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Judges, Gatekeepers & Independence

I entered one last screenwriting competition. I don’t even know why, what I hope to prove or accomplish. I just really feel like this script was a good one, and I can usually trust my instincts, but . . . Anyway, I e-mailed the competition to ask about the judges. The site says that key industry people (agents, producers) do the judging. But I’ve learned, after so many competitions, that this kind of statement can be misleading. So I asked whether the industry people read ALL the rounds or just pick the winners. And of course the answer is that the industry people only read the finalists. The competition’s “staff” does all the initial reading.

One has to wonder, then, who these staff members are and what qualifications they have. I don’t necessarily want to antagonize the competition’s organizers by e-mailing back and demanding to know. But to think whether I get my script in front of a major industry insider rests pretty much on whether one little underling likes what I wrote . . . But then again, it’s the same in any agency office: interns and assistants reading scripts and tossing aside the stuff they don’t like or don’t think (in what? their great experience and understanding of the market?) will sell. It’s all pretty stupid. And it’s one of the reasons a lot of bad movies, and a lot of the same kinds of movies, keep getting made.

I suppose gatekeeping is a problem in any creative industry where there is more material than money to publish or produce it all. Just as Hollywood producers and agencies haphazardly sort scripts, so do literary agents and publishers sort manuscripts. There’s this sort of arbitrariness to “worthy” versus “not worthy.” A crappy book by a bestselling author can get published, but a really great book by a no-name gets the boot. And so it goes.

I’m glad to have an outlet for my books. Indie publishing has certainly allowed me to find a kind of niche, an audience. If I had the money, I’d go make my little indie movie, too. But movies are still too expensive and labor intensive for me to do by myself. A writer can work alone, but a movie requires a crew. And even “cheap” ones cost tens of thousands of dollars to produce.

Still, it would be awesome to see my mental vision come to life. That’s why one writes plays and screenplays, after all. It’s like getting to play pretend with real people.

But I can’t say I hold out much hope for this competition. Given my past performance in such, the odds of finding a reader who likes and “gets” the stuff I write seems pretty small. And I could pay for “notes” but from whom? Some underling? It’s not worth the cost. I’m not above rewriting, learning, developing, but I’d like to know the teacher is someone who can honestly help me.

Meanwhile, I have two big projects facing me: a full-length play due at the beginning of October, plus I need to finish The K-Pro because I have a publisher waiting to read it. No promises in either case; I was “invited” to submit the play, but that doesn’t mean it will be selected for production, and just because someone wants to read my manuscript doesn’t mean they’ll want to publish it. I gotta stay realistic. But I also gotta keep moving.

Upcoming

Upcoming Publications

  • “Sherlock Holmes and the Adventure of Ichabod Reed” (Amazon Kindle)
  • “Alice,” “Secret Admirer,” and “The Summons” in Daily Flash 2013: 365 Days of Flash Fiction (Pill Hill Press)
  • “Warm Bodies” in NorthNorthwest 7th Edition (Northwest Playwrights Alliance)

Upcoming Productions
There are no upcoming productions at this time.

Upcoming Appearances

  • Austin Film Festival, Austin, Texas (18-21 October 2012)
  • San Francisco Writers Conference, San Francisco, California (14-17 February 2013)

2012 Thus Far

Thought it might be interesting to take a quick inventory of all that’s happened thus far this year. The good and the bad.
 

