Writing Comes First

Writing with a partner requires compromises about timing. You write when you can. This Memorial Day weekend Laura and I worked Sunday and Monday afternoons. When Laura called me on Sunday morning and said she could work that afternoon, I was busy working on a gardening project. I really didn’t want to stop, but I knew it would be several days before we got another opportunity. She is going to be busy on Tuesday and I’m unavailable Wednesday and Thursday this week. The garden project could wait.

We have to work when we can. Our husbands were working on their own projects this weekend, so didn’t feel abandoned, but honestly, they’re used to it by now.

Laura and I have been writing together for five years. When we were writing our novel (Big Skye Ranch) we worked separately and together. Writing movie, TV scripts, and plays is another matter – it must be done together. We almost always work at my house. If it’s during the week, Laura likes to get out of her day job office. She grabs a burger and a diet coke and heads down the St. Michaels road.

Since Laura knows the formatting for scripts, she is the one on the computer. I sit at the table and we discuss dialogue before she types it in. Sometimes I am on my laptop looking up a question that needs an answer before we can move on. Sometimes I sit and knit while we work.

The project we are currently working on for Khris Baxter is coming along. We are about three quarters through the first draft. The outline Khris provided us has helped. He also recommended a book about the subject which we both read. I noted pages from the book on the outline which has made going back to look at the original story easy. We don’t have to make up any of the events for this script, but we do have to figure out what would be the most interesting visual situation for a movie and place the scene there.

Getting authentic dialogue from the 1950’s is something of a challenge. One of the main characters is American but went to boarding school in England which adds another twist. Did they say, “brilliant,” or “gobsmacked” in 1954? The book I bought recently, Flappers 2 Rappers, was no help – but then the subtitle was American Youth Slang, not American Upper Middle-class Slang.

After working three hours yesterday we found a good stopping point and will be back to work in a couple of days. We have to write when we can, and in a writing partnership you need to accommodate two schedules and be flexible. The choice isn’t really that hard. Writing comes first.

Sex Is in the Heel

I love Broadway. This week I was in NYC for a few days and got tickets to go back and see Kinky Boots for the second time. It was just as spectacular as the first.This link has a YouTube video of some of the show. The audience was on its feet for the curtain call; I suspect that happens every night. Billy Porter as the drag queen diva, Lola, was outstanding. Porter  was an ensemble member of Miss Saigon 22 years ago, (using the name E.Ellis Porter). Maybe I saw him when I saw that show on Broadway. More recently he appeared in Topdog/Underdog (2002). A versatile actor!

The play is based on real events in  made into a 2005 British film by Julian Jarrold and the film is available on Amazon and Netflicks. It will go into the queue.

“Sex Is in the Heels” was one of the rousing songs in the show and I did notice that people in NYC do wear some interesting footwear. I couldn’t help but take photos of shoes I saw in a store window. Do people really buy these shoes? Wear them?

IMG_1790Perfect for me when I’m gardening.IMG_1791Are these the heels you wear when you’re  desperately in need of a pedicure?

This time I was able to better appreciate the imaginative sets.  Stage level was the factory floor where shoes were made. A moveable “second” floor held the factory office, accessible by stairs. The office section could be turned so the bottom part of it was another section used for one brief scene. Many scene changes were accomplished by the actors on the stage, who also moved conveyer belts that featured in some of the most imaginative choreography I’ve seen. The exterior walls of the factory were raised and lowered as needed. All this enhanced by expert lighting.

One of the most memorable lines in the show is, “To all the ladies and gentlemen, and those who have yet to make up their minds.” I don’t think this show would have had such a broad appeal even ten years ago.Kinky Boots made me laugh and cry and clap with appreciation of the awesome cast and all those behind the scene whose talents made it such an foot stomping show. I love Broadway shows and I loved Kinky Boots.

Everyman Theatre

The show now at Everyman Theatre, Topdog/Underdog, by Suzan-Lori Parks is incredible. Only two actors, Kenyatta Rogers and Eric Berryman, are on stage and carry the show to it’s stunning, but inevitable, conclusion. Parks won a Pulitzer Prize for this play, which was first produced in New York in 2001. This is its first Baltimore production.


