Monday, December 14, 2009

Gathering Family Together at the Holidays....

So how does one entice older teens to the table and to spend an evening hanging out with Mom and Dad?  Chinese take out and The Muppet's Christmas Carol, of course.  It also helps if you invite their friends, especially the ones who have never seen the Muppet's version of the Christmas classic.

The entire evening was my husband's idea.  I went to bed early Saturday night, exhausted from a day spent traveling to Massachusetts with my daughter to make tons of pierogi with the in-laws and her cousins, and awoke Sunday morning to a forwarded text alerting me of the evening's festivities.

It was a gift not to be planning the holiday get together.  So after begging off from that night's monthly gathering of my playwriting group, I scoured the house for the holiday videos, which I so cleverly hid last year.  While I never did find them (thank goodness for the local video store), I did find two snowboarding coats that went missing about three years ago and the pearl ring that my hubby gave me on our first Christmas together, which has been missing for at least three years too.  I also located the papermache Santa my husband made when he was in grade school and the clay sleigh and Santa figurine I made as a freshman, plus tons of photos and cards from over the years.

And now that I've replaced our three must-have holiday classics* with a last-minute desperate order via Amazon dot com, I'm sure to find the treasure trove of holiday videos that have been watched multiple times over the years.  (If I do, I'll simply have DVDs to hand out as if you're on my list, hope I find my holiday video box.)

Ah, the holidays. Such a crazy, magical, hectic time of year.  Now where did I put the stockings?  Oy. Who cares? As long as family's around to pass the rice....

* Our three must-have holiday classics include: Dr. Seuss's Grinch Who Stole Christmas (the original cartoon version), It's A Wonderful Life, and, of course, The Muppet's Christmas Carol.  What videos do you watch every year?

Monday, December 07, 2009

Ode to Four-Footed Friends

We lost a family member last week.  Our greyhound, Ellory.  Ellory McQueen “LL McBean” Myskowski, also known as “Elle,” to be precise.

She was our daughter’s pet; it was Abby who arranged the adoption.  That was nine-plus years ago.

When Elle first moved in with us at the ripe old track retirement age of three, our daughter couldn’t walk her.  Though Elle was the smallest greyhound at the kennel, she was still too large and too strong for our then first grader to handle alone.  But eventually first graders grow into college students.  And unfortunately dogs can only accompany us so far on our life’s journey.

While Elle’s loss is a keen blow to my husband and me, for we have lost a true and loyal friend, her death has left a profound hole in our daughter’s life.  With time the pain may ease a bit, but no one can completely erase the loss of a pet with which you grew up, walked many miles, went on vacations, and too soon out lived.

Elle, you’re missed.  Especially this holiday season.  And this morning when you weren’t waiting for us to walk you. And tonight when you won’t be begging for your dinner.  And all the days and evenings to come when—for just the teensiest, tiniest instant—we'll forget you’re no longer here.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Being sixteen is hard.  Being married is even harder.

Please join us for the Premiere New Hampshire Stage Reading of FREEBIRD, a screenplay by Hilary Weisman Graham, the winner of this year's Screenplay Competition sponsored by the New Hampshire Film & Television Office in partnership with Red River Theatres.  Reading under the direction of Adam Jones.

Thursday, Nov. 12, 7 p.m.
$6 RRT members/$8 general admission
Red River Theatres, Concord, NH

Saturday, October 03, 2009

Awesome seeing our son's three pieces of artwork on display in Boston's Backbay today!  Thanks AANE for displaying them.  And thank you to Auntie Sandra for driving in to see Leo and his work.  Thanks also to Abby for joining us on our soggy journey. :)

(NOTE: Silly Polar Bear in Negative sketch above done by me with a mouse as I tried to learn the computer's free art program....)

Friday, September 18, 2009

Leo's Artwork to Appear in Boston Show in October!
("Gourds," graphite, 24.5" x 19.5")
Three Works Selected
AANE Annual Fall Conference
Saturday, October 3, 2009
10 AM - 5 PM
John Hancock Convention Center
180 Berkeley Street
Boston, Mass.
Free & Open to the Public

(Untitled, collage & paint, 17" x 20")

("Skateboard Designs," ink, 17" x 17")

(All Leo's artwork is for sale. Please don't let my poor photography skills fool you; his artwork is much better in person!)

