Happy New Year!
Earlier this year I was approached to write a one act play for the Actor’s Theater of Orcas Island for a November production.
Honored with the privilege of having my play in the company of two superlative playwrights, Lin McNulty and James Wolf, I realized that 30 minutes of slapstick comedy (what I generally do for my ten minute plays) wasn’t going to work.
Armed with the theme of Homecoming, I set about doing something different.
During this time, my parents had stumbled upon an episode of the 48 Hours, which to their disbelief featured a friend’s son, a childhood friend of my brother’s.
John Wall is accused and charged with murder of his ex wife Uta, von Schwelder.
Uta’s family put up a Blog for justice: http://justiceforuta.com/
This tragedy haunted me. Mostly, I hate to think of the children experiencing this nightmare involving their parents. The trial isn’t until next year and may or may not prove to be murder, but it did make me wonder what could drive someone to kill . . .
From this, I found a foundation of an idea.
A man, a woman, and another unusual character (you’ll have to see the play to understand).
While I worked on my play, Ray Rice’s abuse story flooded the news media. In my advanced composition course, students writing on the topic shared their stories about domestic abuse.
Others asked, “Why didn’t you just leave?”
But, it isn’t that easy.
Why I Stayed
This hashtag created by Beverly Gooden prompts many stories on Twitter.
Obligation, financial, children (or not), religion, fear, love, confusion . . .
the belief that the person abusing will change.
The thing is a relationship cannot be all good or all bad.
The places where Love/Hate Possession/Freedom Passion/Pain intersects . . . This is where bad (or good) can happen, and I chose to explore the situations where things go wrong.
Why I Left
It takes courage to leave an abusive relationship. It requires stepping off a precipice into a deep unknown. Leaving often means changing everything and having the resources and support to do so safely. Leaving can also mean creating a more dangerous situation if the abusive partner cannot let go.
Why It Matters
This month, Orcas Island hosts the Silent Witness Initiative. If you go to the Village Green in Eastsound, you will find twenty-six silhouettes of those who died from domestic violence this past year in Washington State.
In the October fog, the image is reminiscent of a graveyard, a reminder of where domestic violence can lead.
In November, “Lilacs” will open with two great plays by Lin and James. For those of you on Orcas, I hope to see you.
But here’s what’s truly important:
Love should be love,
not damage, pain, injury,
That’s why it matters.
Recently I wrote a play review for a production of Love Song by John Kolvenbach. The play explores the relationship between what is real and what is imagined, and how it helps us find love and understand our world.
On a deeper level, the play considers that intersection between fantasy and reality.
As a child I often told stories because they seemed so real in my head. I couldn’t understand why they weren’t real. As an adult, I write those stories.
I read books about imaginary worlds, and a really good book can pull me into a world that seems real. This was true for me as a child and is still true for me as an adult.
Objectively, we can tell the difference between what is real and what is made up, but it’s fun to consider the “What if?”
The imagined world calls us . . .
As adults we may understand the difference between reality and imagination perfectly, but some of us choose to write stories, act on stage, make movies, draw pictures . . . .
We give ourselves a chance to enter that imaginary world.
After posting this, a friend emailed me a link to Mac Barnett’s recent Ted Talk on imagination and writing for children. If you haven’t heard this yet, I highly recommend listening in. Not that I’m telling you what to do or anything, but Mac is an amazing writer. I’d listen to anything he has to say:
On a side note, I’m still looking for that secret door–
The magic portal to something extraordinary . . .
My adventures with #PitMad
I had a nightmare dream this weekend. I stood before a mirror in a tiny string bikini with one of those boob enhancing tops (Victoria Secrets most likely). I took a bunch of selfies and posted them all over social media sites, grinning all the way.
I woke up with a gasp, a pause, and a flood of relief. It was only a dream. I didn’t just post my body all over the Internet. In real world I would never post a bikini selfie. No way. It’s just not my style.
First of all, I don’t wear string bikinis. My style is more board shorts with an athletic top that can take a plunge in the water without falling off. And even then, I don’t take selfies. My suits are utilitarian, not for sharing with the world.
If I do take a selfie, it looks something like this:
I shared a selfie with you! Note that my eyes are hidden behind my big frames, my face framed by my messy hair, and my body concealed under comfy shirt.
