Write on Wednesday – Revisions Ahead – August 22, 2018

In a week or two I will get back the comments of a writing friend who agreed to look at my third novel in the Caribbean series. I’m anxious. Mostly that’s the way I’m wired. Just ask my patient husband. But I am anxious to get back to the book after not thinking about it for most of the summer. And I’m anxious to see what suggestions she has for improving the story.

Then I will begin revisions.  Don Roff writes, “I’ve found the best way to revise your own work is to pretend that somebody else wrote it and then to rip the living shit out of it.”

revision towel

I’m hoping I won’t need this.

 

Write on Wednesday: Make Me Care – August 14, 2018

I learn in small increments. If I can come away with a few new things from an hour long talk, I am happy.  This  virtual classroom Ted talk, by Andrew Stanton, is terrific. Not too long, not too short, but with some compelling suggestions for writing our stories.

Here are my take aways:

Make the Reader Care:

  1. When you tell a story, build in anticipation.
  2. Make the reader want to know what will happen next.
  3. Honest conflicts create doubt in what the outcome might be and make the reader wonder how the story will end.

The Secret Sauce:

  1. The best stories invoke wonder.
  2. A strong theme is always running through a well told story.

Use What You Know:

  1. Capture a truth from your own experience.

Storytelling has guidelines but no hard and fast rules. When you do it right, wonder happens.

 

 

Writing Like Stephen King*

One of my favorite books is Stephen King’s On Writing: a Memoir of the Craft. King talks about how most of his books were written when he was drunk or high – or both – and listening to heavy metal music at ear splitting decibels.

Stephen King

My writing partner, Laura Ambler, and I wondered if we could write better if we followed King’s writing process and tried writing under the influence. There are always places in our scripts where we put an MB (make better) or MF (make funnier.) This was an hypothesis that needed to be tested. We already had a control of sorts as we’ve completed quite a few scripts without any drugs or alcohol.

We ruled out the heavy metal music. Intrinsic to our writing process is that we talk to each other; loud music would make that a problem. We also ruled out drugs. Too risky and we didn’t know where to get them anyway. Although as I’ve talked to several people about writing this blog post, a surprising number of them told me they have had a ‘connection.’ Who knew!

That left us with alcohol. I just have to open my wine fridge, and, if Laura prefers a martini, the ingredients are already on the bar.

Now we have the means, but logistical problems present themselves. Laura usually comes to my house for our writing sessions. She can’t drive home under the influence. That would be totally irresponsible. I was recounting our dilemma to my husband and he said if we really wanted to pursue this experiment, he would pick up Laura and drive her home. (He is remarkably supportive of my writing, whatever the process, and I know he is much too nice to make a YouTube video of us being silly and post it online.)

As for me, two glasses of wine and I fall asleep which might not be conducive to inspired writing. This plan was beginning to remind me of my woman’s conciousness raising group from the 70’s. This was back when the head of NIH (National Institutes of Health) was saying cocaine was okay. Somebody in my woman’s group came up with the bright idea that our group should try cocaine. We debated that issue for a year. I suppose it took that long because any topic we decided to talk about always circled back to our mothers. Anyway, we finally decided we had talked about it so much that actually doing it held no allure, so we didn’t.

Laura and I haven’t talked the writing a la Stephen King thing to death yet, but we might be getting close. I’ll keep you posted.

*This was first posted on July 24, 2014. We never did get around to testing the King hypothesis.

Plein Air Quick Write*

Would you be able to write if you were outside (maybe under an umbrella to protect you from the scorching sun or a deluge) and had to complete a writing assignment in two hours? And your writing project would be judged and then put up for sale. This is what artists at Easton’s annual Plein Air Festival Quick Draw do. And to make it more difficult it’s a juried show and artists have to submit work in order to even get into the competition. This year the contestants were challenged by downpours.

plein-air-in-the-rain-2012

So it made me wonder…what would a Plein Air Quick Write Festival look like?

The very thought of trying to write something with other people watching makes me want to throw up. I’m an introvert and I covet alone time. Being closeted with my computer qualifies, and I could never share office space with my husband even though he’s a really nice guy. I know how to do social stuff, but it drains me and I have to have alone time to recharge my batteries. When Laura Ambler and I collaborate on a writing project these lines are blurred, but I have to say there is a huge amount of trust that she is not going to be judgemental when I blurt out something that just wouldn’t work. I grant her the occasional eye roll, but that’s it.

