Where Are They Now?

My plays, I mean. I’m infamous for getting a play about 80% there and then not being able to make the final push to getting it into a producible shape. It’s why I can get myself readings but never anything beyond that. It’s also likely why I tend to get myself discouraged and tell myself I’m just not cut out for this because I lack both the talent and the drive. One thing I excel at though is beating up on myself, and I need to not do that. I can definitely get plays into producible shape. I went through an MFA program and I held my own with classmates who are amazing writers. I may have gone into the program not really knowing how to write a play and know zero people in the local theatre scene, but it’s been six or seven years and I have a good network of people and I’m at least at the level of “oh, I think I’ve heard your name around…???” when people meet me. So, yes, I can do this.

But the plays need to get their collective asses in gear. They’re all in various states of disarray. But I’m working on them, and here now is my commitment to them. I need to do that thing you shouldn’t do on a public-facing site and express nerves about my work, because I’m me and my site is going to reflect that so deal with it. (Confidence?) So here’s where the full-lengths stand as I gear up for this year’s Writers at Play season.

The Prayer Bargain

My first “real” play. My first-ever play was my undergrad thesis fairytale written-in-verse nightmare, but this play was my MFA thesis and could actually go somewhere beyond O’Kane 481 at Holy Cross (I love 481 though, nothing against it). I wrote the first draft of this in 2009-2010, and I keep coming back to it, determined to get it right. I got some really great feedback on it this summer that I am currently trying to incorporate. What I’m struggling with is that something really has to CHANGE (it’s a fucking play, that’s kind of the point), but it’s a family play, and in my experience, family doesn’t change. Problems exist in an evolving but recurring spiral. I’m struggling with getting my characters to effect change because I don’t know how to do so in my own family, so I have no “write what you know” experience to draw from. But I’m working on something happening. When I finish this draft I really want to get another reading up. I’m not giving up on this play. It’s the only one my dad ever got to see any sort of live performance of, so it’s special.

Directive 47

I cannot get this play to sound like me. Normally, I can at the very least do dialogue. Plot I am kind of all over the place with, but dialogue I can handle. This play has always sounded like people orating at each other. And I can’t stand it. I did a reading at Erbaluce last January where it really stuck out. I just wanted to keep drinking wine but I couldn’t get up to refill my glass. The feedback from that reading was invaluable, but I need to have the mental energy for a deep-dive back into this one that I don’t know if I have at the moment. So it’s sort of in a back-of-my-mind letting-the-feedback-stir phase. This play goes through lots of that.

What frustrates me so much is that this play has gotten the most attention of anything I’ve written—I get accepted into more programs when it’s my writing sample, it’s gotten more readings and gotten further in competitions, etc.—but I KNOW that Prayer Bargain is much further developed and that the actual dialogue writing is so much better. That throws me into all sorts of self-doubt. Are people just responding to the topical issues in Directive 47? Or could it be a really good play if I just fucking sat down and fixed all its problems? On the other hand, Prayer Bargain is sooo close to done…does that mean it’s just Not Good and it’s never going to go anywhere even when it’s as good as it can possibly be?

The Travellers

This one is at a completed-second-draft stage. i.e. it is still a mess. I have a section of it going up on Boston Podcast Players in a few months.

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Photo by Boston Podcast Players.

This is my awesome cast recording the play in August with me appearing via Skype (I was in New Jersey). I’m excited for people to actually get to hear the reading because it will have been several months by then. This play is a bit of a conundrum. It’s whimsical and fun, and it could ALMOST work as a young audiences play…except that most of the main roles are for adults. I sort of envisioned it as an all-ages play…one that middle and high school kids would like and could totally perform but one that could also be done by a regular theatre and adults would enjoy it. Like Doctor Who. Who (pun intended) I’m clearly inspired by here. If I went full out and made it a young audiences play, does that make it “less” of a play in any sense? I say no. I love writing for kids. But it also closes it off to so many opportunities and gets it kind of limited. There’s also the Traveller’s identity which is kind of one of those not-so-secret secrets. I need to work it so that the reveal moment doesn’t feel like a Big Reveal (at least to the audience) because it’s like “yeah, obviously.” I don’t want people to think I’m stupid. He looked at me like I was stupid, I’m not stupid. yes.