  • Scott interviewed for a new job (mid-January).
  • I made travel arrangements for my trip to London (mid-January).
  • I wrote and finished my novella “St. Peter in Chains” (January).
  • Scott was offered the job in San Francisco and accepted (early February).
  • My play “Warm Bodies” was produced and was a finalist at the Valley Repertory 3rd Annual Lab Works (late February).
  • Movers packed up our house, and after a couple nights at a hotel we flew to San Francisco and moved into temp housing (mid-March).
  • I flew to Boston for a night, then on to London for a 10-day stay, then back to Boston and home to San Fran (March-April).
  • While in London I: converted “St. Peter in Chains” into a short screenplay, saw two plays, and celebrated Easter alone.
  • I submitted the screenplay version of “St. Peter in Chains” to the Nicholl Fellowship (April).
  • An area agent and an agency in the UK asked to look at my Sherlock spec; the UK agency also asked to read “St. Peter in Chains” (April)
  • We sold our house in Massachusetts (April).
  • I found out three pieces of my flash fiction had been accepted to be published in a 2013 anthology (May).
  • The agent declined to represent me and the UK agency did not respond to my follow-up query (May).
  • Scott’s parents visited and Scott and I celebrated our 11th anniversary by staying at El Drisco, eating at a fancy restaurant, and seeing Roger Clyne & the Peacemakers play at the Red Devil Lounge. Scott also gave me a gorgeous ring (May).
  • We moved out of temp housing and into a new house in Livermore (May).
  • I flew to Washington D.C. to see “Warm Bodies” produced as part of the Source Festival, and also got a chance to meet and spend the day with one of Scott’s high school friends who until then I’d only known online (June).
  • Scripts sent to Script Pipeline and the Page Awards did not advance (June-July).
  • After repeated rejections, I self-published the novella version of “St. Peter in Chains” as an e-book; it’s had steadily increasing sales (late June).
  • Encouraged by the success of “St. Peter in Chains,” I also self-published “Sherlock Holmes and the Mystery of the Last Line.” It has outpaced “St. Peter” by a large margin and has been especially popular in the UK (July).
  • I did not advance in the Nicholl Fellowship (early August).
  • I self-pubbed my Star Signs Operating Manual (August).
  • I found out my play “Warm Bodies” was to be published in an upcoming anthology of short plays (August).
  • I was invited to submit a full-length play to a competition that only accepts full-length plays via invitation (August).
  • I did not advance in the Austin Film Festival screenwriting competition (August).

So . . . A mixed bag. I’ve left out the fact that a small army of query letters has gone without response. I’m chipping away, you see, but I wouldn’t mind a bit more success. The year is two-thirds over. Not sure what else I can hope to accomplish. I am working on another Sherlock Holmes story, and I am hoping to submit something to that playwriting competition. I’m also hoping some other plays I’ve submitted to various venues get selected for production. And more than anything I’d like these scripts I’ve written to get some notice. That, for me, would be the big win.

Books & Shelves

I have bookshelves in my office now. Not nearly enough of them yet, only five. But I’ve been able to clear some floorspace, which is a start. Below are pictures of three of my shelves, partly filled in with books. Those with keen eyes might learn a little bit about me by discerning which books I have read, or at the very least own. Though I suppose you must consider that some of these were gifts, some were sent to me as review copies, and there are at least as many more books you can’t see from these pictures as the ones you can.

“Warm Bodies” to be Published

My short play “Warm Bodies” has been selected for inclusion in an upcoming anthology, an annual collection put out by Northwest Playwrights Alliance. The theme for the 2012 anthology is “A Better Life.” I’ll make an announcement and put it on the Shop page of the site when it becomes available.

I’m really very pleased that my first attempt at writing for the stage has been (for a beginner) pretty successful. “Warm Bodies” premiered at the 3rd Annual Lab Works put on by the Valley Repertory Company in Enfield, Connecticut. Then it was produced as part of Source Theatre Festival 2012 in Washington D.C. Maybe it’s beginner’s luck, but I’ll take what I can get.

I seem to be better at the short stuff than the long, perhaps because I do tend to be a somewhat economical writer. I once had a reader say to me in a letter that she liked how I could create such vivid imagery and feelings with so few words. She said it gave everything more impact. I like to think so. My goal is not to drag out and bore people. I hope I’m achieving that.

The Literary Space Ghost

Back in the winter of 1999-2000, while messing around in my then boyfriend’s office, I began to write a mashup on a chalkboard. It featured Robert Frost’s “Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening” interspersed with commentary by the Space Ghost: Coast to Coast trio of Space Ghost, Brak, and Zorak. I eventually went on to write four of these, which I dubbed “The Literary Space Ghost.” I’d forgotten all about them until they were unearthed this past weekend. So I’ve reproduced them here, beginning with Frost because his was first.

Episode One: Frost

Space Ghost: Hey there, everybody!

Zorak: Run while you still can!

Space Ghost: Tonight we have a special treat—the poet Robert Frost!

Zorak: Um . . . Isn’t he dead?

Space Ghost: Not in space, he isn’t. You see, in space we get all kinds of ghosts. Like me, Space Ghost! Okay, Robert, take us to your special place—

Frost: Whose woods these are—

Space Ghost: Whose woods are these?

