on Monday night in Union Square – a bustling, busy time – and we didn’t have signs and we didn’t have an amplifier. Plenty of people had shown interest in the event, and we weren’t sure how to find them. There was one woman standing and looking around near the corner I’d tweeted we’d be waiting at, and the group sent me over to see if she was looking for us.

About five steps away from her, I suddenly jerked to a stop when I heard:

“VAGINA! VAGINA! VAGINA!”

The girl looked up – but she wasn’t the only one. Heading back to the group, we quickly decided the shout made for the perfect punctuation; we’d shout the chant three times, then we’d head into the first blog entry. Then we’d shout again. Then we’d read some more.

We stood in Union Square and read out the blogs that had been written: blogs by mothers, by clergy, by straight white guys, by poets, and by other – well, Ensler called them “Sheroes” during her speech on the State steps (thanks to the commenter who left a link on my previous VaginaBlogs post).

As we read, a crowd gathered. As one woman observed to me afterwards, it was mostly men who were stopping and listening – but they were listening, not leering or heckling. And the women who stopped were smiling and nodding and staying, too. From the crowd, a young woman walked up to us wearing a white t-shirt that read: “I <3 MICHIGAN VAGINAS!” She looked thrilled. I asked her if she’d like to join us; she accepted immediately, grabbed a blog entry, and jumped into line.

Once I finished reading Vagina Vagina Vagina, we shouted our chant again and moved on to  @ItsMeMarisol’s daughter. Then @ItsMeMarisol herself; this was when something amazing happened: another woman in the audience walked up to me and asked what we were doing. I explained, mentioning Eve Ensler’s performance. At the mention of Ensler’s name, the woman looked shocked. They knew each other. I was shocked; talk about a sign. (And yes, before you ask, when I got home I did my homework – she was legit.)

As we read, a crowd gathered. People approached us, asked questions. One man stood seriously for several minutes, reading to himself from Sare Liz Gordy’s blog on the idea of the Universal Feminine Painbody.

We read for about 45 minutes. It was an amazing experience. Due to noise issues, recording video didn’t work too well – but I’ll try to grab some captures from the one video that did survive and post them some time soon.

@ItsMeMarisol and I have discussed having another action in NYC, and several more bloggers have posted #vaginablogs in response to the call for work. If you haven’t already, I strongly encourage you to check out the blogs that have already posted, and if you wish, to contribute yourself.

Thank you to everyone who contributed, everyone who’s read, and everyone still to post #vaginablogs. Let’s keep this conversation going.

Photos of the event from @gavechase: bit.ly/11LVtiI

Thanks, Planet! HOT MESS Gives Back.

Cover design by Sarah Hartley

When I approached Eric, Sare Liz, RJ and Miranda about working on HOT MESS: speculative fiction about climate change, one thing we agreed on was that a portion of the proceeds from the book should benefit climate-change-related charities.

Well, the first batch of royalty payments are in, and we’ve made donations to both the Climate Science Defense Fund and the Earth Island Institute, with more to come.

If you haven’t yet, buy a copy of HOT MESS, (available for Kindle, Nook, Smashwords and in print) and help contribute to spreading ideas and combating climate change.

Miranda and I will be releasing HAIKU OF THE LIVING DEAD, a book of Zombie Haiku submitted from internet users around the world, on Friday, July 13th.

Conflicting Emotobooks?

Somebody get me an emotobook, stat. I need to figure these things out.

There’s been a steady background buzz/chatter, via the usual social network suspects, regarding emotobooks for about a week now. I looked into them about a minute ago.

Near as I can tell, an emotobook is a book created for consumption on digital platforms, with a text injected with pieces of abstract visual art. That art is meant to evoke a certain mood or feeling being experienced by the characters, thereby bringing a new level of emotional involvement to its readers.

Color me socked in the stomach. Is this a new evolution of the book, a new bridge in the gap between unillustrated texts and graphic novels? Is the writing/illustration a collaborative effort? What is the quality of the writing and is it possible for writers to create a piece that doesn’t wind up leaning on the ability of painting/artwork to provoke emotions? What does this mean for the commercial future of painting as an art form? Is using abstract art to evoke emotion in the service of the written word a new thing, or is this just an updating of the classical idea of illustration? Knowing how some authors have had negative reactions to having their works illustrated, what is the level of interaction between author and artist, here, and what will it become if emotobooks take hold as more than as passing fad? If an editor feels a writer needs “help” pulling an emotional reaction from their audience, will the decision be to make the writing more resilient and communicative, or to throw in a graphic that “nudges” the reader in the right direction?

Anticipating the answer to that last question makes me a little nervous, particularly in light of my feelings on the quality of writing in some recent bestsellers. At the same time…it’s an exciting idea, if executed well, and potentially opens reading up to much larger audiences. While my gut frets, “What about the ghettoization of unillustrated fiction?!” my mind replies, “Don’t be an idiot, art is not a zero-sum game.” So for now, I’m going to tell my gut to shut its big mouth, and see where emotobooks take us.

On the reader’s side, I’ve only heard good things about the experience of reading in this form, and I’m glad of that. Mostly, people are talking about the emotobooks making it possible for them to connect with what they’re reading to a degree they hadn’t quite understood before. A new way to open up the classics? I’m in.

