Sylvain Landry Week 31 Photo Challenge: TIME

Boy does self love Sylvain Landry’s Photo Challenge.

She picks just one photo (as opposed to the three she loads for The Daily Post’s Weekly Photo Challenge)

This week’s theme is TIME.

And here’s a picture from a coffee shop on New York City’s Upper West Side, Oct. 2015. She had her notebook open. She carries a notebook with her everywhere so she can jot down random musings as she goes through her day.

No matter how busy she is, she always manages to take down notes on what she observes around her:

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New York City, Upper West Side Coffee Shop, October 2015

Self would describe this process as “layering” — enriching present experience by forcing her to observe details of what’s around her, no matter how mundane. It’s a way of forcing herself to slow down, to savor the moment.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

One Story, Six Ways

This is a workshop self invented, and the Mendocino Art Center is letting her run with it.

ONE STORY, SIX WAYS

Two days of intensive experimentation at different ways to tell ONE event.

In the Mendocino Art Center.

Saturday & Sunday: Feb. 6 & 7, 2016

Instructor: Your Fabulous Blog Mistress Herself

Cost: $200

Such a steal. For $200 you get self for two whole days.

Not to mention, six versions of the same story.

Here’s where to enroll:

MendocinoArtCenter.org/Winter16/Villanueva2.html

Or call: (707) 937 – 5818 xt. 10

Or call: (800) 653 – 3328

 

Short Stories, Plays, Process: An Interview With Playwright Penny Jackson

Penny and self have been friends for a long, long, long time. Since before either of us were even married.

Self remembers having Penny over to her little one-bedroom in Menlo Park. She met Thomas, Penny’s then-boyfriend, soon-to-be-husband.

We were in the Stanford Creative Writing Program together. Penny lived in the City. She hitched rides to the writing workshops with Jeffrey Eugenides and his dog. They split on the gas.

In recent years, Penny has been writing plays at a terrific rate. Her most recent production was during last fall’s Solo Festival in New York City.

Self wrangled an interview out of Penny. No mean feat, as Penny is terrifically busy. Here are some of her answers to self’s questions:

What attracts you to playwriting as a form as opposed to, say, writing a novel or a short story? What was the first genre you started writing?

I first began writing stories when I was in college (Barnard). I am very comfortable with writing in short forms, and I have adapted three of my plays from three stories, All Alices, Louise in Charlestown, and Before, which have worked very well onstage. Although I wrote a novel, Becoming the Butlers (published by Bantam when Penny was a 20-something), I find writing a novel to be more challenging. Keeping track of the plot and characters over a length of time is difficult. Perhaps I like playwriting now because each scene is like a short story to me, with a beginning, middle, and end. That’s not to say I won’t return to novel writing. I still love fiction writing, and unlike playwriting, you have a sense of control you have to somewhat relinquish when you hand your play over to your director and actors.

Are there conditions that need to be present before you feel you can write your best?

Absolute quiet and no distractions. I joined The Writers Room, which provides a haven for writers. I wish sometimes that the Internet did not exist. When I was at MacDowell, there was no Internet, and I could really focus.

What keeps you writing?

The world. I am inspired all the time by the news and what I see in the city and hear from my friends. I write to be able to understand the complexities, the unfairness, and also the joys of life. If I didn’t write, I think I would go a bit crazy. I hear the same sentiment from actors: if they don’t act, they can’t handle the world. Right now I’m sick about the gun violence in our country, and writing about the issue really helped me with my sadness and disgust at our politicians.

What is the biggest difference between playwriting now and playwriting when you were just starting out? Does it get easier? Why or why not?

Playwriting is becoming somewhat easier. I’ve had the wonderful opportunity to work with several brilliant directors, actors, and dramaturges. I understand the form better now. What is not easier is finding a theatre to produce your plays if you are a female writer who is not a recent Yale graduate. Ageism and sexism very much exist in theatres, when I began and still today.

Do you experiment with form and/or dialogue? Who or what inspires you?

Because I’m trained in fiction writing, which is character-based, I always begin with people. An old lady drinking in a decrepit Irish bar. Two teenage girls talking to a mysterious older man at Starbucks. A drag queen waiting for his show in Las Vegas and having to talk to his daughter about marriage.

I love dialogue. I write down snippets of dialogue I overhear in the streets of New York City all the time. And if you follow me on Facebook, you can frequently read about remarkable conversations with New York cab drivers.

In your opinion, what is the best play ever written?

