Thanks to the last of the air-miles earned during my previous life as a jet-setting astronomer I was recently able to take a wee hiatus from mummy-duty and head solo to NYC for two days. The main motivator for the trip was to see the off-off-Broadway premier of Ed Falco’s play Possum Dreams (which I wrote about here) but I also got to hang with friends that I get to see way too infrequently these days. After a few travel hijinks I arrived in the city mid-morning on the Saturday and headed straight for the main library. Although I am super lucky in how frequently I get to visit NYC I’m not often in mid-town so I wanted to take the opportunity, while untethered by a two-year-old, to play tourist. It is such a beautiful building but it was slightly disappointing that the Rose Reading Room was shut to visitors that morning otherwise I would have loitered quite a bit longer.
My friend’s apartment, and my home for the night, is in the Upper West Side so I strolled from the library through the mayhem of Times Square. It has been years since I set foot in Times Square and I swear there were far more life sized (and frankly disturbing) cartoon characters this time around! But it was nice to get into the theatre-mood for the upcoming evening’s entertainment. The rest of the day was filled with a trip to the MET and great food before we found our way to the twelfth floor of a building on West 54th and a teeny-tiny blackbox theatre for Possum Dreams. The three friends who came with me had no exposure to the play prior to the show so I was really interested to see how their experience would differ to mine.
Leighann Niles DeLorenzo and Andrew Narten star in Ed Falco’s ‘Possum Dreams.’ Photo credit: None Too Fragile Theater
If you are interested in a professional’s review of the play you can read a, deservedly, glowing one here but let me start with – I enjoyed it immensely. The actors, to my mind, did the text proud and indeed Leighann Niles DeLorenzo brought a version of ‘Jan’ to life that was completely different (and far superior) to the one I saw in my head when I studied the play. The stage area was compact to say the least but they made effective use of the space and the actors navigated it well. They only aspected of the play that felt constricted by the stage area was the physicality and the destruction of the living-room set that the play calls for – I would love to see what these actors could do if they had the space to really throw the dinning chairs around! The ninety minutes of the play flew by and the actors held my attention throughout – even though I was eagerly awaiting the arrival of the possum (you’ll have to go see the play to find out what I mean)! As a newbie playwright what mostly stuck with me was the success of the ‘reactions’ that the actors brought to the play – by that I mean the reaction of the person who wasn’t speaking to what is being said. When you are studying, or indeed writing, a play you are intently focusing on the dialogue but when the play is translated into the visual medium up on a stage there is so much subtext and ‘story’ being told by the actor who isn’t speaking. I assume as a playwright you just have to cross your fingers and toes and hope that if you are lucky enough for a play to make it to production the actors are good enough to bring that level of performance to the piece.
I’m now gladly back to mummy-duty, spring weather, the last few weeks of semester and my playwriting class. For the end-of-class portfolio I have a one-act play (around 30 mins in length) to complete and I’m slowly, though frustratingly, forcing my concepts and ideas into something resembling a play – with the help and patience of the hubby, my professor and kick-ass classmates! I did have some very pleasing news this week though. A 10-minute play I wrote at the beginning of the semester has just won top prize in the prose category in the Shapiro Writing Contest – an annual competition run by the University of Toledo. Does this mean I can now claim to be an award winning playwright?! Nah – but it is very nice to know that I don’t completely stink at this writing malarky! If you want to take a gander at the play you can read it here: Thwarted.
This morning I read a fun little exercise from a newly discovered blog Addlepates and Book Nerds via another excellent blog The Novel Orange and I thought why not join in! As explained by Maggie at ‘the novel orange’ the premise is straight forward …
Exploring My Bookshelves is a relatively new bookish meme hosted by Victoria at Addlepates and Book Nerds. Every week Victoria will post a new prompt, each regarding something different about your personal library. The idea is to post a picture related to the prompt for the week. Victoria also brilliantly came up with the idea of bloggers posting photos of their personal bookshelves for the world to see!