Think about it: haven’t you ever had the experience of watching a movie, and that making it easier to get through a classic work of literature? I wouldn’t have been able to make my way through Jane Austen (who I grew to adore) if I hadn’t had the six-part BBC miniseries to help me learn how to read them to hand. But some writers don’t lend themselves (in my experience) to quite the same kind of graphic dissection. I’ve got about a hundred pounds’ worth of books by Russian writers, and as many times as I try, I can’t get into them.

Maybe I’m reading crap translations. But maybe having some emotionally evocative visual art inserted into “Crime and Punishment” would help me – and other readers – follow along.

Weekend of Epic, Part 2(B): No Sleep. Not even in Brooklyn.

When last we left our heroes, they were devouring burgers at the Shake Shack in Madison Square Park. Midway through the meal, a bird flew in and grabbed burger out of one of our diner’s hands. I missed that bit, because I was getting my meal, so it’s entirely possible that they had decided to try and punk me with their darkly disneyesque tale of carniverous parakeets.

The world may never know.

We left Madison Square Park a little after two, Eric and Erin heading down to the WTC and me taking Miranda and her friend out to another of my friends’ apartments, in an old neighborhood where I used to live in South Brooklyn. The plan had become, over lunch, to get back together that evening and go for drinks at The Whiskey Ward.

On The Highway of Kings

As we rode the subway out to King’s Highway, my old subway stop (back in the days before the Lower West Side), the three of us alternately joked and chatted, discussed how totally stuffed we were, and pointed at interesting things (like the Statue of Liberty) while I told dramatic stories of being stranded at Cortelyou when a train went down on the track, and getting unceremoniously dumped off the subway and told, by the MTA, to “figure out” how to get home. Fifteen dollar taxi ride. Thanks, buddies.

We were bringing a bottle of wine and picking up ice on the way, which meant I got to take Miranda and her friend to some of the supermarkets I used to go to. First thing that hit me was just how much cheaper the groceries out there are. I mean, I shop at Trader Joe’s and try to be frugal, but as we walked past piles of fresh produce, my eyes nearly bugged out of my sockets. I spent a moment looking at the ice in the freezer. How much to bring? There were three of us, three bags would do.

Brooklyn was cooler than Manhattan (physically, not metaphorically, although at some times this too seems to be the case) but it was still hot out. If not here already, Summer was definitely coming. As we walked to my friend’s apartment, I pointed at shops that had been replaced and described what the neighborhood had been like when I last lived there a few years ago.

The party was great. We sat in the sun, ate dips and veggies and olives and steamed pork rolls and my friend’s AMAZING lasagne. There was a tequila bottle shaped like a gun; only thing missing was the trigger. And then someone mentioned that there was shade on the back porch, and we started a “pale people party” back there, which turned into a discussion about video games between Miranda, my friend’s nephew, and the my friend’s brother-in-law. Miranda and the nephew were trading tips. The nephew could not have been older than five. SO CUTE.

And Now for The Whisky:

If you’re over 21 and reading this blog, and you’ve never had single malt scotch: stop right now. Go to the nearest bar and chat with the bartender for a few seconds. Then ask her or him if you can please see the bottles for the Laphroaig (La-FROYG) or the Caol Isla (Cal as in calories, and Isla as in Fisher or Duncan or whatever her name is). Take the caps off and smell those scotches. Then come back and keep reading.

If you’re under 21, only time can help you.

Drink responsibly.

Now That You Understand What Good Whisky Smells Like:

Me, Miranda and her friend – we’ll call him K, from now on, which is so Kafkian it gives me a shiver, but whatever – walked into the Whiskey bar having discussed the fact that when someone said scotch, K kind of wrinkled up his nose a bit and made noises about how Jack Daniels or whatever NOT SCOTCH THING he had had wasn’t something he fancied.

Now, Jack Daniels is not Scotch. Scotch, for those of you who haven’t lived in the homeland of the thing for 4 years, is made in Scotland. It’s regional. It’s like champagne can only be made in that region of France. It has four ingredients. And yet different brands of scotch will taste as different to one another as apples and oranges.

Couldn't you just go for one right now?

We will get back to this in a moment. Eric and Erin arrived, and Eric and I (the drinkers of the group) went to pick up cocktails. I tried one of the bar’s specialty cocktails – something with maple syrup and marinated bourbon cherries? – but truthfully it wasn’t my thing. After passing cocktails around (cocktail etiquette, you understand, demands one allow one’s drinking partners the opportunity to avail themselves of your superior taste in libation), we all relaxed a bit and started just chatting.

I think that was the first point in the weekend when I realized just how “on” I’d been since the Thursday night reading, and it was definitely the first point at which I felt like I could really relax. Nowhere to rush off to, nothing more to worry about except enjoying the drinks and the company. Writing issues had been settled, future projects discussed, social engagements and tour guide duties fulfilled with great enthusiasm, and it was FINALLY time to just hang out with friends.