Yesterday I had an experience that matched my weekend sleep. Not the nightmare dream itself, but the absolute dread I experienced just as I woke up and believed I had compromised my vulnerability to the world. Yesterday, #PitMad took place on Twitter. For those of you who are unfamiliar with #PitMad, I believe it’s a creation of the author, Brenda Drake. It’s a Twitter opportunity for writers to get their pitches in front of agents and editors.
A writer creates a short pitch (140 characters) of a completed manuscript and posts it during certain times on a specific day. If agents and editors favor your pitch, you have the opportunity send queries and sample pages.
At first I wasn’t going to participate. It’s not my style. I write books and plays; I’m not a pitch artist. I don’t like shouting out the world, “Hey, look at me! Notice my work!” I’d rather quietly send out query letters the traditional way.
Could an agent or editor judge my work from a pitch? It felt like I was holding out a potato chip when the real menu included a delightful and complex home cooked meal.
But then I thought, why not? It’s just a pitch. A pitch is a valuable thing to write. It helps writers get to the essence of their work and consider theme.
Creating pitches wasn’t too difficult, but those short blurbs didn’t feel right. How can a pitch truly reveal the motivations of my main character? How can I convey what she truly wants? She is a girl with both an urgent drive and overwhelming doubt. She learns to trust her own human ingenuity and learn to love and accept those around her. And how can I cram the fantasy world with all the landscape, creatures, and magic I created into 140 characters?
I paused before I Tweeted. Who would judge me? Who would think, “Gosh, Michèle, how desperate are you?”
I also found a fake PitMad hashtag. Here’s mine:
Discouraged writer laments her fate considers career as a hermit potter or impostor nun. #fakepitmad
See, it’s easy for me to be self depreciating and sarcastic. It was much harder to be honest and say, “Please favor my pitch!”
Because I experience fear–a fear that wakes me up when I’m not having selfie dreams. A fear that aches and catches my breath. A fear I push away over and over again so fear doesn’t ruin my life.
What if no one wants to read what I wrote?
When I see all the other pitches I am both alarmed and, well, connected. Alarmed because so many writers reach out to get noticed. The competition is fierce. This is nothing new, however.
I feel connected because I think, perhaps, many of those writers feel like I do.
It’s scary to put yourself out in the world, yet we’re doing it together in our collective vulnerability.
Now #PitMad is over, and I can return to my quieter approach to reaching out. No more bikini selfies.
Would I do Pitch Madness again?
It’s not a bad idea, not at all,
I hope in the most humongous way I won’t need to pitch on Twitter again.
At some point this afternoon I looked up from my work and discovered the clouds had cleared and the garden beckoned.
As I went out into the rain scent and blossom, I spied this little tree frog.
A moment later, something red caught my eye.
The bees moved too fast for my camera.
But they love the foxgloves.
It only took a moment to remind me of the wonder in a little space of our world.
A light went on (so to speak).
A connection I hadn’t thought of before fused in an unexpected way.
In April I was at the Western Washington SCBWI Conference. I attended Justin Chanda’s session on editing picture books. Justin Chanda is the vice president and publisher of a bunch of imprints at Simon and Schuster, and he edited, among many other books, Jon Scieszka and Mac Barnett’s book, Battle Bunny, a book I happen to adore.
Justin Chanda was fantastic! Not only did he hand out actual manuscripts for three great picture books (I love, love, love models to work from), but he explained how he felt editing was a lot like directing a play.
This is when I had my connection.
During the month of April I was working on “Main Course,” my short comedy I wrote for the Orcas Island Ten Minute Playfest. I attended rehearsals as a very talented director worked with actors to create life from my script.
The results were much more awesome than I even imagined. I never grow tired of the magic which transforms words on a script to a live performance.
(Photos by Michael Armenia)
When Mr. Chanda made the director/editor connection, I could totally see this. The editor, like the director, coaxes and encourages the story along. As I considered the writing versus the finished picture book, I thought, perhaps, the artist is like the actors; the ones who make the story come to life.
Suddenly I could see what I do as a playwright in relation to what I could do as a picture book writer.
Playwright, director, actors: Performance
Writer, editor, artist: Book or story.
I love it when this happens!