I may not take part every week but as I dug around my bookshelves this morning out of curiosity to learn what is the longest novel on them (this weeks prompt is ‘book with the most pages’) I was tickled to see it is a Barnes & Noble Classics Edition of The Arabian Nights – clocking in at 680 pages of the tiniest of text. Those of you who know me will not be shocked to learn that this book (plus many, many others on my shelves) has not been read yet. As I’ve touch on before I’m a book gatherer rather than an avid reader – though I am actively trying to make steps towards reading more of the books I have stockpiled! However, what tickles me about Arabian Nights being the winner is that it was another version of the book that started my love for Folio books. I talked about Folio books and my (minor?) obsession with them in the post “Accumulator of books” so I won’t talk of it further other than to say one day I hope to have bookshelves full of Folio books!
Although this edition doesn’t hold the ‘magic’ of a Folio book, I really love the cover – it reminds me of the Alhambra in Granada, Spain and the wonderful December day a decade ago that my sister and I spent pottering around the castle and grounds. The second part of the exercise from ‘Addlepates and Book Nerds’ is to post a photograph of your bookshelves … and I certainly don’t need to be asked twice to show off my shelves! I love my shelves almost, but not quite, as much as I love the books they house. When the hubby and I left the Southwest and moved to Ohio we bought our first ever home (neither of had been house owners before – thanks to being perpetually moving academics!) and to celebrate we each got to treat ourselves to something in the house. My choice, of course, was custom made bookshelves. And so we had a local carpenter make solid maple shelves that fit perfectly onto two walls of our living room. But I’m a smart cookie. I had him make them completely freestanding and screwed together (rather than nailed) so if we ever move I can totally break them down and take them with me! Whoop!
About a year ago I attended a Q&A session with the author Zadie Smith and an audience member posed her the question: “what is your writing process?” Her answer intrigued me. Like me she was mother to a, at the time, one year old and she basically said (and I’m totally paraphrasing here, cause it was a year ago) that she didn’t hold any stock in The Writing Process – her basic premise for writing was to take any given day and if she had child care organized she would write. Simple. Right? Actually, it is pretty profound. And one that is the same sentiment of what made me start this blog and what I am trying to put into practice more and more on a daily basis – just write, dag-nam-it!
A spot of light reading.
However, since I’m at home full time with my, now, two year old my opportunity to write is based more on if-she-naps and if-she-has-slept-well-the-night-before-so-I-don’t-need-to-nap and if-the-house-isn’t-a-complete-disaster and if-I-have-enough-brain-power-to-not-want-to-just-sit-and-watch-rubbish-tv then just write, dag-nam-it! But, I have discovered some unexpected pluses to being a parent that helps my writing. The biggest roadblock to my writing is that I am extremely easily distracted – especially by this wonderful thing called the internet. I can be deep into writing a paragraph for a new story and one of my characters is hungry for cake – which means I’m hungry for cake which means I have to start trolling the internet for new baking recipes which leads to me looking up a source to buy a new fun cake stand which leads to me thinking about completely remodeling my kitchen which leads me to spending hours on Houzz looking at inspirational photographs of kitchens I could never afford. Which ultimately leads to me wasting all of the time that my little one is napping doing anything but writing. So, I need to get away from the internet and that is where being a parent to a toddler has actually helped.
There are two times during which I am forced to be disconnected from the internet and at the same time not be required to eat play food that has been ‘cooked’ for me on her kitchen. The first is when we are out for a walk – I’m lucky enough that we live in a neighbourhood that has pavements (sidewalks) everywhere and that she hasn’t yet claimed that she is too big to go in the buggy (stroller) so I get anywhere between fifteen minutes to an hour of time to daydream while I push her around and she waves ‘hello’ to all the neighbourhood dogs. But there is a catch – I do own a smartphone and I am very adapt at pushing a buggy one-handidly while catching up on celebrity gossip on some rubbishy website, so when I’m not actively chewing on a scene in my head it is all too easy to no fully unplug myself and waste my strolling time.