Time Steps

Poor sad Time Steps is stalled out around page 25. The beginning keeps getting rewritten.  This is my play about tap dance and memories and life and death and friendship, and I want it to be imbued with rhythm and movement and FEEL like tap but right now it feels like girls being catty to each other, and then I get discouraged and I want to throw things. First drafts are fun. I want to keep pushing ahead with this one though. It’s one that will be more fun to work on once it’s written and I can actually play with the dance.

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This only exists as a line (half a line, maybe) on a page right now. I started it during one of the above-mentioned times that Time Steps was making me want to throw things and 2017 was making me question my existence. I don’t know if anything will ever come of it. It has no concept other than “I miss being able to move and I want to write something more lyrical.” Oddly enough back in my undergrad Creative Writing program where I focused on poetry, I thought I was terrible with having any sort of lyric quality to my writing. I also was at the most miserable, lonely point in my life and all my poetry was looking back on a childhood and a home I could never have, so maybe my writing has improved now that I’m mentally better. I’d like to do something with this. Without it seeming melodramatic and stupid. I’m not sure if I know how. I wish I had a dance studio in my room so I could just move around and play with ideas.

This post was completely self-serving. I don’t mind if you didn’t read it. It was more of a collecting my thoughts on my writing and looking ahead as writing group time starts up than about trying to be clever. Plays, people! I sometimes write them.

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The Free(lance) Folk

There are so many articles out there about how to make the move from full-time work to freelance, and practically all of them advise having a 6-12 month “safety net” in place before doing so. There’s even a good handful of articles about how to jump into freelancing *without* the safety net…but even in all those articles the writer seems to find a way to get their freelance income to basically equal their full-time income before they make the leap. What I don’t see out there is advice for what to do if freelancing is thrust upon you due to job loss, you have zero safety net, you still haven’t made close to your old salary after a year, and lately you haven’t even been able to set money aside for taxes because your monthly bills are eating most of your income. Yeah. There’s no advice for that.

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I love freelancing. I love setting my own schedule and being on my own. I love working from home, or from wherever I want. I love not having ridiculous corporate evaluations. I no longer need to feel like my skills aren’t valued because I’m not an extrovert who prances about making small-talk. I even would enjoy being responsible for the money…if there were enough of it there.

The problem is that I just DO NOT know how to piece together anywhere near what I was making before. Right now I’m not even making close to what I made fresh out of college when I was 22. In publishing. In 2004. My student loans have gone down since then, and my car is paid off, but I have credit card debt from vacations I took when I had a real job and thought I’d be able to pay them down, and the student loans aren’t going anywhere. I can’t save. I’m way behind in the money I need to be setting aside for taxes, and I have anxiety attacks about it at 4:30 in the morning because, you know, that’s the perfect time to be thinking about money.

So how do you do it? How do these people who freelance edit/write survive? Are they all married to rich people? If not, where are they finding the high-paying gigs and/or the time to squish enough work into the week that they make enough? I can’t even afford to live anywhere but my grandmother’s attic. And how do you do it when no one really believes that you can and doesn’t think it’s worth trying?

I just recently picked up another editing client. It’s been helping fill in the gaps around getting papers from my main client. I have one writing gig that brings in a bit of extra cash. Then I random get little temporary marketing writing gigs that I sort of just stumble into through connections that also bring in a bit of extra cash. But I never have enough. I have budgets. I know how much I need to be making. I just haven’t been able to do it. I wanted to be able to write a “How to Freelance When You’ve Been Thrown Into It” article, but it’s more like I need someone to write one for ME.