Monday, September 07, 2009

Fair thee well...
We enjoyed a great day yesterday, walking about the Hopkinton Fair Grounds -- my first trip to the New Hampshire State Fair. And a superb evening tonight having dinner with friends. Labor Day Weekend should happen more often. :)


Monday, August 03, 2009

Don't cry for me, overweight chicken...
I saw FOOD, INC. almost two weeks ago at Red River Theatres and I can't get the documentary out of my head. It's the first time I've felt like crying over a chicken.

Okay, well, not technically the first time. I think it was actually when we moved to a small, three-acre farm in Sharon Center, Ohio. When my mom placed our order for our new chicks, she and my father were delighted to learn that they would receive ONE FREE ROOSTER for every dozen chicks. ONE FREE ROOSTER? Wow. It was like they won the lottery or something. So a few months after the 72 hens and 6 roosters grew up, we learned first-hand why the company might ship us all these free roosters: they were fighting. And I'm not talking a little pecking here or there, but a blood sport. There's a reason cock fighting is illegal.

And so my father invited his old-country Italian parents out for the weekend. And as he and my grandmother slit the throats of four roosters, my mom, my brothers and I hid in the master bedroom and balled our eyes out.

Still, that didn't get me out of my chores of plucking feathers and gutting the meat.

A few days later, as we sat down to a home-made dinner of fried rooster with a family from Cleveland, my dad picked up a leg and asked aloud, "I wonder who this is?" (Naturally we had named EACH rooster.) That was it: while their family ate the "best fried chicken they'd ever tasted," my family and I ate greens and whatever other veges my mother had cooked up for us that evening.

Years later, I would learn to accept the "savage" side of farming. While it's easy to eat the picked and pulled veges from the garden, it's not always easy to chow down on the animals who so easily become part of your life when you take care of them daily.

Take our first two cows for example. The morning after receiving them on our next farm, a couple-hundred-old cool homestead on about ten acres located eight miles from our three-acre starter farm, my father left for work warning me not to name the cows. That night I told him the two heifers were "Clem" and "Tine." Get it? Dad didn't laugh. The next night he returned home from his day job as a manager in a steel plant and informed me that he'd sold three halves of the two cows. It took my eight-year-old mind a few minutes to grasp, but once I realized what that meant I left the dinner table and went to my room to cry myself to sleep.

Still, what we did on our farm--raising grass-fed beef and sheep, and horses (which we did NOT eat), and goats (there's nothing to eat on them, trust me), and pigs (more a pain in the arse then they're worth...which prompted my mom to finally donate them to Oklahoma State University's agricultural program when we moved to a 20-acre ranch out there)--anyway, raising these animals as we did with the personal touch, made me want to cry when I saw the fat chickens that could hardly walk in FOOD, INC.

And so tonight, as my husband and I talked about walking downtown to grab a bite to eat, I couldn't get FOOD, INC. out of my mind. By the time he jumped from the shower (after his 25-mile bike ride) I had broiled up some green tomatoes from our garden, cleaned fresh lettuce (also from our garden), microwaved some"fakin" (soy-made vegetarian bacon...while trying not to think too much about that evil empire known as Monsanto), and chilled some local micro-brewed beers. And thus we enjoyed a fresh dinner in our backyard garden.

Can I thank FOOD, INC. for tonight's repast? Maybe, but I'd like to thank my mom and dad instead: for showing me the charms and chores of growing up on a farm (and ranch) in the many middles of nowhere in America.

Bon appetite!

Sunday, August 02, 2009

Pare it down...
Can you write a complete, complex and compelling story in 25 words or less? It's called Hint Fiction and the best will tentatively be published in an anthology by W.W. Norton in 2010. Submit your two best Hint Fiction pieces by August 31; anthology submission guidelines are listed HERE. Good luck!

(Above is a picture I took of my Mother's Day Pear Tree planted in one of our several new gardens we put in this year.)

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Monday, July 13, 2009

Careful what you say around me... may end up in one of my stories.