One place I can not take my phone, or laptop, or kindle, or book, or iPad is when I’m rocking my toddler to sleep – yes, yes I still rock my two year old to sleep – to discuss how this makes me a “failure” of a parent is a whole other blog! But rather than it being incredibly annoying to be sitting in the pitch black rocking back & forth with no sounds other than that of the white-noise machine, the same CD of lullabies that we have been listening to every single day for two years, and the snuffles of my take-forever-to-fall-asleep toddler I’ve found it is the time that my mind does some of its best writing. It has been in her rocking chair that I’ve un-snagged a plot line that was so entangled that it was incomprehensible, where a character has spoken a critical line of dialogue, where blog posts start to find form, and where new stories have materialized. And once I finally have my toddler sleep in the cot (crib) I often have to make a beeline for my laptop to note down whatever thought has been bouncing around my head in the dark before it seeps out of my far-too-holey-memory. So, if in a few years I admit to you that I am still rocking my six year old to sleep you will fully understand that it is a sacrifice that I undertake purely for the advancement of my writing career … honest!
Two weeks ago I started a new semester in which I’m concentrating on all things dramatic. By that I mean I’m taking two classes – ‘Introduction to Theatre’ and ‘Playwriting’. I love the theatre. I love the ‘play’ and I’ve been involved in amateur productions in many capacities for most of my life but actually writing a play is kicking my ass! Not because I can’t envisage the actors on the stage – in fact I can see them clear as day in a set concocted in my mind following stage directions to a T. What is tripping me up is the drama.
I just got a rough draft of a short play that I wrote back from my professor – in it, a married couple have a conversation. Sounds dull? Yip, it pretty much was and my professor, rightly so, told me exactly that. “Flat” and “uninteresting”. That isn’t to say that there may be a play hiding somewhere in the draft but it is utterly missing the critical ingredient, the aforementioned drama. And so my new quest is to learn how to write dramatic characters that are not clichéd stereotypes but are complex, and real but happen to talk and act in a heightened way. Of course, these characters have to engage and entertain a paying crowd as well! We just finished reading and studying a wildly funny (and hugely dark) play by Ed Falco called Possum Dreams. The play pits a married couple against each other over the course of an evening when secrets are revealed and confessions are made. The two characters are intricate and genuine but do, at times, fall into the ‘clichéd’. After all, the catalyst for the action is a 40-year-old man that hits a midlife crisis and has extra-martial “sexual encounters”. But, the beauty of the clichés and the way that they play out is that they are both spookily real (I literary could hear real people from my actual life saying some of the lines from the play) and fantastically, dramatically, entertaining all at the same time.
I’m not going to give away spoilers as the play is soon going to be staged off-Broadway (see the flyer) but what transpires in the play is nuts, like, seriously nuts. So much so that if your best friend met you in the pub the day after and told you about his night you would be insisting that he was a bare faced liar. But amongst the shenanigans Falco dismantles so many deep rooted notions about the institute of marriage in such a beautifully skilled way that it makes me want to be him when I grow up!
And so it is back to my dysfunctional couple and how to give them depth & growth & drama and a story that unfolds in a engaging way that makes also a statement – oh, and did I mention the play only lasts ten minutes! Thankfully, I love a challenge.
p.s. Off to book my flights for NYC for Possum Dreams … see you there?
Blogging has never been something I’ve desired to do, mainly as I’ve never felt that what I think about on a daily basis is worthy of another person’s time and energy to read. However, as some of the motivation to start this site is to make me accountable for putting effort into the thing I claim to love, namely books and writing, it makes some sense to force myself into keeping the site ‘ticking along’ with new content. However, given my current status of a ‘mama’ to a sleep-is-for-the-weak toddler, producing fiction or poetry that I would consider ready for human consumption does not happen at a particularly sprightly rate.
And so I turn to this blog to make sure this site doesn’t just sit collecting dust in some dingy corner of the internet. I will endeavor to keep the content relevant in someway to books/writing/fiction/publishing and I promise the entries will be sporadic, and extremely inconsequential, but on a selfish front, at least I’ll be writing something!