Frost: I think I know

Brak: I think I’m lost!

Frost: His house—

Space Ghost: Whose house?! You didn’t answer my first question!

Brak: It’s cold out here!

Space Ghost: It’s cold in space . . . and oh so lonely . . .

Zorak: Not with all those ghosts floating around. Hey, Jack! Frost Boy! Hey!

Space Ghost: His name is Robert.

Zorak: Bob, Jack. What’s the difference?

Frost: Is in the village—

Zorak: Idiot. Village Idiot.

Frost: He will not see me—

Zorak: Good! Steal his stuff! Then—

Brak: What stuff? All I see is snow! It’s cold out here, buddy!

Frost: My little horse—

Space Ghost: A pony!

Frost: Must think it queer

Zorak: Tell me about it. Queer as a—

Space Ghost: Go back to the pony! I want more about the pony!

Frost: to stop—

Zorak: please do!!!

Try to remember that I was relatively young and still testing my talents (such as they were and are) as a writer. Also, if you’re not familiar with Space Ghost, Brak, and Zorak—if you can’t read this and hear them in your head—then this doesn’t make any sense to you anyway. It doesn’t translate.

Episode Two: Fred

Space Ghost: Well, boys, tonight we’ve got a real looker. Dorothy Parker!

Zorak: You mean a real liquor.

Brak: Lick her? Why? Does she taste like candy? Or pizza? Or beans? Oh, I hope she tastes like black-eyed peas!

Space Ghost: You know the rules. No snacking on the guests. Especially you, Zorak. Now, Ms. Parker, let ‘er rip!

Parker: I like this place, Fred.

Space Ghost: Actually, the name’s Tad. But you can call me Space Ghost!

Parker: This is a nice place.

Zorak: Are you kidding me? This place bites!

Brak: It does? It’s never bitten me!

Parker: How did you ever find it?

Space Ghost: Oh, the production company found it.

Parker: I think you’re perfectly marvelous, discovering a speakeasy in the year 1928.

Brak: It’s 1928? Already?

Parker: And they let you right in, without asking you a single question.

Space Ghost: Everyone here knows me! I’m Space Ghost!

Parker: I bet you could get into the subway without using anybody’s name. Couldn’t you, Fred?

Brak: Who’s Fred? Am I Fred?

Zorak: No.

Brak: Are you Fred?

Zorak: No!

Brak: Is the pizza boy Fred?

Zorak: Actually . . . yes.

Space Ghost: The pizza boy is here?

Brak: Oh boy!

Space Ghost: Who ordered pizza? I don’t remember authorizing—

Parker: Oh, I like this place better and better, now that my eyes are getting accustomed to it.

Space Ghost: It is rather bright to begin with. But you get used to it.

Parker: You mustn’t let them tell you this lighting system is original with them, Fred; they got the idea from the Mammoth Cave. This is you sitting next to me, isn’t it?

Space Ghost: The one and only.

Zorak: You can always tell; he has a peculiar smell.

Parker: Oh, you can’t fool me. I’d know that knee anywhere.

Space Ghost: You betcha! I have super heroic knees! Watch as I bend them!

Brak: I wish I had some legs!

Zorak: They’re chained under your desk.

Brak: Why so they are!

Parker: You know what I like about this place? It’s got atmosphere.

Space Ghost: We make sure to pipe in oxygen for our guests.

Zorak: Even the dead ones!

Parker: This is a nice highball, isn’t it?

Space Ghost: Who let her have that? Zorak?

Zorak: Don’t look at me.

Space Ghost: Brak?

Brak: What?

Space Ghost: Did you give Ms. Parker a highball?

Brak: An eyeball? No . . . I’ve only got the two.

Space Ghost: Nevermind. Fred!

Fred: Sir?

Space Ghost: Did you give my guest a highball?

Fred: I just deliver pizza.

Space Ghost: Hmm.

Parker: Are you going to have another one?

Space Ghost: I didn’t even—

Parker: Well, I shouldn’t like to see you drinking all by yourself, Fred.

Space Ghost: Fred! Have you been drinking?

Zorak: There’s nothing more dangerous than a drunk pizza delivery boy.

Space Ghost: Remember that, kids. Never accept a pizza from a drunk delivery boy.