Because we were waiting for a couple more people to arrive, the second round of cocktails was more of a timing stop-gap. A whisky sour for me, this time. (Sidenote: Had an interesting drink called a New York Sour the other day – basically a whisky sour with a red wine float on the top. It does something interesting, kind of cuts the acid of the lemon in the sour. Worth checking out if you get the chance, and aren’t terrified at the idea of mixing red wine and whisky.)

Having reached the end of our cocktails, and still lacking two members of our party, it was time to switch to the real stuff. Standing in front of the list of available choices, the conversation became very serious. Which whiskies to try? What were the options? We wound up with an Aberlour, an Ardbeg (or was that switched to a Laphroig at the last minute?) and a Caol Isla. Yes, I ordered two whiskies. Refer to the cocktail rule, above. Plus, the fact that K thought Jack Daniels was whisky. *shakes head*.

Back at the table, we started the familiar three-card shuffle of passing glasses around the table, having the non-drinkers smell the whiskies, the drinkers take small sips. It was around this point when @CLImagiste and his wife (she who would, over the course of the night, become known as @codekneesocks) arrived, having battled trains all the way from outside Manhattan to get to us. And the whisky. They took the Bourbon route – and this was when things started getting interesting, because now we could illustrate how different regions making the same thing with the same ingredients could taste so completely different. Whisky – particularly the ones I favor – have a smoky quality to them. I like to go as smoky as possible when it comes to whisky, which is why Caol Isla, Laphroig and Ardbeg are good standbyes. Bourbon, on the other hand, has a much sweeter undertone. In fact, writing this, I kind of wonder what it would taste like if you took a sweeter bourbon and a smokier whisky and used them together to make a whisky-bourbon-sour. Would need to be exactly the right brands. Hrm. Suggestions in the comments!

I think one of my favorite things in the world is watching people who don’t know about whisky as they realize just how many variations there are on this most excellent beverage.

Somewhere in all of this, a discussion arose between me and L, @CLImagiste’s wife, and somehow it came up that apparently, in Catholic school, there is a code around the way in which the female students wear their knee socks. I want to say more about this but it involve’s someone else’s upcoming project, and it’s not my place to give hints as to the content of that work. But suffice to say I thought it was hysterical and the next morning when L signed up for twitter her username was @codekneesocks.

By now, it was getting to the time in the night when people want to eat things. After quick debate, we narrowed our choices to two potential spots: The Meatball Shop (LES branch, which was packed) and a Grilled Cheese restaurant. That served wine.

I don’t know how to make you understand how unbelievably good this grilled cheese sandwich was. Mine tasted like nachos. It was unbelievable, and pretty soon we were cutting off slices of different sandwiches and trading those around like they were cocktails, too. That’s one thing I *love* about eating out in New York, particularly with people who care about food. Everybody really *wants* everyone else to have the experience of trying whatever it is they’ve tried, and afterwards you have even more of a shared experience to talk about with them because you’re not just commenting on the feel of the restaurant, the service, etc. – you actually know the tastes the other people are referring to, and they know the same for your meal.

This was how the weekend ended up, then: at a tiny grilled cheese place on the Lower East Side, drinking wine and chatting with friends both old and new, before we all ultimately had to scatter back to our real jobs. More good-byes at the end of the night, and Miranda and I walking back to my apartment, planning what time we’d get up the next morning in order to make sure she got to her bus on time.

When I got home that night, I took a few minutes to write down in my journal – the calligraphically personalized one I’d picked up the day before – about just how happy I felt about the whole experience and about the specific things that had gone rightly and made me glad and hopeful about doing it again.

And Then Came Sunday

The next morning went quickly. Miranda and I popped into the cheese shop around the corner and she picked up some gifts for her family, then we walked over to the clothing fair on Broadway and she picked up a t-shirt and an Indiana Jones hat. Subway up to Times Square, walked her to the bus stop, came home.

Crashed.

Jurassic Park kind of became our mascot for the weekend. So it was cool to see this lying on the shelf at Goodwill when I wandered up to shop while crashing. I saw this movie four times in theaters when it came out.

So that’s that.

I just looked at my computer’s clock; as of this writing, all this happened just a week ago. The post is scheduled for early June. Either way, in either direction, feels more like a lifetime than just a few days.

A lot of times, in the arts, people talk about making sure your creative soul gets fed and with his reading I feel like I went from starving to sated to gorged on that front.

It reminds me how important it is to spend time around writers, and how important it is to schedule things like appearances and retreats and other writerly experiences, where you get in a room with other people who practice your craft and, for a little while at least, don’t have to worry about communicating the various frustrations and impossibilities of what you’re trying to do every time you fire up your computer and open a word document.

In that way, the weekend of the Hot Mess reading was pretty much an all-you-eat-buffet for a writer’s soul.

I hope reading about it has helped stimulate your creative appetite.

So What Now?

I have three upcoming projects on the horizon, and will be talking about them going forward. A small teaser for those projects will follow in the next week or so, but for now, just know that they’re there.

Thanks for everybody who’s supported the Hot Mess project. Keep spreading the word, leaving reviews for us on Amazon (please, it literally means logging in and clicking 1-5 stars, five being the best, and add words if you like) and buying those copies.