For now I’m going to keep going. I’m going to get a loan for whatever I can’t pay in taxes and use any extra to put towards my credit cards. Then I’ll have just one payment to handle (or at least one less payment). I’ll really focus on my editing and churn out a paper a day every day I have one available. There will be more days where that’s possible now that I have two clients. I’ve only just started getting paychecks from the second client, so maybe it will start to improve a little. And if someone wants to write that advice column for what to do when you have no safety net and didn’t waltz right into a high salary, I’d love to read it.

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Escapism

I don’t know what I’m going to write about, which is not good for a public-facing blog. Things I post here are supposed to be somewhat focused around a singular topic and at least some semblance of organization to them. They’re supposed to show the casual passerby that I sound like a writer. The crazed mindstream goes in the written-down journal, where the thoughts come so fast that my hand can’t keep up. So, sorry to anyone who reads this. It’s going to be a bit of a mess.

I last posted here in September. I miss being able to write ridiculous posts about books I read as a kid in the hopes that it will amuse someone who loved them as much as I did. Now my nerves are just frayed and the world is a disaster. I keep joking that I’m going to just leave…just pack up the cats and move to Ireland…because I loved it there last April. And yes, I was on vacation and obviously vacation is different from real life. But it would just be so nice to NOT BE HERE. Imagine being here instead.

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This was Co. Clare by a little creamery that made their own ice cream. You can juuuuuuust see the cows down by the beach. I remember being there and just wanting to build a little house right there and never leave. And play with the cows. (And then, you know, only eat ice cream because I’d have no car and would have to walk everywhere.)

And I freelance now, so technically I can work from anywhere. BUT I don’t think I make enough to afford even super-modest rent. And then there’s things that are nice to have like eating. And the cats would need to get their expensive-ass Urinary SO food either shipped over or I’d have to find someplace there that carried it. And getting two cats over there would be crazy expensive.

I also wouldn’t have any playwriting connections over there, and there’s no way in hell I could afford to live in a city where that would be easier to establish. And if I wanted to go visit the family, I’d have to have at least one friend who would be willing to cat-sit, and what if I made no friends?

But honestly, the biggest concern is my mom. I feel like I can’t leave her. Moving the cats is a one-time hassle (two times, because I’d probably come back after a couple years), the money thing is something I could work on if this is something I really wanted, and I could write on my own for a couple years and connect to people online. I’d just feel too awful moving away from my mother when she’s by herself (two of my brothers are here, but it’s not the same as having me around).

But I still find myself wistfully looking at rent prices and re-googling the process for bringing pets in, and what you have to do after you’re there more than three months, and wondering what being self-employed but for US companies falls under in terms of them giving you permission to stay, and if I’d have to be rich like retirees do because if so then this would just never happen…and then my mind runs away with itself like that. And all of that is just way more fun to think about than anything currently going on.

So apparently when I let my thoughts just come out all unfocused-like they turn to thoughts of escape. That’s good to know.

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6 Reasons Why ‘Starring the Baby-Sitters Club’ Is the Best Book Ever Written

When I was a kid, there was nothing better than going into Waldenbooks and finding a new Baby-Sitters Club book…unless, of course, that book was a Super Special. That was when you knew the Baby-Sitters were going to do something super dibbly fresh, like fly to California or go on a cruise. You know, like you do in middle school. But my favorite Super Special may be the one with the least exotic setting — the SMS auditorium.

Yes, SMS and the related schools are performing the MUSICAL EXTRAVAGANZA!!! (their words) Peter Pan, and everyone is involved. Except Shannon, aka the one who actually acts. If you were like me as a kid, you taped Mary Martin’s Peter Pan when it was on TV and you watched the shit out of that thing. So you know every single song Dawn and Kristy are learning, and you love the play and wish you could be in it with them (well played, Ann M.). And since this book has them at rehearsals all the time, it is chock full of middle school bitchery, light on the misadventures in babysitting, and is pretty much the best book ever. Here’s why:

1. The Cover Gives Away ALL THE TWISTS.
772701c737dece51aed0936133a354beSo much for the “big reveal” when Pete Black breaks his nose and can’t be in the play and Jessi unexpectedly takes over as Nana and the Crocodile, giving her the parts Kristy wanted while Kristy is in the part Jessi went around assuming was hers because didn’t you know she’s a dancer at a special school in Stamford?