Parker: Solitary drinking is what causes half the crime in the country.

Zorak: I used to cause half the crime in the universe . . . But soon, soon I’ll be free . . .

Parker: You’ll like that, Fred.

Zorak: I AM ZORAK!

Parker: Don’t let me take any horses home with me.

Space Ghost: You can have Brak on loan if you like.

Parker: Do you come here often, Fred?

Space Ghost: Oh, we have pizza delivered about once a week. Don’t we, Fred?

Parker: I shouldn’t worry about you so much if I knew you were in a safe place like this.

Space Ghost: Don’t worry. I keep the villans under lock and key.

Parker: Was Edith here with you, Thursday night?

Space Ghost: We’re not on on Thursdays. Unless it was a repeat.

Parker: Now to me, Edith looks like something that would eat her young.

Zorak: Watch it!

Space Ghost: Yes, Zorak once ate his nephew. And his best friend Klovar.

Parker: I haven’t got a friend in the world. Do you know that, Fred? Not one single friend in this world.

Brak: I’ll be your friend, Dorothy! And we can go to Kansas and visit the Emerald City and play with Toto and—

Space Ghost: What about your world, Dorothy? Are you from Kansas? And are there really flying monkeys there? Dorothy? Dorothy, speak to me!

Zorak: I think she’s had one too many.

Space Ghost: Damn you, Fred! We were just about to learn the secrets of Oz!

Brak: And we’re out of pizza, too!

Episode Three: Ornithology

Space Ghost: Greetings, Citizens! Welcome to another Literary Space Ghost! Tonight’s guest is James Thurber! How you doing, James?

Thurber: I saw Gertrude Stein on the screen of a newsreel theater one afternoon and I heard her read that famous passage of hers about pigeons on the grass, alas—

Space Ghost: I tell you what, James, nothing makes me more angry than those pigeons!

Brak: I like pigeons. They just walk around, bopping their heads to the music . . .

Zorak: There is no music.

Brak: Well sure there is! In a pigeon’s head!

Zorak: You would know. Bird brain.

Thurber: Pigeons on the grass alas may be a simple description of Miss Stein’s own consciousness—

Zorak: Or Brak’s. Take your pick.

Thurber: A truly simple description of the pigeons alighting on the grass of the Luxembourg Gardens (which, I believe, is where the pigeons alighted)

Space Ghost: That’s right, James. Those pigeons are just all over that Garden! It’s one of the reasons I was forced to destroy Paris. But I think they’ve managed to rebuild most of it by now, haven’t they Zorak?

Zorak: The pigeons rebuilt it.

Thurber: Pigeons that alight anywhere are neither sad pigeons nor gay pigeons, they are simply pigeons.

Brak: You just don’t understand them the way I do!

Space Ghost: I’ll have to agree with Brak there, James. The pigeons that alight on my Phantom Cruiser tend to look pretty gay to me.

Zorak: Birds of a feather . . .

Thurber: It is neither just nor accurate to connect the word alas with pigeons.

Brak: I usually connect the word bird to pigeons!

Space Ghost: Grey is also a good word to connect with pigeons. And stupid.

Zorak: I connect Space Ghost to the word stupid.

Thurber: Pigeons are definitely not alas.

Zorak: No, but Space Ghost is an a—(beep) Whoa, what was that?

Space Ghost: The censor button. Watch your language.

Zorak: Watch it do what?

Thurber: When it comes to emotion, a fish, compared to a pigeon, is practically beside himself.

Brak: I like fish! I once had a pet goldfish named Dr. Muff and he swam round and round in his bowl. And then one day Zorak said Dr. Muff might be happier in a bigger bowl, like maybe the toilet bowl and—

Thurber: With a horse or a cow or a dog it would be different.

Brak: A horse wouldn’t fit in the toilet!

Space Ghost: Neither would a cow. But a dog, if it was a small one, might.

Thurber: I should not have minded if Miss Stein has written: dogs on the grass, look out, dogs on the grass, look out, look out, dogs on the grass, look out Alice.

Brak: Poor Alice! Look out!

Space Ghost: You really do have to look out for those dogs on the grass these days, don’t you? Why, back in the good old days—

Zorak: May have to put a few of those dogs in the toilet.

