Wednesday, June 16, 2004
Dark of the Moon
On Monday, I was what I commonly call A Waste of Food.
In other words, I slept nearly all day. I ran a few errands, went to sleep, got up and cooked a meal (salmon poached with rosemary; eggplant sautéed in olive oil with scallion, cumin, and garlic; capellini in Alfredo sauce), and went back to bed. I was just wrecked.
Tuesday, I had to get up and function. All I had time for in the morning was to run a few errands and check e-mail. I decided to wear a bright blue dress instead of all the dark, backstage clothes, since I figured I’d only do day work and come home. I have matching little shoes – the shoes that inspired the opening line of Periwinkle, actually. But they’re not “city shoes” – in other words, because one slips into them, I’m always afraid I’ll lose one on the train platform or something. Plus, they’re not cushioned enough for me to spend five hours on concrete doing day work. So I skipped the cute shoes and went with comfortable running shoes. They looked okay, and were certainly more useful.
One of the things I enjoy about commuting in to New York is that New York women know how to dress. Whether it’s business or casual, a New York woman has a true sense of personal style. She doesn’t necessarily look like someone who stepped out of a magazine – it’s much more individual than that. Suburban women hit and miss and tourists – well, there are only so many tee shirts with silly sayings and cabbage rose floral print stretch pants one can stand to see in one day. I enjoy walking to and from the station looking at the way New Yorkers dress because it is inspiring. I’ll get an idea for a design or the way to accessorize, or, think, wow, those prints actually can work together. Much better than a magazine.
I’ve got several plain tee shirts I bought for about $2 each in various colours and then I sew on trim or buttons or some other design. Or I’ll add a satin ribbon along the side seam of a dress or maybe put a few beads on as decoration. It makes the piece individual. And if you feel good in something and look good in it, your confidence level rises and you’re more open to the good things in the world. I’m not talking about trying to copy models. I’m talking about finding a personal style.
For instance, I often wear dance clothing when I write – yoga pants, perhaps, and a Capezio shirt. Sometimes I’ll run errands in the clothes. They’re comfortable. The cut is flattering, the fit is nice without being tight or cutting, and I get compliments for my “writing clothes.”
If I dress sloppily, I don’t feel comfortable. I feel sloppy. It affects my attitude about myself which projects outward and affects others’ response towards me. It also affects my work, because I’m uncomfortable. So, yes, I have “writing clothes” – which are basically yoga or dance clothes, because they are comfortable.
Anyway, I used my train time to do character work for the Boston Tea Party play. That won’t be the title, but it’s set against the backdrop of the Boston Tea Party, so right now, I’m referring to it as the Boston Tea Party play or BTP. I’d roughed out some characters and situations a few months ago and done preliminary pages. I need to go deeper. I need to do some more research on the time. The last time I studied the Boston Tea Party was in the fifth grade, and I don’t remember that much.
So the train ride in to Manhattan was spent focusing on the BTP. I was surprised at how short the ride seemed today.
The great thing about steaming and ironing in day work is that you can focus on doing good work while still thinking. Most of the call, I spent doing character work for a new mystery – possibly a set of mysteries – set backstage at a Broadway show. I think I want several books to take place during the course of one long run. Having spent five years on Miss Saigon, I’ve experienced first hand how long runs affect the company, both positively and negatively. The focus will be on the daily nuts and bolts of backstage life.
Doing the character work, I realized that the characters retain combinations of characteristics of friends and people I’ve worked with, but are very much themselves, which is a good thing. In other words, this is not a roman a clef. They tend to be dull, in my opinion, anyway, because the writer is too tied to what actually happened to let the piece take off on its own.
I have my main character, Ellie. She’s divorced, with 17 year old twins who are about to enter their senior year of high school. She’s worked in the theatre her entire adult life (part of the reason her marriage broke up) and it’s not an easy way to raise kids on your own.
I realized that I need to plot this book very tightly and outline the whole thing, rather than my preferred method of blank paging. I also need to at least outline the fictional musical that is taking place onstage while all the storyline happens in the book. So, that’s a challenge. I did some work on the characters backstage, and on Ellie’s home life. I still haven’t decided if she’s going to live in Manhattan, but up around Inwood or Washington Heights, where it’s still livable, or have her in one of the boroughs. I don’t want her to live in New Jersey, which is where many of the tech people live with their families. And I’m not sure I want them in Westchester, either.
Who is murdered?
Why is the person murdered?
How is the person murdered? It needs to be creative and totally unique to the theatre. I’ll be prowling around the theatre now, trying to come up with interesting ways to murder people. I have to be careful how to speak so that I don’t upset anyone. I don’t want them to take it literally!
Also, how many murders should there be in the book? Do I want there to be three murders and Ellie the fourth attempt? Obviously, she has to survive or there’s no series.
The other question is, do I want the most unpleasant character I’ve created to be one of those murders, or do I want to save that character and keep the character as a nemesis for future books? The typical choice would be to kill her off in this book. But I don’t want to follow formula here. I want to expand.
I wrote about eight pages of notes on all this during my break. It will need weeks, perhaps months, to percolate.
And then, they asked me to stay and work the show, both for the night and all week. Which is fine, I’m happy to help, but means I have to be ruthless in my time away from the theatre, I have to pace myself, and also. ..well, I wore a bright blue dress instead of stage blacks! Fortunately, this particular track doesn’t call for me to actually be in legs of the wings, so there’s no chance of the audience getting a glimpse of turquoise wafting past. But I was teased heartily, and it was funny.
Several actors out, but no one dropped during the show, which is a good thing. My show went okay – after doing a different track all last week, it was like relearning again. But I got through it.
Bitter disappointment: my magazine pieces. The one piece is pretty decent – most of it is my work, shifted around, with the last few paragraphs reconstructed out of a variety of information scattered throughout the article, and it’s obvious that the tone is different. The second piece – the one cut by 9/10 is not only short, but inaccurate. So, not only have I yet to be paid, it’s not work I feel comfortable using as clips. And I have to talk to the people who spent so much time with me for the second piece. The overall slant of the publication is more “scene-geared” than I hoped it would be. In other words, I am not a good fit for it. I wish the situation had been handled differently, but it wasn’t. Trying to fix blame won’t solve anything. I admit to coming home, having a glass of wine, a good cry and a chat with a good friend who isn’t a writer, but did his best to soothe me because he knew I was miserable. I considered not admitting that in the blog, but what good is a blog on the “ups and downs of a writing life” if I’m not forthright about the downs? Some things that aren’t so happy in the life can be shrugged off. Others take longer. This is one of those.
At least I tried. I did some good work, I enjoyed the research and writing process, and I learned a lot, I found some new interests, I met some lovely people. Overall, it was a good experience. I feel as though I let down those who took time with me. But I also can use what I learned in other pieces and submit them to venues more suited to the type of work I do. So it’s not a total loss, although it is a disappointment.
And I’m sure I’ll feel a lot less disappointed once I receive my payment.
I pulled out my Jr. Encyclopedia to spend time with Chloroform. Unfortunately, it skips from “chipmunk” to “chlorine”. And, under “Anesthesia”, it talks about ether, but not chloroform. I guess they figure “Juniors” don’t need to know about chloroform.
Fortunately, my writing group pals found enough info for my section. It will end up being a paragraph or so and then come back during the River Road section, but it’s important info to have.
I’m going to check my e-mail and try to get a little revision done on Widow’s Chamber episodes before I leave for my two-show day.