Recently a friend was lamenting his life's situation - a number of unfortunate circumstances brought on by the economic downturn. I, of course, suggested he write what he knows--after all, he's living a wealth of material right now. Instead he permitted me to use whatever I want from his life. And so I did. Today. In my newest ten-minute play for the stage. I've gotta say - I love it! It's a jolly fun-filled romp through an agonizingly painful reality. (I always fall in love with my words at first glance; we'll see what a few days cooling period does for me--and how I feel when I revise them at the end of the week.)

Yesterday after the excellent performances of several short plays and scenes from longer pieces at the New Hampshire Theatre Project, we authors joined the actors and directors on stage for a Q&A. Much of our discussion revolved around our characters and how we write them. Do we picture the stage as we write, one fellow writer in the audience wanted to know, or do we--as she's been doing lately--picture the characters in their real life circumstances and write with that in mind?

Each of us agreed that it's far better to picture our characters as real, multi-dimensional beings, tackling what life throws at them as best they can. And in the case of the ten-minute play, we may only glimpse their problem, but it's best to show us that turning point--or one of the main turning points in a character's life--that ten minute window into an "a-ha" moment for a character and how a character reacts when pressed into a corner.

By glimpsing that moment on stage, we create a life before and after the scene. Audiences can infer enough to build up what occurred before the curtain opened, and hopefully will care enough to ponder what comes next in our characters' lives.

While I don't always know if the audience is wondering over the future lives of my characters beyond the story's end, I often hear that my stories of family have touched someone and that they can relate because either they too have lived something similar, or they know someone who has.

What a gift to give a writer. That an audience member empathizes with any character you've created means you've shared yourself with others, and probably even created truly three-dimensional characters.

So watch what you say around me. It might end up as a piece of one of my characters' lives. Though if it touches and even inspires just one person in the audience, maybe that's good enough reason to share your stories with me after all....

(Pencil drawing above by Leo.)

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Summer Reading, Happened so Slow...
Not that life's returned to normal, but I am today able to focus (finally) on some ordinary summer hobbies. Thought I'd share, as I finally submit my last book request form for this fall's semester of teaching at UNH.

I picked up the Stephen King "On Writing" again - and am requiring it for my Advanced Scriptwriting class and for the Media Writing class - but would also like to suggest anyone who likes to write read it over the summer. It's unlike any other book on craft you've ever read. I know a few others who have read it too and agree with that assessment (including my son).

The other book, which was required of my last Media Writing class and which is again required of my class this fall, is Mignon Fogarty's "Grammar Girl's Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing." It incorporates silly examples, but is by far the easiest to comprehend grammar manual available today. Read it and keep it. Refer to it as necessary. Again, this is a light read and though it seems incomprehensible to say: it would make a good beach read. Or at least a great, quick, grab-me book for that next time you find yourself in a long wait line.

What else is everyone reading this summer? (Please, do share!)

I have about three books going now including two Asperger handbooks and a short story compilation by NH Humorist Rebecca Rule; I'll be re-reading the two "textbooks" mentioned above and all the others required for my classes ("The New Rules of Marketing & PR" by David Meerman Scott, "Little Miss Sunshine: The Shooting Script" by Michael Arndt, & "The Shawshank Redemption: The Shooting Script" by Frank Darabont).

I will also be reading four others: a new biography by Concord Novelist Merle Drown, a first novel written by a Goddard MFA dorm mate of mine (Bev Hamel's "Bethania: The Village by the Black Walnut Bottom"), the unfilmed original screenplay adaptation of "A Raisin in the Sun" by Lorraine Hansberry (I LOVE her stage play by the same name; apparently the 1961 film may have been based on another adaptation), and the play "Death and the Maiden" by Ariel Dorfman (I'm producing a play adaptation of his this autumn and wanted to read more plays he's written).

Of course I also have a couple more plays to read by that incomparable Irish dark humorist Martin McDonagh (who wrote the screenplay to the awesome film IN BRUGES) and, as always, I have a huge stack of books I'll probably never get to read, but will daydream that I might.

Happy summer reading (and movie watching), everyone!

Friday, June 26, 2009

Am flying to Maryland today to finally interview a fascinating cartographer who worked on the DEW Line project up near the Arctic Circle in the 1950s.