2. Jessi’s Ego Trip and Subsequent Pity Party
Normally I like Jessi. She’s a dancer, I was a dancer too, she got me. But she goes off the rails in this book, and it is amazing. First, she practically tells everyone that the part is hers before auditions are even announced, and when she doesn’t get a callback, she’s convinced it’s because Mr. Cheney has already made up his mind about casting her (yes, Jessi, that’s ALWAYS the reason you don’t get a callback). Then she acts all bitchy to Kristy when SHE gets cast as Peter instead. And the pity party begins. She decides not to be an Indian (or a pirate? the book is really confusing about what she was actually cast as. CONTINUITY, PEOPLE) but does agree to be a children’s dance captain/assistant choreographer. And writes this in her notes:

I have to help everyone. Everyone. I don’t know how this play would get produced without me. Kristy doesn’t know her lines yet. We’ve all been coaching her. And she still forgets. Mallory is always asking me for costuming advice. And of course there’s my work with the little kids. My choreography. Now I see the real reason Mr. Cheney didn’t cast me as Peter Pan. He needed an assistant producer. But if that’s true, then explain to me what happened when the kid from the print shop came to rehearsal today with the copy for the play program. Doesn’t anyone appreciate me?

When she sees her credit (also: aww, print shop!) listed as “assistant choreographer,” aka, what she actually is, she CROSSES HER NAME OUT because it doesn’t say “assistant producer.” Do you even know what a producer is, Jessi? Here’s a hint–they don’t choreograph children’s dance numbers. You’re setting a great example for all your baby-sitting charges there.

3. “Tinker Bell Is Supposed to Tinkle.”

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The Worst.

Karen Brewer, aka the Worst (Fictional) Human Ever, decides that she must be Tinker Bell, a role that is usually not played by a person and is just simulated by light effects. But, since Karen gets whatever she wants, Tinker Bell becomes an actual character and Karen plays her. But that’s not enough. Four days away from opening night, Karen decides that Tinker Bell has to be accompanied by fairy sounds whenever she flits around, so she throws a tantrum backstage. And, for once in her life, Karen is SHUT DOWN. Suck it, Karen Brewer.

4. Mallory Being Awkward AF
For those of you unfamiliar with the Baby-Sitters Club, Mallory just all-around sucks. She does. You grow up wanting to love her because she’s a nerdy bookish girl who loves to read and write and wants to write and illustrate children’s books when she grows up, but she just destroys any likability with her constant whining about braces and having red hair and her odd obsession with horses. But I digress. In this book she’s back at it again, being her usual horribly awkward middle school self, this time because she, as apprentice costume designer, has to measure the cast for their costumes…including the boys. Even around their waists. To be fair, that does sound like middle-school hell, especially when one of the boys is Alan Gray. But you signed up for this gig, Mal. So, she talks to Savannah, the head costume designer, and is all “hey, how about I measure all the girls and you measure all the boys?” And Savannah is just like “…why?” and clearly having none of it. Meanwhile Mal is having an existential crisis. So she instead starts doing Mary Anne’s job for her. Which brings me to…

5. Mary Anne Grows a Pair, Part 23
Mary Anne’s arc in the BSC-verse is basically a repeating cycle of “Mary Anne is shy and sensitive. She cries a lot. People walk all over her. Then one day she grows a pair and tells her friends to STFU.” And that cycle repeats until her house burns down. We’re in the early 90s of the BSC timeline now, so I assume she’s gone through this cycle at least 20 times already. Well past losing the braids, but pre-infamous haircut. This time the target of her newfound confidence is none other than Mallory Pike, who would rather step on her toes as “backstage babysitter” than measure boys’ waists. I’m pretty sure every 90s girl cheers inside when Mary Anne screams at Mal, “JUST LET ME DO MY JOB!”