Space Ghost: Exactly! That’s what I’m saying! Back in the good old days, there was no need to put dogs in the toilet. But now—

Thurber: Pigeons can be understood only when you understand that there is nothing to understand about them.

Zorak: Kind of like Space Ghost.

Thurber: Hens embarrass me—

Zorak: Kind of like Space Ghost.

Thurber: Owls disturb me—

Zorak: Kind of like Space Ghost.

Thurber: If I am with an eagle I always pretend that I am not with an eagle—

Zorak: Exactly like Space Ghost!

Thurber: But pigeons have absolutely no effect on me. They have absolutely no effect on anybody.

Brak: Except me!

Space Ghost: And me!

Zorak: So . . . As James was saying, pigeons have absolutely no effect on anybody.

Thurber: They couldn’t even startle a child.

Zorak: Kind of like Space Ghost.

Thurber: If any body let loose a lot of owls on such an occasion there would be rioting and catcalls and whistling and fainting spells and throwing of chairs and the Lord only knows what else.

Space Ghost: That happened once when Brak accidentally got loose, too. But the production crew recovered. Mostly.

Zorak: Except for that one guy he bit—

Space Ghost: Yeah, too bad about old Henry . . . The family isn’t suing, is it?

Zorak: They can’t. Henry signed a waiver, just like the rest of the crew.

Space Ghost: Thank goodness for that at least. Where is Brak, anyway?

Zorak: Uh-oh.

Episode Four: Math Lesson

Space Ghost: And now, ladies and gentlemen, here’s A. E. Housman!

Brak: You mean he’s a house-man? Like part house and part man? Oh boy! That’ll be something worth watching!

Space Ghost: No, Brak, he’s a poet!

Zorak: In which case, it’ll be something worth going deaf.

Space Ghost: Take it away, Mr. Housman.

Housman: Lovliest of trees, the cherry now—

Space Ghost: I’m partial to elms, myself, A. E. Or should I just call you “A”?

Zorak: Call me . . . Ishmael.

Housman: Now of my threescore years and ten, Twenty will not come again—

Space Ghost: Hold on a minute . . . threescore and ten . . . How many zeros is that?

Brak: Makes my head hurt!

Zorak: Looking at Space Ghost in that get-up makes my head hurt.

Housman: And take from seventy springs a score—

Brak: Who scored? I didn’t know there was a game on!

Space Ghost: My money is on Buffalo.

Zorak: Loser.

Housman: It only leaves me fifty more.

Space Ghost: Are you sure about that, A? That’s not the answer I got. Let’s try this again. Threescore and ten . . .

Housman: When I was one and twenty—

Space Ghost: Well why didn’t you say so before? Now I see how you got fifty!

Brak: I don’t get it.

Zorak: You wouldn’t.

Places I’ll Be

Mostly I’m a hermit—writers are often like that, in order to write—but I have two conferences coming up, so people wanting to meet me (and not ambush me at home or at the store or, as happened once, while I’m at the Doctor Who Experience) can plan accordingly.

18-21 October 2012—Austin Film Festival, Austin, TX. I don’t know my schedule yet, and I do have real and actual friends to visit on top of attending, but I’ll be around and probably even wearing a name tag.

14-17 February 2013—San Francisco Writers Conference, San Francisco, CA. Now that I live out here, I am technically a “San Francisco Writer,” I suppose. So I’ll be wandering around this conference, too.

To my UK fans (and for whatever reason there seem to be more of you than US ones): I don’t expect to be back on that side of the world until perhaps late summer/fall 2013? I wish I could be more of a jetsetter, sure, but . . . Thanks, though, for the encouragement and love. I love all of you, too. One day, if we’re all very lucky, I’ll settle down on those shores for good.

Look Meme

Thanks to Christine Rains for tagging me for this. Here are the rules: Search your current WIP for the first instance of the word “look” and paste the surrounding paragraph for everyone to read. Then tag as many people as you like/can to do the same.

My current WIP is my new Sherlock Holmes story.

He finished his tea, and I asked him where he could be reached should Holmes want to interview him further. But checking his watch, Durstwell said, ā€œIā€™m afraid I cannot stay any longer. I must catch a train home. If you could only persuade Mr Holmes to look into this Ichabod Reed, I would be most obliged. My whole family would be.ā€