I stumbled upon him, or rather his photographs, while researching my graduate thesis project, a spec script set in Nunavut, Canada—in and around Baffin Island. His daughter had posted her father’s photographs from his time there to her flickr account.

Our first correspondence was in February of 2008. And here it is June 2009 and I’m finally listening to the advice of William Zinsser and getting on that plane. “If a subject interests you,” he writes at the end of chapter 23 in his book On Writing Well, “go after it, even if it’s in the next county or the next state or the next country.

“Decide what you what to do. Then decide to do it. Then do it.”

I am so happy to have finally arrived at step three, even if I wonder if I might be subconsciously endorsing Nike.

- - - - -

PHOTO CREDIT: Bill McTigue, as posted to flickr by his daughter Terry (link to entire set of photographs above).

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Island Dreaming...
Led my last class today in UNH-M summer school (by attending the matinee at Red River Theatres!) and met with my independent study student for the final time before his next assignment begins this fall. So once my grades are in, I will be kicking back, uh, er, strike that:

I will be writing, redesigning my fall classes, weeding, lawn mowing, reading, visiting colleges with my teens, interviewing a fascinating fellow in southwestern Maryland, helping my son with his new challenges, dramaturging (if you'll allow me to make that a verb) a play for a New Hampshire performance this fall, helping to plan the next New Hampshire Film & Television Office Stage Reading, finishing up my duties as one of three judges for the 48-Hour Film Project of New Hampshire (if you don't like a decision, I was out voted by my two contemporaries...that's my story and I'm sticking to it!), and, of course: island dreaming!
Our last full week of summer we'll once again be visiting the Casco Bay region of Maine. Almost every summer for several years now we have driven up to Portland, unloaded our cargo at the docks, parked our car for a week or two in the Police Garage, and made the pilgrimage to one of the jewels of the Casco Bay region. This summer it's Chebeague Island - our first time there...and our next to last Casco Bay Lines-served island to visit.

To say I love our time away on an island that is so close, yet which feels so far away, is an understatement. I like that we are car free for a week. And we sometimes even go computer free, except two summers ago when I awoke and worked on my graduate thesis every morning, watching the lobstermen and the seagulls cull the bay. And I love the fresh lobsters, sunsets, and family time...even if we hardly see our teens who, along with their cadre of guests, fish, dive off the docks, and suntan every day.
Sweet dreams, everyone. I know mine will be. :)

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Don't Cry Over Bald Tires...

You know when you cry about one thing, but it’s really about another, larger thing going on in your life? That was me today as I pealed out of the tire merchandising lot where originally they were going to replace all four of my bald tires under warranty (which aren’t even a year old yet, doggone it!), but instead decided to point out some ridiculous miniscule text that apparently declared that my tires were TOO WORN OUT to be replaced for free. Say what?!

Okay, so fast forward about three miles. And I do mean fast. Too fast. And I’m sitting at this traffic light crying, feeling completely ridiculous, when it hits me: it’s not the tires that I’m crying over (though I am mad at that snow job and will NEVER buy a Toyota again even if they are the only car company left at the end of all this automotive fiscal mess…).

I’m crying because after weeks of reading and studying this thing called Asperger Syndrome, and trying to figure out how to help my son, I feel like I’m no farther than when I began. Like I’m stuck in my bed sheets trying to outrun the monster in my nightmare. And even though I read the part in the OASIS book last night that said if you feel like you’re stuck after recently having received the diagnosis for your kid: stop, take a breather, you’ll feel better in a few days.

So there I am sobbing and feeling self conscious, like everyone is watching me wondering if the crazy woman is going to be able to see when the light finally turns green. My worries were for nothing though as the ditzy woman next to me chatted on her cell phone and blew her nails dry. (I mean OMG – I thought I was the problem on the road at that moment!)

And so that’s my day in the life of a parent of a kid with AS. And it doesn’t even compare in the tiniest amount to what my son is going through. But if I think too much about it, I may go insane. So instead, I think I’ll heed the lesson in the book and take a few days off. Finally read that Rebecca Rule book that’s been sitting on my nightstand. She’s a New Hampshire humorist (and a great woman); I’m looking forward to letting her entertain me.

