Write on Wednesday – The Great Pivot -March13, 2019

I’m not the only writer in my family. My step-daughter has just published her first book. This is a big deal! There were some fraught moments at the end — as there always are, but when it’s your first book you don’t know that’s going to happen.  Now Justine is through to the other side and is a published author. Congratulations!

Great Pivot

Her blog describes the book better than I ever could.

“The new book The Great Pivot describes 30 sustainability projects in five areas – advanced energy communities, low-carbon mobility, the circular economy, food waste reduction, and nature restoration – that will create millions of meaningful jobs.

Building a sustainable future will not only restore climate stability and reverse mass species extinction, it will also address the crisis in the world of work. Current trends of outsourcing, automation, the gig economy, and low levels of employee engagement have left working Americans anxious about their jobs. Meanwhile, 37 million people of prime working age, 25-64, are not in the labor force, and the 626,000 people released from prison each year have a hard time finding work that will allow them to reintegrate into society.

The Great Pivot provides funding and program pivots for policymakers who want to help create green, meaningful jobs, as well as resources for those who want to switch over to sustainability work. Each sector — private, non-profit, and public sector — has an important role to play in realizing this vision.

With The Great Pivot we have a blueprint for building a sustainable future. Now we just need to find the courage to commit to it.”

I just got my Kindle copy and can’t wait to start reading.

If you buy the book and like it, don’t forget to post a review on Amazon.

Write on Wednesday – Recent Center Stage Baltimore Productions – February 13, 2019

I’ve seen two terrific plays at Center Stage Baltimore recently.

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A Wonder in My Soul

In late December I saw A Wonder in My Soul. I came out of the theater thinking this was one of the best plays I had ever seen at Center Stage. Written by Marcus Gardley and directed by Daniel Bryant, the play is about two black women who open a beauty shop in their neighborhood. Many years later the neighborhood has changed, and Pen Lucy and Swann Park are behind in their rent; the building where their salon is will be sold.

The playbook talks about the importance of beauty parlors in black communities. I remember when I was in school getting my Master of Social Work degree, we often talked about the fact that beauticians provide therapy for many of their clients.

This production was in the Pearlstone Theater at Center Stage. This is a proscenium theater although it doesn’t have a curtain. I’m always looking at staging. In this play the salon had two styling chairs, a loveseat in the reception area of the stage, a door which led to outside and a slightly lower apron area on which some “flashback” scenes were performed. The door was clearly the entrance to the salon and when people left the stage, they opened the door and walked through. It defined an action more clearly than just going off stage.

All the actors were wonderful, but Kalilah Black and Harriett D. Foy were exceptional.

Our tickets always seem to be the last performance in the runs. I need to try to change that. I would have gone to see this show twice – or more.

Fun Home

Then last Sunday I saw Fun Home, a musical memoir based on the graphic novel by Alison Bechdel. The book and lyrics were by Lisa Kron and the music was by Jeanine Tesori.

Billed as a play about a dysfunctional family, I wondered if I even wanted to see it. I get enough dysfunction these days watching the news.

It was another stellar show. A closeted gay father raising three children with his increasingly angry wife. One of the daughters is gay but only understands that when she goes to college. Oh, and the father teaches literature at a local college, but runs a funeral home on the side. Hence the title of the play, Fun Home.

In this show the gay daughter is depicted as a ten-year-old, a college student and a woman in her forties. It was the actress who played the ten-year-old who caught my eye. Molly Lyons is her name and she’s nine. Someday I’m going to see her on Broadway.

Fun Home was performed in the Head Theater which is a thrust theatre—a stage surrounded by audience on three sides. The fourth side serves as the background. Hydraulic lifts in the floor raised and lowered part of the sets. If only the community theaters that produce the play I wrote with Laura Ambler (The Santa Diaries) had those kinds of options. Another staging tool that could be translated to community theaters was a slightly raised platform with furniture that was rolled onto the stage when the scene took place in the living room. Faster than having stage hands carry furniture on and off stage. A similar platform on the other side of the stage was a kitchen area that rolled on and off. Of course this only works if you have off stage areas that will accomodate the platforms. Many community theaters don’t.

Watching live theater is enjoyable (I go with some girlfriends) and educational. I always come away with some ideas about improving the plays Laura Ambler and I write.

Write on Wednesday – Read Your Work Out Loud – February 6, 2019

I’m getting ready to send my novel manuscript out to an editor. I had been over the print copy, penned in revisions, deletions, changed the order of some scenes and then spent two weeks making all those changes on the computer file.

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But I knew there was something I still needed to do. I needed to read my manuscript out loud. All four hundred plus pages of it. I’d never done this before with a long manuscript, but I kept reading that this step was an important editing tool.

