Auditions Begin: We Are the Santa Diaries

The Santa Diaries is about a small-town guy who has played Santa for years and really believes he has a calling. He wants his son to continue the tradition, but son Will left home to become a big Hollywood star. In the process, he lost touch with what’s real. The story arc is the son’s recognition of what’s he’s lost and what he wants for his future.

One of the lines in the play is “Welcome to community theater. We may not have a budget, but we more than make up for it with talent, creativity and enthusiasm.” Midway through last night’s first auditions for the Avalon’s Christmas play, I realized that Laura and I are the play. Would the Avalon do justice to our play, our baby? Could the local talent bring our vision to life? We have to rely on the local pool of talent, creativity and enthusiasm.

The first night’s auditions were a little chaotic. For starters, the auditorium keys got locked inside the auditorium. At 5:30 nobody had shown up to audition. exhausted Tim Weigand, Cece Davis and Liza Ledford were coming off a long Film Festival weekend and gamely plunging into a new project. But the first kid on stage was so good, we immediately felt better; and then another talented performer and another. The local talent really is amazing.

The folks auditioning were asked ot do a simple dance step, read some lines and sing. Most importantly Tim needed to see if they would take direction so they were asked to do a scene several different ways.






Laura, who has written three original songs for the show, worked with Tim and Cece showing them how the duet of “At Christmas I Believe” will work.







Some local dogs will have walk on parts. Will we have a dog audition?

When last night was over, we were relieved. It will all come together (we are humming “At Christmas I Believe” to ourselves). There are three more audition days and major parts will be cast by Sunday night.

P.S. Hearing parts of our script being read on stage was mind-blowing. Did we really write that funny line? People in the audience actually laughed! This is so different from the experience of publishing a book that people read. You never get to see their reactions. Of course, if somebody hates your book you don’t get to see that either unless they write a snarky review on Amazon or GoodReads. My neurotic side is wondering about seeing audience reactions at the performances. What if they don’t like it? I am working on getting that voice to just shut up.

Laura Posts “It’s Really Happening!”

This article says that the Avalon Foundation is casting roles for its Christmas production. A new original play written by Laura Ambler and Mala Burt. Yikes! That’s US! There in black and white for everyone to see. Yes, I know Mala’s been posting about our Santa Diaries meetings with the Avalon, even documenting them with photos, but that doubting, insecure, neurotic writer part of me was absolutely certain that the Avalon folks just didn’t want to hurt our feelings. That they were being gracious and humoring us, but would eventually say, “We’re sorry, but it’s not for us.” The delicate way of saying it stinks.

But seeing the notice in Friday’s Star Democrat’s weekend section that auditions for The Santa Diaries are starting THIS MONDAY – September 24th  – from 5:30 to 8:30 at the Avalon, was truly a Sally Field Oscar moment. And no, not that they loved us, but that we’d created something that they believed would showcase local talent and resonate with the community. We will SO be there! What writer could resist seeing something they wrote actually being performed!

Writing is such a solitary pursuit. When you write fiction you never get to sit next to the reader and see how they react to what you wrote – unless you’re REALLY obnoxious – and yes, I admit, I’ve forced people to read something I wrote while I watched them – namely my husband –   and pounced on their (his) every physiological reaction – “You sighed! Were you moved???!” The usual reaction… “No, I was just breathing.” Sad. Me. Not them (him).

Even writing movie screenplays, in which I’ve optioned and sold a few and even had one produced is similar. The studio or production company tells you what you wrote was FABULOUS! Then when you see the actual film or rewrite find they’ve added unicorns or ogres and flaming fireballs to your heartfelt family film. Or changed it from a man against nature drama to a murder car chase flick. Seriously.

Writing with Mala is such a joy. We’ve worked on novels and screenplays and teleplays. We’ve made each other laugh to the point of tears. And tortured her poor husband, Roger – our resident expert on everything from political to psychological – with innumerable questions – and yes – he always has the answer, not to mention the raised eyebrow at our sanity. But this is the first time our writing will be a supreme collaborative venture. A romantic comedy Christmas musical.

Inspried by….

 – but more on that later.

The Avalon folks, Tim Weigand, Jessica Bellis Rogers, Cece Davis and Liza Ledford not only READ our play. They liked it!  Along the way they have had fabulous ideas about how to make it better! We loved the feedback.

To actually seeing them acting out some of the parts was like (I imagine) heroin! Or fudge. Or cheese! Pick your poison. I want more!