(Graphic above by my son Leo; he just had artwork accepted for exhibition at the Annual Asperger's Association of New England Conference in Boston this October! We're awaiting word which of his pieces was selected. Uh, sorry for the bad photo of a great piece of art; that's a mom for ya....)

Friday, May 01, 2009

Walking a road less traveled but finally named... comfortable, familiar boots.  (Drawing by Leo.)

We have it: the confirmed diagnosis.  For our son.  Asperger's Syndrome.  On the Autism continuum.  Somewhere near full-functioning, but not quite. Not yet.  But perhaps one day.

And with it a door has been opened.  And a light switched on.  And every other illuminating, "a-ha" style metaphor you or I can conjure.

So this is what is on my mind these days, and what I will likely most often blog about.

I'll begin with a link to a poem on the Asperger's Association of New England website.  Bet you didn't know there was such an organization, did you?!   Neither did I till an early diagnosis by another doctor sent me searching for answers to my hundreds of questions.  And now I can't live without the comfort and support of the group.

The poem is "Because My Son Thinks Different" by Debi Baron.  It reminds me of the time I went to collect Leo from kindergarten and the teacher met me at the door.  She told me how, in honor of Earth Day I think it was, she handed each child a circle after talking about globes and maps, and asked them to draw Earth.

As she made her way from student to student, admiring their handful of green continents among the blue of water, she arrived at Leo's drawing.  On it was one single land mass, surrounded by water.  She complimented him on it, while trying to gently point out that there are actually several continents.  "Now there are," he confirmed.  "But this is before the continents shifted; it's Pangea."

The teacher was impressed, if not a bit alarmed.  I was proud, and not at all surprised.  

And so it was too with his recent diagnosis.  And I'm relieved that it was he who prodded us to bring him to a specialist to help determine why school is so difficult for him--even though at 16 he knocked the GED out of the park and scored high enough on the SATs in seventh grade to never have to take them again.

He will be an adult next week.  And while this new path still has a few potholes to weave in, around, and out of, I am happy to see signs that he is maturing.  A college sophomore on medical leave of absence, he hopes to transfer schools eventually.  First though he wants to take a couple community college courses to regain his self-confidence in his classroom abilities.  And this week he began a job, which he landed through his own connections, so he's feeling a huge sense of accomplishment there.

And while we still have tons of questions, we're learning to take one day at a time as a family.  Thank goodness life is about the journey and not about the destination, since--even wearing our comfortable boots--we'd likely arrive a wee bit late....

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Mini Ninjas...
...Crossing the Delaware?

I've been enjoying beginning my day with a blog post.  But what to write?  That's why I begin the blog with a photo - pick one that attracts me that day and riff off it.  I have hundreds of photos, which means hundreds of writing prompts....  So here goes: fingers to keyboard, twelve or so minutes straight, as I attempt to find a story from the outrageous photo above.  A warm-up to my real writing this morning: editing and revising my spec feature, TOPPLE.

"Tumble"  by dana

They stand on the benches in the boat to keep their pajama feet dry.  "I wanted to be first!" cries Lilac Ninja.

"At least you're not last!" whines Pasty Ninja.

"Shut-up both of you!" orders Orange Ninja.  "I won fair and square.  Rock smashes scissors."

"You said he'd choose paper," Pasty Ninja  complains to Lilac Ninja.  "He always chooses paper, you said."

"Well, I was wrong."

"But you said--"

"Shut up!  I said I was wrong.  If you want an apology too you'll have to wait a long time."

"How long?"

"Oh, do be quiet both of you!" sneers Orange Ninja.

"The power's gone to his head.  I knew it would," says Pasty Ninja.  "With ultimate power comes ultimate...uh, something."

"Oh, oh," says Orange Ninja.  "I hear something."

"Rapidly approaching," adds Lilac Ninja.

"You mean--?" Pasty Ninja infers as the trio falls silent, listening with dread to the doom before them.  "Is it the end?"

"Maybe it's just the beginning," guesses Lilac Ninja.

"Of a fantabulous adventure," mocks Orange Ninja.