Two hours doesn’t give much time for editing or what I like to call marinating. Sometimes something I’ve written stays in a drawer for a long time before I take it out and look at it again. I read it and think, not too bad, or I read it and wonder why I wasted the paper it was printed on. Usually marinating doesn’t take that long, but, for me, it’s a really important part of the process. It gives my brain time to work without me trying to force it onto a particular path.

Writing using prompts might seem similar to a quick write. There are people sitting near you (which I find really distracting), but you only have to share if you want to. However, your words are not all out in the open for the world to see like a painting would be. I don’t like to think that I am a competitive person, but at the few writing prompt workshops I’ve attended the notion that I want mine to be WONDERFUL always manages to intrude when it’s time to share. When I hear what others have written I judge my effort as unworthy and keep my mouth closed. I am probably the classic neurotic, introverted writer.

A Quick Write Festival doesn’t seem to be in my future, but I’m curious. Would a Quick Write Festival appeal to you?

* This was first posted after Plein Air 2012. There was intermittent rain that year and the Quick Draw exhibit was in the street as it usually is. This year (2018) there was such heavy rain that the Quick Draw viewing was moved into the Tidewater Hotel. Laura and I had lunch with friends on Masons’ porch, as we have done for many years. Over a lunch with Bloody Marys and Bellinis, we judged umbrellas as they passed us by.

IMG_6843

This one deserved a prize. We have reserved the porch for 2019 and hope for better weather.

 

Write on Wednesday – The Santa Diaries Goes to Indiana and Maine – July 18, 2018

Laura Ambler and I are over the moon.  Last week we got word that The Santa Diaries will be produced in Crawfordsville, Indiana this year by the Sugar Creek Players as their Christmas Show.

Screenshot (7)

And then two days later we were approached by the Chocolate Church Arts Center in Bath, Maine who also wanted to do the show. Of course, we said “YES.”

chocolate church interior best

Laura and I are honored that the original The Santa Diaries has chosen by the Sugar Creek Players and the Chocolate Church Arts Center for production this December.We are big fans of community theaters which play important roles in so many small towns. They build community and often become families for local actors, musicians and front and back of house volunteers.

Community theaters throughout the country have also saved countless buildings. Sugar Creek’s home is a former movie theater, as is the Avalon Theatre in Easton, Maryland where we live. Chocolate Church is one of two iconic Gothic Revival Churches from the 1840’s located in Bath. This church would have been demolished, but local citizens, recognizing its architectural significance and in the spirit of supporting the cultural arts, came together to create The Chocolate Church Arts Center. It received this name because of its unique chocolate brown color that covers the original caramel color it was before it had been painted white. Here’s a link for its interesting history.

The Sugar Creek Players, in Crawfordsville, Indiana, found a permanent home when W. Addington Vance and Myron Pattison deeded the Vanity Motion Picture Theater to them. Prior to that Sugar Creek had been producing shows at Wabash College, in local high schools, gyms and once in a Holiday Inn. In 1988, despite tar paper flooring, folding metal chair seating, and a lack of air conditioning, the opening show in the new theater was a success and the Players finally had a home.

Sugar creek

The cherry on the top of our Christmas pudding is that the sequel to The Santa Diaries will be produced in Faribault, MN by The Merlin Players who commissioned the play. Almost all the actors in the original prodcution of The Santa Diaries will play the same characters — five years later. Brandeee is pregnant but who is the father? The new show is titled: The Santa Diaries: A Christmas Wedding. We are beyond grateful that The Merlin Players reached out to us.

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Our plays will be in three states this December. Laura and I hope to be able to attend some of the shows. A road trip is being planned.

 

Write on Wednesday – Short Attention Span Theatre – July 11, 2018

Last Sunday I attended (with Laura Ambler and my husband) the Short Attention Span Theatre in Chestertown, Maryland. Performed in the Garfield Center for the Arts,  on Chestertown’s main street, the space used to be a movie theater. Laura spent summers with her grandmother who lived in Chestertown and remembered seeing movies here — sometimes with bats flying in the high ceiling. I saw no bats on Sunday.

Brent - short attention span theatre 7-8-18

A group of playwrights meets monthly at the Garfield to read each others works and critique them. Here’s a link to more information in case you’re interested in the group. Once a year nine or ten ten-minute plays are selected for production. This is the 14th year for these Short Attention Span Theatre productions. Why did we never get to one before?