And based on seeing this notice in the Star Democrat, I am salivating. I will get my cheese on Monday. There will be actors and dancers and musicians wanting to bring The Santa Diaries to life. Adding their own vision, passion, and experiences.  Amazing. It’s really happening.

Do What the John Wants!

Notes sessions are where the people you are writing a script for tell you what they want fixed. A script writer friend told us once, “You do what the John wants.” It cracked us up because it was so spot on, and has become part of our vocabulary.

Yesterday Laura and I met at the Avalon at 3pm with Jessica Bellis Rogers, Tim Weigand, Cece Davis and  Liza Ledford for another notes session. Jessica, Tim and Cece  told us they had spent about five hours over the weekend (with helpful input from Liza) going over the latest version of the script. They had some excellent suggestions — tweaks mostly that can be made with slight changes to already existing lines of dialogue. It was suggested we move one scene. Easy with cut and paste.

Then Tim mentioned, sotto voce, that they wanted the changes made by Monday morning because they are going to start auditions Monday evening. Excuse me, what did you just say? Laura and I are both jammed up today (Thursday) with other commitments, but that leaves Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Piece of cake. The Avalon folks were a little apologetic, but we know this is how the process works. At some point it starts to get intense.

Cece is going to help with the social media piece and we are really grateful. Jessica commented that at the Avalon they struggle with how much time to devote to social media. It can suck you right up, so having someone on board who doesn’t have to learn it from scratch will be huge.

After two intense hours the meeting started to break up, but we didn’t leave the theater until ten of six. Jessica wanted some photos of Laura and me for PR purposes. (Note to self: always assume when you go to a meeting that photos might be taken and wear mascara!) As we left the Avalon we looked at each other and laughed. “Do what the John wants,” we said simultaneously.

I’ve just downloaded the pictures (which were taken on my camera) and we are to come up with some author quotes about the process thus far and send it all to the person who is going to write the first press release. The Avalon folks offered us that opportunity, but we passed.

Monday is rushing at us.

Getting Naked

I’m posting a picture of my desk. This is a little—no, a lot—like getting naked in front of strangers. Okay, I admit I cropped out the worst of it, but even I look at it and make a judgment about that writer. What a mess; what disorganization. How can she ever get anything done? What does her sock drawer look like, I wonder?

Heck, I bet she doesn’t even have a sock drawer. Probably just a sock basket and throws all the socks in directly from the dryer. Okay, that was me, but it was a long time ago and I had four kids. Who had time to mate? Oh, stop…stop right now!

My desk is an archeological dig—muddled layers that accumulate like debris in a medieval kitchen midden. (Tip to other writers with desks like mine—use colored paper between the important layers.) Sometimes the piles are relegated to the floor and occasionally I sit on important items because it gets my attention especially if it’s 30 pages or more. Otherwise, it’s easy to overlook something until I stand up.

Where others file, I pile…on the twin bed in my office, on the dining room table, any flat empty surface is game. There is a pile for each volunteer job I do in my local writing community, a pile for each writing project which at the moment includes two rewrites of TV scripts, a feature movie script, early notes for a novel and the play for the Avalon. Oh, and the renewals for Eastern Shore Writers Association and their member directory that I am compiling (deadline Sept 23), and Bay to Ocean Writers Conference stuff.

But it all seems to get done and on time.

I know the things I need to accomplish each day although how people got along before Post-It Notes is a mystery. I used to make a list every morning of what I needed to do that day, and I always put a couple of things at the top I’d already accomplished so I could cross them out. It made me feel better.

My disorganization is only perception. I know what is in that pile to the left of my keyboard. I do look through it every couple of days to make sure there isn’t something I’ve forgotten. And the trail of Post-it Notes from my office to my kitchen cupboards to the door to the garage and the steering wheel of my car are crucial.

Bay to Ocean Writers Conference

This wonderful, small writer’s conference held at Chesapeake Community College each February is part of the writer outreach that Laura and I do. We’ve been involved for about the same length of time. Laura is the “designer” of the look of the conference (program, tote bags, etc.) as well as any other jobs she’s assigned. I originally got involved as a way of connecting to the writing community after we moved to the Eastern Shore. I’ve been a BTO worker bee and done a lot of things, but my favorite is being the Speaker Liaison.