"Who says fantabulous anymore?" asks Pasty Ninja.

"I do," says Orange Ninja.  "Didn't you hear me?"

"I can't hear anything over the roar!" shouts Pasty Ninja.

And as their boat drifts with the current of the mighty Niagara, taking them tumbling head over feet, over boat, over rocks, through water and spray, we leave our whiny Ninja warrior would-bes to fend for themselves.  Maybe we'll check back tomorrow.  

Or not.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

They're coming!
The daylilies look like clumps of corn as they pop through the cold earth.  It's always a miracle to me they reappear each year.  Hardy beautiful little bastards. :)

And that's going to have to be my post for today.  Spent what might have been my few minutes blogging instead editing my screenplay TOPPLE.  Am on deadline mode now, as May 1 rapidly approaches - the deadline for the Nicholl Fellowship in Screenwriting.  

Never stop dreaming.  Who knows? One year I might be as lucky as my flowered friends and finally find my blossom....  Oy.  But not today.  Too much reaching for springtime metaphors.


Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Please be Patient...
...Beginner everything & anything.

Wouldn't it be sweet if we all would just give each other a break?  I don't mean friends, because most of us do that already (or else we wouldn't call each other friend, would we?).  But I do mean family and neighbors and strangers.

Last weekend at Skid School Advanced Driver Training for Teens with our daughter we heard from one instructor who suggested that the next time someone cuts us off, instead of growing enraged, we should give them a break.  Think about the millions of reasons why that person cut you off - she was late, he didn't see you till he was already in his turn, she's driving to the police station to pick up her son, he's driving to the nursing home to see his mother who the nurses have just proclaimed on her last breath, there's a toddler screaming in the back seat driving the driver to distraction, she's craving chocolate frozen yogurt and the local grocers closes in five minutes, or -- yeah -- he might just be a jerk.  But really, how many true jerks are there in our world?

So when I saw this magnet, I pounced: I wanted to let other drivers know that the reason my car was doing the speed limit or -- heaven forbid -- five miles below it was because my new driver was becoming familiar with the vehicle and the road and the rules and all the split second decisions that are or might come into play.  And it worked, till it disappeared from our bumper.  Now I'll need to take a picture of the outrageous new magnet I had custom made - but that will have to be an add on since I am running the risk of arriving late to class today.  And I certainly don't want to speed in order to avoid that (do I, Skid School Instructors?!).

A funny aside: when the magnet above first arrived, my daughter and I placed it on my husband's bumper just before he drove to Brattleboro, VT, to meet up with a buddy of his.  He didn't notice till he walked to the parking lot to return home.  He had wondered why tailgaters suddenly dropped back off his bumper on the trip there.

Patience please.  I'm new at this patience stuff myself.  Just ask my family. Or my students. :)

Monday, April 20, 2009

Prompt Writing....
What a memorable weekend!

Saturday was spent at the beautiful Derryfield School Campus in Manchester, NH, attending Writers' Day sponsored by the NH Writers' Project.  While I caught up with friends and colleagues, laughed a ton, and even managed to write a few pages to compelling writing prompts, I also emerged victorious in the second annual NH Literary Idol Competition with my micro-fiction piece, "Make-Up."

I learned a ton from writers Joni Cole, James Patrick Kelly, and fellow Hennikerian Joseph Hurka.  And I was reminded that I should blog daily, which given my new state of affairs may be complicated, but seems a laudable goal.

On Sunday my husband and I took our daughter to the Lovering Family Foundation's Safe Teen Driver Program/Skid School run by Stevens Advanced Driver Training out of Bedford, NH.  In five hours she was able to climb behind the wheel several times as she accelerated to over 60 mph, slammed on the brakes before she crashed into the "wall of fire" (actually several traffic cones lined up to simulate the flames), slalomed through five traffic cones at 35 mph, learned to change lanes quickly and safely to avoid a deer--or a horrific driver, and participated in the tailgating crash exercise that taught us all a ton about our driving habits.  It was remarkable!  This week I'll return with my son, if I can drag him there....

I even managed to get a spot of spring gardening in: expanding one garden, weeding all but two of our other ones, and on Friday I dug up the sod for an all new garden that we'll plant once the threat of frost is past.  (We actually awoke to it today--oy!)

