Monday, February 8, 2010

'Short Time and the Memory of Snow'

It's now been over two weeks with only one day of sun. I've had a tough time getting motivated, not sure why, probably the paradox that inherently exists in writing. If any writer is worth a damn, the writing should be consistent and with 'some' joy, on the other hand, some days the last thing he wants to do is writing. I think it's mostly because there are some pieces of writing that I have to do that I don't want to. I used to tell my students, "It's one thing to prepare, audition, and get the part, and it's an entirely different experience to actually 'do' the role." It’s a little like all those good ideas we had, all the things we were 'going to do', that disappear so quickly as the days run. How does one hang onto and idea long enough to do it? That's the great thing about writing a poem or a song; it can usually be accomplished in an evening, or even an hour. The satisfaction, however, usually lasts no more than a day or two. Writing a play is hard without a company of actors to read. I think the playwriting process is wonderful in that way though, (if you have a company of actors) you can actually feed off the reading for several days—until the next one. It's beneficial to actually see the characters, (or at least hear them).

Like my mother, as I'm writing my story I'm finding that many of the things that come out are painful. Still, I think it’s a visit that is well worth the effort. A good 'chunk' of writing on a book does feel satisfying, although I find I cannot conceive the end of this writing, its best to just stay in the moment, keep it going and let it roll. Get it down on the screen; write it even when you don't want to. How many of us have said, "If I just had the time to do this, or that, etc… it would be so wonderful just to have time! Well, time can be had at certain times in life if you really want it; taking advantage of that time is another matter completely.

In the morning, when I sit down at the computer to write, I usually go back and find a piece of writing I've written in the past. I try to remember the memories and motivation that instigated 'that' writing. With computers, it's easy to go into the documents and find an old 'memory'. This morning, I found the novel that I was working on in 1996 when I took a year off from doing theatre. The novel, 'Short Time', was a riff on what it was like to be in your last semester of high school, the way I may have wanted it to be. It was based on a play, 'Sandstones', that I wrote in the early nineties about five teenagers who hang out on a pier in Northern California everyday after school. They talk about their life, and their dreams, but they also are beginning to face the reality of the future. (Imagine that!) When I wrote 'Sandstones', it was a subconscious homage to my mother's novel, 'Sandstone'. I remember feeling somewhat embarrassed that I'd named the play that. It wasn't until later I realized that she had written that novel using the name of 'Sandstone' years before I was even born. I suppose that title was part of my growing up in the household of a writer. The title, (I thought) had to do with the setting of a pier, and a beach, where the 'sandstones' were cast out into the water. It was my metaphor to help motivate the play. I also wanted to write (the novel) in dedication to Vince Sorren, one of my students who died of aids when he was just twenty-one. He originated the role of 'Joey' in the play, and did an amazing portrayal. Even though the play was produced several times after that, it was difficult for me to see anyone else but Vince in the role.

Anyway, these twenty-five pages of the novel I wrote in a snowy winter while living with Camille and Doug, my cousins in Boulder, Utah. It was wonderful to sit out in Camille's gift shop, sit at a table, watch the snow come down and write this piece of a novel. Some evenings, deer would walk right up to the front door. It had been so long since I had spent a winter 'with real seasons'. In retrospect, it was a wonderful time. I also sent out one hundred plays that winter, (about six plays, multiple copies) to different parts of the country. Let's see, one hundred submissions, and ninety-nine rejections, but alas, one play, 'Amy's Attic' was accepted for publication that winter. I thought my canoe had finally come in. So, the theory, for one hundred pieces of marketing, 'one' will have results, came to pass. I did have some great comments on other items sent, but 'Amy's Attic' is the only play that gets multiple productions each year. Still, it takes lots of productions to ad up to any kind of 'real' royalty check, some years are better than others. I never know how many times it gets done until March when the check comes. Oh, just so you have an idea of how little money there is in playwriting, Samuel French finally send me a royalty check that covered ten years for my play, 'Cowboys, Indians, and Waitresses'. The check was for exactly $104.00. That was a revelation. For ten years, not one cent was ever paid to actually 'do' the play, it was all book sales. That's depressing. Its possible that this play was done somewhere without 'paying royalty', but I seriously doubt it. So, again, another play that took multiple years to develop and write, got published and fell into a hole and never came out! Oh well, can't go back and become an electrician now. Okay, I just chased one huge rabbit.