Writers Helping Writers

Once we create a list of the speakers and topics we want, emails or calls go out. Almost all who are asked agree to give us a day of their time. This year I went back to several and asked if they would do two sessions instead of one. I was humbled when all agreed: Kate Blackwell, Robert Bidinotto, Barbara Esstman, Melanie Rigney and Austin Camacho. Terry Plowman and Sue Ellen Thompson will moderate panels in addition to separate sessions. The speakers get a small honorarium, but it is their willingness to share with other writers that is so impressive. You can see the 2013 schedule at

More Classrooms and More Toilets

Last year some classes were filled to overflowing, something the Fire Marshall frowns upon. Each classroom at the college has a maximum number of occupants and we are supposed to make sure that is followed. We had some disappointed people who couldn’t get into the sessions they wanted. The other problem last year was not enough restrooms to accommodate people during the fifteen minute break between sessions.

We looked at alternative venues, but none were as good as Chesapeake College. Laura even sourced a toilet trailer that could be parked outside the Kent Humanities Building where the conference is held. One day Laura and I were at the college and noticed a building a few steps from Kent. We investigated and were able to add two more large classrooms and two more bathrooms. Inside bathrooms will be much better than a toilet trailer in February.

More Writers Helping Writers

The Bay to Ocean Writers Conference is organized by writer volunteers. Diane Marquette has been a backbone for years and besides a comprehensive “croak” book of how to run the conference, she has all the institutional knowledge in her head. This year Diane, Laura and I are the BTO Conference Co-coordinators. In its 16th year, the conference is a well oiled machine with a cadre of writer volunteers who all step up and do their jobs. Every year the energy at the conference is palpable and by the end of the day our heads are full of new ideas and we are juiced to go home and write.


The Power of Blogging

I recently posted about how creepy I thought the Stanley Steamer ads were, so the Stanley Steamer people have changed them. This is the power of blogging! The new guy doesn’t look like a pedophile. He is in the oval office and he is not sniffing llama poop. I tried to find a picture of that ad, but the only thing that came up on Google was the ad where the kid says, “Mom, wanna see Toby’s new trick?”

The Santa Diaries Play Update

The fourth draft has been read  by the Avalon team and we are in the process of scheduling a meeting to arrange a table read and talk about marketing. The table read will tell us approximately how long the show will be. We had the rewrite of the beginning of the play critiqued at Forum last night. Some terrific suggestions. Thanks, all.

We are also in the process of novelizing the play and this has had an interesting side effect. Writing this story as fiction allows us room to do all that lasagna stuff I wrote about previously. As we did that, we got to know the characters better and it was easier to make the play longer. (We had been asked at the last meeting to add 20-30 pages.) When you find out that somebody wears red high tops you know something about them you didn’t before.

And Now – per request – the Rest of the Mala’s Ben Wah Story

Back in the 70’s I watched hippydom from the sidelines. I was in the kitchen most of that decade chasing kids and making chocolate chip cookies – without any psychedelic additives. But I did dip my toes into that tempting alternative lifestyle from time to time, and at one point joined a women’s conciousness raising group. We met once a week for almost five years, which I think was a long time for something like that.

A member of the women’s group knew somebody who was having a sex toy party. We were curious. You have to understand, we were all watching the sexual revolution from the suburban sidelines and the only sex toys we knew were our husbands. The idea of something you plugged into an outlet, that never ran out of juice, was exciting.

At the sex toy party that I learned about ben wah balls. I was intrigued, so I ordered a pair. They came in a pretty box and were enameled with flowers and birds. The saleslady at the sex toy party told us how to use them. The balls are fairly heavy with a chiming bell inside. You insert them and walk around or rock yourself to a halleluia chorus.

Once I had them, I needed to find a time when I had the house to myself. Our only rocking chair was in the living room and I didn’t want any distractions. Jingle, rock, jingle, rock, jingle, jingle, jingle. Things were just getting interesting when I heard a truck coming down our very long driveway. When you live in the middle of thirty acres you don’t expect unexpected company. Probably a wrong turn off the highway.  I kept rocking.

Or maybe the UPS man, I thought. If he has a package, he’ll leave it on the porch. I rocked while I waited to hear the truck drive away.

Instead I heard a knock on the door. Crap! This fantasy did not involve my UPS guy, or the game warden who showed up from time to time, or the postman with something I had to sign for. I stood up quickly (forgot to kegel) and the ben wah’s fell out. One rolled under the pull-out couch that weighed a thousand pounds. We didn’t find it until we moved.

How pathetic. I needed Wiffle ben wahs. Of course, Wiffle ben wahs would hardly do the trick. It’s not the sound of the bell; it’s the weight of the balls that gets you to the chorus. And just so you know, if you Google kegel balls you get pictures of ben wah balls for medicinal purposes. Some of us are really good at multi-tasking.