Before I return to a day of class preps, grading papers, getting medical records forwarded for our son (my new full-time job - but more on that in future blogs!), contacting our latest local celebrity who volunteered to help with the Oct. 17th reading of "Speak Truth to Power" for Jayme's Fund (more on that too once we're ready to reveal our incredibly talented all-star cast!), and other items on my to-do list, I want to give a shout-out to Brendan Callahan who is running in today's Boston Marathon for Team Fox and for his mom.  Apparently you can actually follow Brendan's progress on-line; his bib number is 25995 (out of 26000 runners).  He'll be taking off when the front of the pack has passed the one-third mark!  Good luck to him, his team, and his family - and to ALL the incredible marathoners today!

Run the good race, All.  I'll try to be here again tomorrow.  Cheers!

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Especially after reading that my short play, "No Skating," has been selected for this year's marathon performance on May 17.  Congrats to the other playwrights too!  

Hope to see you there!

The Elated Dana :)

(Photo above by my creative daughter.)

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Mind Melding 101

Since I can’t mind meld with you, dear reader, I will have to slam on the brakes before I’ve even begun.  For before we can enjoy debating how character determines plot or vice versa, we must first discuss the mechanics of a screenplay.  (This is where we sound our collective SIGH.)

Yet, by understanding that it is because scriptwriting is a collaborative endeavor, it should help to comprehend why formatting is so vitally important.  What it all comes down to is this:


I know, you hoped I was going to say fame and fortune.  Quick: name your favorite movie.  Tell me who starred in it.  Easy, right?  Who directed it?  Maybe that’s equally as easy.  Now tell me who wrote it.  Unless you’re like me and follow the published lives of favorite screenwriters and playwrights, you probably can’t name 50 percent of the writers for your top ten favorite flicks.

That’s how famous you can hope to be as a screenwriter.

Okay, so let’s steer back to money.  This is show BUSINESS people.  The quicker we understand that, the quicker we’ll understand why there are rules that are meant to be followed.  (Some can be broken, but that comes MUCH later…once you’ve learned them all and can break an occasional one on purpose for a specific effect.)

When correctly formatted, one screenplay page equals roughly one minute of screen time.  And in this business, even when a movie is shot on digital cameras, time is literally money.  So, when a decision maker gets your script, one of the first questions is: how many pages is it?  (Translation, roughly how much is this thing going to cost me to produce?) 

Of course other variables affect the bottom line, such as special effects.  Weather is a special effect.  Really.  But there are ways around costly weather events.  For instance, if you need rain to produce the right mood, set the scene inside and let the window show us the rain.  The SFX team can rig a hose or two above the window for much less money than it would cost to bring rain to an exterior shot.

So, here’s your primer on correctly formatting a screenplay:

Type face: Courier New

Size: 12 points

Margins: 1.5 inches left, one-inch all other margins

FADE IN: and SLUG LINES are left flush and ALL CAPPED

Transitions such as FADE OUT: or the final FADE OUT. are flush right and ALL CAPPED

Action paragraphs run the entire width of the page in upper and lower case.  Fragments are acceptable.  Ideally, paragraphs should run three lines or shorter; while an occasional four-line action graph is acceptable, any more than that slows down the reading too much.

CHARACTERS NAMES APPEAR CAPPED above their dialogue at three and a half inches from the left of the page.

Dialogue appears in upper and lower case indented on both sides at two and a half inches on the left, roughly the same to two inches on the right.  (It’s ragged right, so do your best guess if you are not using FINAL DRAFT or MOVIE MAGIC SCREENWRITER formatting software.)

Screenplays are ALWAYS in the present tense.

A slug line is: INT. LOCATION – DAY  It can be INT. (interior) or EXT. (exterior), any location you choose, one dash or two (just be consistent throughout your script), and DAY or NIGHT (since the camera only knows light or dark; if you need sunrise, mention something tangible that can depict sunrise in your action line—a ROOSTER’S CROW, an alarm clock’s BEEP, etc.).