Since I had been to Dara Marks workshop the day before I saw this play, I was thinking transformational arc.  At the end of Topdog/Underdog there is no redemption, but I remembered Dara saying there doesn’t always have to be; this was a tragedy after all. It would have made me feel better if there had been some ray of hope for these brothers, but their backgrounds, life experiences, and lack of opportunities made the ending an almost forgone conclusion.

The day I saw the play was Mother’s Day. We were in the new Everyman Theatre on Fayette Street in Baltimore so there is more handicapped accessibility. A family brought their elderly mother and parked her wheelchair across the aisle from us.  A nice outing for mom, right? As soon as the play started the woman dropped her head and slept through the entire show. I was glad because the language in the play, while authentic, would have scorched the ears of any woman her age. And the subject matter was not uplifting. That family would have been better off taking mom to brunch and giving her a blooming plant.

Plays are story telling and whatever project Laura and I are working on, it’s always about story. Any time we can observe how someone else makes it work is instructive, so we watch TV, go to the movies and to the theater. We hope it will make us better writers and story tellers.TopDog/Underdog at Everyman had lessons we will use.

Get Juiced

I love learning more about the craft of writing. Even better is adding tools to my writer’s toolbox. But best of all is coming away from a writing seminar juiced about getting back to writing.

Laura and I attended a Dara Marks seminar in Washington, D.C. yesterday. It was sprinkling when I left my house at 7 a.m. to pick up Laura. By the time we were on the road it was pouring. My wipers were on high and I was thinking it was going to be a very long drive. It didn’t last, however, and we were in the District in under two hours – circling the Palomar Hotel looking for a parking space. I hate driving in D.C. Finally Laura ran inside the hotel and came out with the answer to the parking problem – valet parking for $20.

Mala & Laura at Marks seminar 5-11-13

The seminar was a detailed explanation of Dara Mark’s Transformational Arc of Character and how to use it in screenwriting. It is fabulous tool for telling any story. Laura had used Dara as a consultant on several of her screenplays, but had never met her face to face. Photo below is Dara (left) but not with Laura. It was at the end of the day and there was a long line of people waiting to get their books signed. I got the best photo I could.


I was aware of the Transformational Arc because every project on which Laura and I have collaborated is started with a huge piece of paper on which we lay down the arc and fill in the story. This seminar (9:30 – 5) was long, but very specific about all the aspects and nuances of the arc. Dara gave us a handout with all the power point notes and spoke the entire time with no notes. I only zoned out once after lunch and, of course, that was the time when Dara asked a question of the audience and pointed at me. What was the question?

There were lots of take-aways, but one (which really wasn’t part of the arc) was, “people always tell you to write what you know; what you really need to write is how you feel about what you know.” That stuck with me.

Dara Marks gave me so much to think about in terms of laying out plot, thinking about the protagonist’s outer story as it relates to the inner story, even how to tease out the overarching theme which drives the plot. All essential writing tools.This is may be the most valuable writing seminar I have attended. I came away juiced, wanting to revisit our most recent draft of The Santa Diaries movie script.Did we hit all the marks?

Of course, there is a book. Buy it and get juiced.  Inside Story: The Power of the Transformational Arc.

Khris Baxter Calls

Khris Baxter of Story Lab (a film development and finance company focusing on dramatic, character-driven narrative for film, Television, and new media) called us about a quick turn around movie script that he needed. Could we do something in 8-10 weeks? We’ve finished the first draft of the Santa Diaries movie script and have sent it off for some other people to read, so we said, why not. Ooops, we forgot to ask Margie Farmer, our new manager who is supposed to keep us focused, what she thought about this.

The enticing nut here is that if we can write something that gets attached to a movie it puts us one step closer to getting people to look at other scripts Laura has written, or scripts (such as The Santa Diaries) on which we have collaborated.

There’s research to be done for this new project and the books I ordered from Amazon came yesterday. I LOVE PRIME!

This coming Saturday we are going to a screen writing workshop with Dara Marks. Khris Baxter has brought her here from California for a one day event. We are really looking forward to this.