6. Dawn Makes Us All Future Feminists
Oh, Dawn. Always crusading against something. This time, it’s the rampant sexism in Peter Pan  (written in 1904). So she decides to start changing Wendy’s lines so that she is now teaching Peter how to sew his own goddamn shadow back on and telling the Lost Boys that if they want dinner they can cook it themselves. It’s funny how she is SO PASSIONATE about this but doesn’t for a moment think about the portrayal of Native Americans and how maybe songs like “Ugg-a-Wugg” also aren’t the best. But thank you, Dawn. Whenever I see Peter Pan now I always think about Peter sewing on his own shadow.

If you’ve never experienced Peter Pan Baby-Sitters-style, please go out and track down a copy of this book. Your inner bookish 90s-girl/theatre nerd/lover of middle-grade lit will thank you.

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Back to the Blog

I just had a master class that involved (among other things) good website practices for playwrights. And WordPress informed me that my last blog was published two years ago.* Clearly, these two things are related.

So where have I been? Working like crazy, for one. That’s the main thing. Helping my mom write her blog for her classroom (aka doing it for her). I started taking Irish language classes a year ago. That’s been challenging and also kind of amazing and also I am a huge language nerd. Oh, and writing things. I do that at times too.

I’m also in Company One’s PlayLab Unit this year. That’s where I had the above-mentioned master class where we talked about website design. It’s been such a great program so far. I want to write more about it. It also inspired me to try to make time to update my website. Not just the blog, but give it an actual redesign. Nothing big yet, because my writing group has our showcase in a month and my script needs to be done, but I need to at least keep the website in mind. I need to not feel guilty logging out of my mom’s blog to update mine.

Things will be pretty soon. Or, you know, eventually.

*EDIT: I did something good! I’m starting to go into my drafts and publish things I started but never actually hit publish on. So there will be more entries in that gap appearing back when they were actually relevant and on my mind.

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Beverly Cleary Forever

One of my favorite authors turned 100 today. The amazing Ms. Beverly Cleary, author of the first chapter book I ever read (Ramona Quimby, Age 8, when I was, fittingly, 8 years old), has been telling stories to kids for generations, since she published her first book in 1950. (Who else learned what bluing was because of her?) I grew up with her characters regardless of what decade they lived in. I freaked out with Ramona when her dad lost his job because my dad had just lost his. I maybe even stole some of her cigarette-hiding ideas to get my dad to quit (it didn’t work). I commiserated with Ellen Tebbits about changing in front of people when I was a dancer (luckily woolen underwear was not a thing by my day–also who wears underwear with dance tights, Ellen?). And I learned more about writing and character development than I ever realized at the time. Thanks, Beverly Cleary.

With that, in honor of her birthday, here are four of her books you have to read right now. Even if you don’t have kids to read them with. Just read them.

1. Ramona the Pest

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Ramona starts kindergarten. She discovers things like Susan’s boingy curls that she just has to pull and the joy of brand-new boots. This remains one of my favorite books of all time.
Highlights: So many! Ramona being told to “sit here for the present” and thinking that she’ll get an actual present, and then she’s afraid to go outside for recess because she might not get her present anymore if she gets up.
Ramona telling Beezus to turn on the “dawnzer” when it’s too dark in the room (“it gives a lee light”).
Ramona’s mom telling her to leave for school at “quarter-past,” and a quarter is worth twenty-five cents, so she therefore leaves at twenty-five past. And everything looks different because it’s later than usual, and also she’s five years old and walking to school alone–wow 1950s, you don’t play around.