There is a ton more to learn, but that’s a quick taste that I’ll let you savor until next week (or so).  A good, solid formatting book that I require of all my screenwriting students is Paul Argentini’s “Elements of Style for Screenwriters, First Edition,” which is available at Amazon dot com for about ten dollars or so.  Buy it if you’re interested in this field.  And read it once.  Then refer to it over and over again.

I’ll be back as soon as I can with more.  Sorry, but I have a few more pages to cut from my latest rewrite of a feature-length screenplay. J

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

107 stories to be told...
...and my intro scriptwriting class began by telling twenty.

Today was day two of intro scriptwriting.  We each took a turn telling a tale from our past--all of which left us laughing WITH each other, not at.  Really.  While we learned a bit about each other, we also saw how the simplest idea can lead to a short screenplay, a short story, a play, a poem, an essay, a blog....

One script that we read began with a simple "What if?" twist.  What if my father had taken that job offer with the mob boss in Cleveland upon graduating college?  What would the responsibility of such a commitment do to an honest man?  (For those of you who don't know the laws of the Mafia--had my father taken the job with the mob, since he was not already a member of the family he would have had to kill someone to both prove his loyalty and so the mob would always have control over him.  He couldn't, but when I explore what conditions could make an otherwise honest man agree to such conditions--whala!  A story is born.)

We also read a short excerpt from my PLAYING HOUSE script, a story based on my husband who actually tried to save a woman and her toddler...who wasn't a toddler at all, but was a DOLL.  He was nearly run over by a car for his good deed.  While his story shocked and scared me, it also yielded a poem by me, which I later turned into a dialogueless short screenplay.

So what is your story?  Don't worry about whether or not it might make a great short script, with or without that "What if?" twist--simply entertain us.

Next week: the technical parts of a screenplay--a primer in how to draft the blueprint of a film.


Thursday, January 15, 2009

Pop open the champagne, baby!
If only I weren't too sick to celebrate.  Still, I must sound my barbaric YAWP* over the [barn] roofs of the world, for I have hit FADE OUT again--this time in my latest revision of PLOWING UP A SNAKE.  

Thank you, thank you, thank you to each and every one of you who helped bring the October reading to life and/or who provided helpful comments afterwards.

Next step? Re-read it for continuity and typos...and re-read it again.  Then send it off to yet another producer who has requested this latest copy.  This is it: time for Merle Drown's timeless novel to finally make its way to the big screen.  Wish us luck!

(The barbaric YAWP is, of course, verse originally constructed by Walt Whitman, used here in reverence to his indomitable spirit and undeniable genius.  The photo is one of my crazy angles taken of the enormous barn on my friend Amy's family's place in Madison, NH, last autumn.)

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

It's coming...
...I promise.

I will soon return to the original intent of this blog: to write about the short script.  And help you through the many steps to writing that perfect and poignant poetry of motion picture writing.

First lesson: to be uploaded next week.  After I teach my first class at UNH-M.  Feel free to play along.

(Image above of a sticker on the back of my ride; I forget the name of the skateboarding company that provided it free with the purchase of my son's skateboard...but suffice it to say I liked it enough to use it both on my car and on my blog.)

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Happy New Year!
Apparently 2009 is the Year of the Ox in the Chinese Zodiac.  I've been calling it the "Year of the O" as in President-elect Obama.  It could also be called the "Year of Hope."  Either way, we'll soon be in good hands.  Thanks be to the voters.  And, I have no doubt, a higher power--whatever name you may call Him (or Her).

I teach my first UNH class on Inauguration Day and plan to release my students early so we can each catch the swearing-in ceremony as it is broadcast live.  While the communal lunch and viewing of the Inauguration at my favorite independent cinema (Red River Theatres) has just sold out, the good folks there have sent along word that the Concord Monitor is sponsoring a community viewing of the historical event at the Capitol Center for the Arts in Concord.

So while I ponder returning home to watch it in the privacy of my living room or of joining others to experience it, I am wondering what you're planning to do for the day?  (Survey to the right, or feel free to comment here.)

A happy new year it is!  With or without today's lovely snow, ice, and freezing-rain event; captured above is evidence of the last icing.  Beautiful.  Magnificent.  And such a pain in the you-know-where.  :)