I pulled up the writing, (Short Time) and began a general 'cleaning' up the indents and the punctuation, (I was using all kinds of weird grammar at the time) and re-read the pages. Wow! It held together pretty well! So often I've found (and mentioned before) that the same night you write something, its genius. The next morning it turns to 'the worst' thing you've ever written, and then a month later it 'has potential'.) Although fairly 'dated', this writing was a revelation. It was simple and innocent. It was full of dialogue, which I love writing in prose. It really has potential. However, sometimes abandoning the writing you are doing for something else is a form of procrastination. It will have to wait, but it is worth pursuing later. It was interesting to realize that I wrote this partial exactly two years before I started teaching high school. Ten years of teaching high school, and it holds up to all that I learned. Perhaps it was prophetic. Perhaps so many things are if we are paying attention.

Okay, it's very possible that I am again procrastinating with this entry. Okay, I have to write another query letter. Although I'll write just one letter and send it off to different places, for some reason, these are difficult to write. Looking back at the ones I've written in the past, however, I realize that over the years a query letter can get better with time. With age and a body of work, the heft finds itself into the letter writing. This is a letter once again designed to find an agent. I've been through this all before. I did land an agent for a period of four years, (also in the nineties). She dropped me because I never made her any money! Imagine that! I now have some pretty good press to send with the letter, cross your fingers for me, would ya?

Lastly, in an unbelievable sign that I still have some common sense, I refrained from betting a few bucks on The Colts in the super bowl. Even though I never gamble, I thought, wow, this would be easy; I'll double my money! Thank God common sense prevailed or I would have lost one hundred dollars. Cross your hearts…

Postscript: I finished the query letter. Tomorrow, the sending! Yippee!


Gerry said...

I was just going to bed after one last round on the computer to see if anyone had posted anything interesting and I found your entry which made a big difference in my day I can tell you, because it was a long and meaty entry. If you just keep writing your memoir about your life in theater which is what I assume you are doing, you are going to make readers like me very happy I can guarantee. That could be well worth the doing. I found "The Peabody Sisters of Salem" and started reading it which helped lift me up out of kind of hole I had fallen into, wondering if all this writing and reading was worth it, since not enough people seemed to be doing it to make the effort pay. To enlighten you one sister married Nathaniel Hawthorne, another Horace Mann and they founded Antioch, and the oldest was the biggest book reading learning teaching woman I have encountered in a bio for some time. I was quite flattered by the way when you named Sandstones as I thought it was unconscious, but you were five when I wrote it in Page, Arizona. It's still quite a heavy weight novel and I thought oh, I have ruined it, ruined it for publication because bisexuals kept turning up in it. I thought where does this stuff come from? This is not what I intended, but the book seized control and wrote its self. I could not change its mind. I still think this is one issue that has sunk my career as a writer. Thank god, it does not enter your work as it did mine. It might mean all the difference in whether your book is successful or not. So I were you I would feel quite excited about your possibilities and keep on writing above all. I think you have some real writing ability. So whatever you are doing to promote your work will help, too. Thanks to you I will go to bed on an up note. I have been reading and on the computer a lot today just trying to get up enough. said...

I very much enjoyed your entry today. It made me think of value to the work done, at least. I didn't read about Jayley's dad until this morning, and felt bad for the Griffins. Life and death,
work and success all tie together
in starts and stops. I think the hard work comes through, not always in the expected ways. Not always with huge reward..but what is solid remains so. I find your writing solid in many ways and look forward to reading.