I am a huge Eugene O’Neill fanatic, so I will say Long Day’s Journey Into Night. Family secrets and family guilt and pure poetic language. But of course, King Lear is top of the canon. King Lear howling about his dead daughter still takes my breath away.

Which playwright has taught you the most about your craft?

Rogelio Martinez is a wonderful playwright who has taught me so many important aspects about playwriting. I also love the Lark Development Center which gives you the space and time to try out new works in a safe environment.

Did you have a mentor? Do you think playwrights need one?

Yes, having a mentor is important. So many women directors have been my mentors: Joan Kane, Gloria Kadigan, and Shira-Lee Shalit are three tremendously talented women artists who inspire and instruct me. Writing is a very lonely business. You need a cheerleader!

What’s the worst thing about being a playwright?

That it’s just too damn expensive to produce a play in America. Unlike Europe, we don’t have government funding for theatre. The costs are astronomical. As a female playwright, I face other challenges. Walk down Broadway or The West End. Do you see any female playwrights on the marquee? My organization, The League of Professional Theatre Women, is working so hard for gender equality in theatre, but it’s a very long, frustrating, and seemingly endless battle.

 

 

Notes to Self

Brrr, brrr, brrr.

It is cold in New York City.

Christmas lights down the avenues.

Self met up with nephew Chris and he told her that he and his sister just invested in their first piece of New York real estate.

Self was astounded, simply astounded. How is it that these kids can afford to buy and assume their first mortgage and they’re still in their 20s? While self is still meandering in her usual thickets of she-doesn’t-know-what.

Anyhoo, just for fun, self began combing through her archives and found these photos she had taken in AWP Seattle, 2014.

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Oh, fan fiction. Yesterday she started writing a drabble about a Cheating Peeta. As in: Peeta cheats on Katniss. Yeah. And he lives in San Francisco. And his mistress is Delly. Who loves wearing pink.

Must be all those Mary Gaitskill stories she’s been reading.

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Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

Only a Matter of Time

Self is teaching an on-line class for UCLA Extension’s Writers Program, and it’s nonfiction. Now that the holidays are near, and the writing prompts get more complicated, she worries that her students will fall apart. Self is like a mother hen, clucking over her chicks, constantly admonishing, Don’t let the thought of carving the bird deter you from your writing tasks!

She begins each course with instructions on doing daily writing, emphasizing the importance of dailiness to honing the writing “muscle.”

Now, in the fourth week of the class, a student turns in an assignment about “a better version of you,” a version that carries a notebook around town (Los Angeles), “the notebook is like a travelogue of sorts: city skylines of home and away fill the pages, each thoughtful stroke of her pen drawing a connection to the past. She is always inspired and she is, above all, hopeful.”

Way to go, oh resourceful UCLA Extension writing student. Way to go.

HAPPY THANKSGIVING TO ALL!

State of Self’s Novel-in-Progress

Self spent most of this year working on a novel about an 18th century priest who gets sent to a Philippine island to fight demons. It’s at 185 pages and she was extremely discouraged yesterday, thinking she probably had twice that many pages to write before she really knew what it was she wanted to say.

Then she went into one of her bookmarked food blogs, Kahakai Kitchen. And there is a review there of a novel called Water on the Moon, which is 244 pages. Hmmm, self thought: 244 pages seems do-able, at least it does to self. It would mean she only has to get 60 more pages in, and then she can review what her manuscript feels like.

Here’s the synopsis of Water on the Moon (Publisher: She Writes Press):

When her husband comes out as gay and an airplane crash inexplicably destroys her home, the mother of teenage twin daughters must rethink everything she knows.

In her debut novel, Water on the Moon, Jean P. Moore introduces readers to Lidia Raven, whose life begins taking seemingly endless wrong turns. Lidia and her girls miraculously survive the plane crash that destroys their home and are taken in by Lidia’s friend Polly, a neighbor with a robust collection of first-edition books who lives alone on a sprawling estate.

Struggling to cope with each of these life-changing events, Lidia discovers a connection between herself and Tina Calderara, the pilot who crashed into their home. In the months that follow, Lidia plunges into a mystery that upends every aspect of her life.

Dun Dun Dun! Sounds pretty interesting!

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

Self’s Fan Fiction: So “Meta”

As self got to Chapter 44 of her Hunger Games Everlark Fan Fiction, which she’d begun last year, in Chicago, she realized she’d written herself (or, rather, her characters) into a corner.