It took me a week, and lots of glasses of lemon water, but I was glad I’d done the work.

  1. I found multiple errors that I’d missed when I marked up the manuscript pages.
  2. I found I could better assess the pacing of scenes.
  3. I found places where characters said something they couldn’t have known because it hadn’t happened yet.
  4. I found spelling errors that Word had overlooked.
  5. I found inconsistencies in dialogue for characters.
  6. I found character “tells.”
  7. I found that I still liked my story.

My advice: Read your work outloud. It’s an editing tool worth the time and effort.

 

 

Write on Wednesday – When I Have Nothing to Say, Someone Else Does – January 9, 2019

I follow a number of blogs. One of the ones I actually read when it comes into my email box is The Passive Voice. The tag line for this blog is “A Lawyer’s Thoughts on Authors, Self-Publishing and Traditional Publishing.”  The Passive Voice finds interesting articles and blog posts that bear on publishing. They are usually short but have links if you want to read the original.

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Today when I am immersed in revisions to my novel, and have nothing thoughtful to say, I suggest you check out The Passive Voice. There’s always something interesting  and thoughtful there.

 

Write on Wednesday – Gratitude – November 21, 2018

This week I finished the first revision of my novel. I am full of gratitude to Mary Ann who read and commented on all the things that needed to be fixed. The plot points that never went anywhere, the parts where I was writing in “screenplay” and forgetting that my reader can’t see what’s in my head, and, especially, for letting me know what worked. If you’re a writer, you know the importance of that last thing.

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The stack is almost two inches tall. Four hundred and twelve pages in fifty-two chapters.  It is going to be set aside for a time while a do an editing project for my husband. And travel with Laura Ambler to our Christmas shows in Indiana, Minnesota and Maine. And bake Christmas cookies. Then I will dig back in and read the manuscript with fresh eyes for changes, deletions and polishes before it goes to Mary Ann again for another pass.

Tomorrow I will be taking appetizers and two apple pies to our family Thanksgiving get-together.

I wish everyone safe travels and a lovely holiday. Hug those you love and even the ones you don’t because of what they post on FaceBook. Remember the ones not at the table this year and be grateful for family — even when that’s hard.

 

 

Write on Wednesday – What You See Is What You Get – October 24, 2018

An establishing shot in a movie or teleplay script tells where the subsequent action takes place. What you see is what you get. The New York City skyline shown at the beginning of Blue Bloods lets the viewer know the action takes place in New York City. Because I watch this show, I also know that when I see a shot of the brick facade of a traditional style home in an upscale neighborhood, the subsequent action is taking place inside Frank Reagan’s home in an unnamed suburb of the city.

NYC skyline

In a novel, if there is a Welcome mat and a wreath on the front door, you must tell the reader. Is the door painted an unusual color? Is the mat clean and new or ready for the trash bin? Is the wreath on the door seasonal, letting the reader know it’s Christmas or Halloween or Spring?  Does the shrubbery outside the front door indicate Spring while the wreath on the door says Christmas?

In narrative fiction you tell or show the reader where the action is taking place. If you don’t the reader gets confused and readers don’t like that. If they get confused too many times they’ll give you a bad review on Amazon.

In the revisions of my novel this is coming up over and over again. Apparently when I wrote the novel draft I was in screen play mode. I knew where the action was taking place — in my head. But sometimes I forgot to tell the reader.

In a screen play or teleplay you write in the words Establishing Shot: New York City and you’re all set. The viewer will get visual cues.

In narrative fiction you establish the setting with words. The visual cues are in the authors mind and must be put into words. This also provides an opportunity to expand information about your characters. Here’s an example:

“Martie wrestled a bag of groceries from the back seat of her vintage Candy Apple red Beetle–an expensive custom paint job she had come to regret. As she headed for the suburban home’s front door she noted the weeds in the flower beds along the brick walkway and realized she needed to call the gardening service in her sister’s address book. She opened the door with the key Julie gave her six months ago. Just three days before her sister disappeared.”

In a screen play the director figures out how to show the information in this paragraph or the writer puts it in dialogue. Phone dialogue between Martie and the detective assigned to her sister’s case could fill in some details. There could be a close-up shot of a calendar with the date of Julie’s disapearance circled in red.

As I revise my novel I have to keep reminding myself that what the reader reads is what the reader gets. It’s my job to make sure they have enough, but not too much. Enough so they can be in the scene, but not so much that it makes the writing ponderous.

If the paragraph above was the beginning of a novel I’d better make sure that a Candy Apple red beetle is important to the story. As I reread what I wrote I immediately began spinning off into another story. Focus your squirrel brain, Mala. Focus! You have a Caribbean novel to finish.