2. Fifteen

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Jane Purdy is fifteen and starts dating her first boyfriend, Stan Crandall, who is just dreamy, with his green eyes and perfect tan. Why would he ever like a girl like Jane, when there are girls like Marcy Stokes around, the “cashmere-sweater types” who make Jane feel mousy and unimportant. This cover may look like 1987 threw up all over it, but the book was written in 1956. Parts of it are delightfully dated (dogs eat fresh horsemeat that gets delivered in a truck, like the milkman but, you know, horsemeat), and there are parts that make you think “how casually racist of you, Buzz Bratton, no wonder you’re not as popular as Stan,” but overall this story of first love is timeless.
Highlights: Sir Puss, the Purdy family cat, deciding to plant himself down in the middle of the living room and lick his butt while Stan is meeting the parents.
Jane’s bff Julie’s description of Stan’s date to the dance: “Everybody calls her Bitsy, because she is such a little bitsy thing….You know the type. She has to wear real high heels, because she is so little. The type that makes the other girls feel big and awkward. Especially me. She made me feel all wool and a yard wide as if I should be running around with a hockey stick instead of dancing.”

3. The Luckiest Girl

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This was published only two years after Fifteen, but it always felt less dated to me for some reason. In my head it’s a 60s book even though it’s from 1958. Sixteen-year-old Shelley gets to leave rainy Oregon and travel to California for the semester, where there are orange and olive trees, and no one has ever heard of Munchkins–excuse me, doughnut holes–and star basketball player Philip Blanton likes her. But she’s young and dumb and takes almost the entire book to figure out that the real boy of her dreams was right there the whole time, sitting behind her in homeroom.
Highlights: Shelley’s pink raincoat with a black velveteen collar and matching hat with a velveteen button on top, which is completely hideous back home in Oregon but super-adorable in California. I have wanted this raincoat to be mine to this day.
“‘Mother, they’ve crowned me Queen of the May,’ exclamation point,” which shy, awkward Luke had to read in front of his class.
Shelley starting to realize that maybe Philip isn’t all that great after all…when he tells her he doesn’t want to go to college and would rather just work on trees. (“Nobody was a poor woodcutter in this day and age.”)

4. Beezus and Ramona

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I was going to limit myself to just one Ramona book, but this book is for Beezus, the plain-Jane older sister whose shining moment in life came the day when Selena Gomez was cast as her in a movie. Basically Ramona spends one chapter after another ruining Beezus’ life in various ways, culminating with baking her doll into Beezus’ birthday cake. Beezus learns that sometimes it’s OK to not love your little sister when she’s being a pain in the ass. It’s kind of a shocking and also relieving message to hear when you’re a kid.
Highlights: Beezus thinking she has no imagination but managing to paint a kick-ass candy dragon in art class.
Ramona not wanting to return her steam-shovel book to the library, so she writers her “name” (aka i’s and t’s, her favorite letters) on every page.
Ramona riding her trike around the house all morning singing “I’m going to have a par-ty!” and then the family being shocked when kids start to arrive and she actually does throw herself a party. You think they’d have learned by now.

 

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Dear Spambot Commenters,

Hello, spambot commenters! Thank you for stumbling across my blog. And for leaving me comments. It makes me feel like my opinions bring up many interesting points that are really spot-on. Especially when you tell me that you “like all the points I made about this subject” and that I was “spot-on with this writeup.”

However, I really don’t need your advice on how to make my website better by getting more Google hits. I do not need to visit your spamlink for alleged SEO software that can create unique Google-friendly content in a couple of seconds.

You see, when I’m not writing, I’m editing. I do a lot of editing for SEO. A lot. In fact, I should be doing that right now. I have basically been editing nonstop today for over 12 hours, until I received a comment on my website about my interesting content that was exceptionally well written but could be even more successful.

So, next time you want to auto-spam my page, please just stick to the usual pEn!s enLarGements and young 18 y.o. Russian ladies.

Thanks.

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