Peeta, the main, was last seen running flat out down a Capitol Avenue, completely naked, while two men in black suits (who self can’t help calling — if only in her head — Tweedledum and Tweedledee) give chase.

In order to close the scene properly, she had to show what happened to Peeta.

But other than teleportation, she didn’t know how to solve the problem. And teleportation is such a cop-out (though, in this case, it would be really effective, since it would get Peeta back to 12, where Katniss sits waiting. Oh, BTW, Katniss is married to Gale — the AWFULNESS of it all! — and Gale is still alive. Only he’s in jail. Framed for the murder of Peeta’s father. Because Cray, who arrested him, has the hots for Katniss. And enjoys making Katniss go to his office so he can keep extending the most lascivious and stomach-churning invitations to her.)

So since the start of this year Peeta has been languishing, naked, in the Capitol, with no hope of rescue.

But, self being the wiliest fan fiction writer on the planet, she devised a couple of different endings, and posted them all.

But — copout, much?

One reader inquired: “Umm, is this the end? No little anything between the other train station in a bathrobe and the Post-Epilogue? EEEEEEEK !!!”

And well may that reader say “EEEEEEK !!!”  Self is so EEEEEEK herself, she can’t even.

Stay tuned.

Careful 2: The Habits of a Writer

This week’s WordPress Photo Challenge is CAREFUL.

Careful, according to The Daily Post prompt, can refer to many things: a photograph taken with care, a person being careful, or a task or detail requiring care.

The way this week has gone — dinner with Drew in Koreatown; a reception for Chamber Music Artists; Asian American Writers Workshop double book launch of Luis Francia and Midori Yamamura; and Penny Jackson’s play “Louise in Charlottesville” — and the pouring rain yesterday, self had absolutely not a spare moment. GRRRR.

But here are three pictures of what “Careful” means to self.

First, she never goes anywhere without her journal. She uses it primarily to make random observations.

Last night, on the train, a conductor seemed anal about the passengers’ “dirty feet.” Over and over, he admonished the passengers NOT. TO. PUT. DIRTY. FEET. UP. ON. THE. SEATS. Nearly drove self mad.

Upper West Side, New York City: Taking Notes in a Chocolate Shop on Broadway

Upper West Side, New York City: Taking Notes in a Chocolate Shop on Broadway

Her friend has a beautiful apartment on the Upper West Side. She is a writer, of course.

You can always tell the quality of a mind by the quality of that person's bookshelves. These belong to a friend who lives in the Upper West Side.

You can always tell the quality of a mind by the quality of that person’s bookshelves. These belong to a friend who lives in the Upper West Side.

Finally, Dog-Eared Books in Valencia. This is one of the mainstays, along with the science fiction bookstore Borderlands, that have called the Mission District of San Francisco their home for many years. With the loss of other mainstays, like Modern Times Books, self cherishes these last hold-outs before the yuppie deluge:

Dog-Eared Books, Valencia St., San Francisco: Murals on the exterior walls are painted with books.

Dog-Eared Books, Valencia St., San Francisco: Murals on the exterior walls are painted with books.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

Thoughts, the Hybrid Memoir: TROPIC OF CANCER, by Henry Miller

Tropic of Cancer is one of the finest examples self knows of the hybrid fiction/memoir.

It was published in Paris in 1934. Labeled obscene by American standards, it was banned for the next 27 years (You can read the first half safely; it’s the second half that set the American censors off)

The version self is reading now is the one by Grove Press.

  • I have made a silent compact with myself not to change a line of what I write. I am not interested in perfecting my thoughts, nor my actions. Beside the perfection of Turgenev I put the perfection of Dostoevski. (Is there anything more perfect than The Eternal Husband?) Here, then, in one and the same medium, we have two kinds of perfection. But in Van Gogh’s letters there is perfection beyond any of these. It is the triumph of the individual over art.

Tropic of Cancer, p. 11

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

THE Conversation: June 2015, Tyrone Guthrie Centre, Annaghmakerrig

The Scene: Dinner. Around the table, mostly Irish playwrights. In such a crowd, self does not know why she can always think of something to say. Such as:

Self: I’m stuck writing my novel. I think I’m bored with my main character (Honestly, the things self ends up saying when she’s relaaaaxed!)

Irish Playwright, interrupting: KILL HIM OFF.

Self: ????

Irish Playwright: If he’s boring, KILL HIM OFF.

End of story. Thanks so much for that. Stay tuned.

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