During the intermission we smelled popcorn. Laura loves popcorn and went to the concession stand to get some. You could get a beer or a glass of wine but they didn’t have any popcorn. She came back disappointed. We wondered if we were having a folie à deux, the psychiatric term for a shared delusion.  The first ten-minute play after the  intermission had a bowl of popcorn as a prop. Turns out we aren’t as crazy as sometimes we think we are.

We love theater because we always get ideas, and these ten minute plays must be a challenge to write. No time for multiple plot lines. The story is set up right away and moves quickly to the denoument when the threads of the plot are pulled together. Several of the plays relied heavily on physical comedy which also gave us some ideas as what Laura and I write often turns comedic.

We really went to see the show because our writer friend, Brent Lewis, was on the bill. (It was piece of Brent’s writing that I shared on last week’s Wednesday blog post.) His play,  All Over But The Shouting, has only two characters, cranky elderly brothers in a nursing home who think an incoming missile is going to obliterate them in ten minutes. This gives them just a little time to try to resolve every damn argument and misunderstanding before they are blown to bits.

Below are Brent, me, my husband Roger and Laura. Laura’s husband would have been with us but he was flying.

Brent, Mala, Roger, Laura - 7-8-18

But I’m really glad we went. Brent’s play was awesome and I know from experience how important it is to have people you know see your work — and like it. Somehow Chestertown, Maryland seems further than going to Baltimore, but it’s not. We need to try harder to see local theater and support all the playwrights, even the ones we don’t know.

Write on Wednesday – July 4, 2018 – Finding a Voice

If you write fiction, finding your voice can be an ongoing search. My talented writing friend, Brent Lewis, has a unique voice that comes from growing up and hanging out with Eastern Shore folk. He eloquently writes about the Eastern Shore on his blog EasternShoreBrent.com and graciously gave me permission to repost Summer Marsh. It seemed appropriate for these hot summer days and the Fourth of July. Thank you, Brent.

Brent eastern shore landscape

 

SUMMER MARSH

by easternshorebrent

Muggy drops of humidity hang suspended midair and almost visible.

The pungency of the marsh is pervasive, strong. It sticks to the skin. Rich with the cycles of life and death, the marsh is a sensory reminder of the changes wrought by time’s tides.

A blue heron flies low and with grace across a dish-calm creek.

Something else drifts by on the slow, saturated breeze. Something wistful. Something that smells like bulkhead creosote, tastes like warm beer from 10 oz. cans, and looks like cutoff denim shorts and bright cotton tank tops that provide free advertising to bars, beverages, and billionaire rock bands.

Feels like a dock splinter, like nostalgia.

Sounds like a summer squall. Electricity cracks the sky. The downriver horizon darkens with much more threat than warning. Regret storms in through unbattened hatches. A few minutes of intense natural fury and the tempest blows north, up the Chesapeake Bay.

Local tomatoes: heirloom red and sweetheart firm. Pale yellow sweet corn, cooked in the husk, swathed in butter. Blue crabs caught on trotlines, steamed and spiced to perfection, giving the best of themselves only to those who know their secrets.

Soft crabs fried. Served on white bread or Saltines as God intended.

Watermelon.

Carnivals, county fairs, and the ghost-march of long extinguished firemen’s parades.

Lightning bugs announce the dusk.

Grand explosions of red, and white, and blue, and gold, and silver thunder in the night sky while the marsh lies silent below the blasts of rockets, solid looking in the dark distance and surrounded by shallow, murky waterways and paved-over wetlands.

From the intended solemnity of Memorial Day, through the patriotic celebration of the Fourth of July, to Labor Day, when we honor those who work to make this country work, there’s nothing like summer to remind an Eastern Shoreman how the marsh permeates his soul.

Follow Brent at https://easternshorebrent.com/author/easternshorebrent/

Brent’s first novel, Bloody Point, is a page turner with a quirky cast of characters involved in  a mystery set on the the Eastern Shore in 1976. Available on Amazon.

This is Brent and me at his book launch signing party. Where else but at a crab house on Kent Island.

Brent Lewis book signing

The fantastic cover of Brent’s book was designed by my multi-talented writing partner, Laura Ambler. Brent is also a long-time member of our Working Writers Forum which meets monthy.