Completing the draft!

Proofreading THE LOST CITY OF THE METAL MEN, from Aurora’s perspective.

Apologies for being invisible for a while, but as I’ve said more than once, I’m in the final stages of my latest novel, The Lost City of the Metal Men, and things can get…unpredictable.  I notice that, despite a couple of posts in between, I haven’t given an official update on the book since the end of January, and I want to rectify that.

The short of it is, I completed a working draft of the book last month, clocking in at 96,000 words.  For those of you not in “the know,” science fiction generally clocks in at between 80,000 and 120,000 words.  When I tried to sell Solomon’s Archivist at the 2014 Writer’s Digest Conference, I was criticized twice that my book was “a little short” at 85,000 words.  So, when I planned out this novel, I intentionally aimed to make it a bit longer, but still not crazy.  We’ll see how that works out.

I gave the final quarter to my wife (yes, I give it to her in quarters, because she can’t reasonably be expected to wait eighteen months to get even a peek of what I’m working on), and she loved it.  So even if it doesn’t go any further, I have that.

The next step was to read through the entire manuscript, beginning to end, spackling any inconsistencies.  There were all kinds of character traits, plot payoffs, and assorted details that didn’t occur to me until I was hip-deep in the weeds that needed to be set up earlier in the book.  Also, I printed off a calendar from 1933 and worked out exactly when everything happens.  Because while I was writing, I would refer to things that happened a week ago or three weeks ago without worrying about accuracy.  Turns out I was closer than I expected, but still off.  April in Chicago is very different than June in Hanoi, and locking down what happens when is helpful in figuring out whether my characters are wearing coats.

Anyhow, that cover-to-cover read-through took a little over three weeks.  And these were not easy work days.  These were long hours with a red pen with lots of flipping back and forth and checking facts.  But now I have a manuscript with more red ink than printer toner, and I was ready to dive into editing the computer file straight away, but I decided to take a break.  Mostly, this was a sanity thing, but also, there was a growing pile of dirty laundry spilling out of our hamper, a toilet flapper than needed replacing, and a kitchen floor in desperate need of a mop.  So, I spent last week catching up on household stuff.  I planned to start first thing, this morning, but realized I need to go get my driver’s license renewed.  Rather than work around a hole in my work day, I thought it made more sense to delay the work until tomorrow, enjoy a relaxed lunch after my license nonsense, and post a blog entry.

To be honest, I like the idea of taking a week or two between the edits.  Fresh eyes are never a bad thing, and it’s not like I have an editor breathing down my neck for the next draft.  My original goal was to complete the book in a year, which would have been around last October.  So, yeah, in a sense, I’m six months past my self-imposed deadline, but it’s not like the book isn’t getting done, and I’d rather a quality product over a hasty one.

So I’ll crawl back into my hole tomorrow morning, and I expect typing all my edits to take about two weeks (there are a lot).  Somewhere in there, I’ll reach out to my beta readers to prepare them for my latest opus, but that’s a whole other can of worms that I’ll address here, when I come to it.  In the meantime, wish me luck in my stinky spider-hole, and remember that I actually wanted this.

Also, we had snow storms in March.  Like, four of them.  Seriously.

One of many snowstorms in March 2018.



Bruce Walsh at Azuka Theatre, part 2

Playwright Bruce Walsh (center), about to enter his reading, flanked by contemporaries Nicholas Wardigo and Greg Nanni.

So you may have noticed that last week’s reading at Azuka Theatre left me less than entirely satisfied.  Without retreading old ground, I’ll simply quote David Lee Roth: “Videos are like girlfriends to me; I’m constantly surprised by the choices other people make.”

So imagine my pleasant surprise to witness Bruce Walsh’s terrific reading on Sunday.  Yes, Bruce is a friend.  Yes, like all my other playwright friends, I want to see him succeed.  But I wouldn’t lie for him (at least, not about playwriting; I mean, if he needed a believable alibi for why he wasn’t at his wife’s office party, sure, I’d step up, but playwriting is something else, entirely).  BERSERKER, despite its dreadful title, is a great play.  Seriously.  If Azuka doesn’t produce this but DOES produce WAR PLAY, I will be…displeased.

The readers were exceptional, particularly since they only had one rehearsal.  I’ll never comprehend how actors do that.  Freaks.  Bi Jean Ngo was spot on (of course), but I was particularly wowed by the lead, Jake Blouch.  I spoke to him a little before the reading, and a little after, and we’re both convinced we’ve met before, but after throwing out festivals and shows and Barrymore after-parties, we can’t quite nail down where or when.  But it feels like we might have gotten drunk together and stolen a goat.

The cast of BERSERKER at Azuka Theatre.

A piece of color…Sunday also happened to be the Superbowl, and across from the theater was a sports bar with a line of people around the block.  I felt the need to stop someone on the street and ask them what the hell was going on.  These people were waiting to get into a sports bar on a cold, rainy day in February roughly seven hours before kickoff (and I have no idea how long they were there before I got there).  I’d feel sorry for them, but honestly, I envy them a little, because I can’t think of anything in this world that I can get THAT excited about.  Hey, I’m really excited about the next Avengers movie.  Really excited.  But if someone told me I had to stand in line for seven hours, I’d say, “Pfft.  I’ll wait for the DVD.”

How Eagles fans chose to spend their Sunday morning.

Bruce Walsh at Azuka Theatre

Director, Kevin Glaccum and the cast of WAR PLAY, courtesy of Azuka Theatre.

Let me start this post chronologically backwards, since the more important part is that Azuka Theatre is doing a reading of Bruce Walsh’s new play, BERSERKER, at the Drake tomorrow (Superbowl Sunday) at noon with coffee and pastries beforehand.  A lot of you might not know Bruce, but he’s a local playwright who had a play produced by Azuka a number of years back called WHISKY NEAT.  I would run into him now and again, most notably at PlayPenn, but I haven’t seen him in a while, and the good people at Azuka informed me last weekend that he’s been in Chicago, slaving away at a higher degree.  At least, that’s the cover story.  In any event, he’s back in town with fresh plays in hand.

Which brings me to the play reading I attended last Sunday.  Let me caveat this by saying that I am not a critic, professional or otherwise, and even if I was, it would be unfair to critique a reading.  Having said that, this play makes me feel old.  It’s a modern retelling of the story of Achilles and Patroclus sitting out the Trojan War, which might be interesting if anything happened, if it went somewhere, and if you didn’t need a working knowledge of The Iliad to understand it, but nothing does, it doesn’t, and you do.

I can’t explain why there’s such an aversion to plots or character arcs in theater recently, but I definitely notice playwrights sacrificing such things in favor of pretty writing, which WAR PLAY has in spades, no question.  Playwright Bruce Graham blames Annie Baker, the Pulitzer-winner who’s forged a career writing smart plays that keep going until they stop.  And, I suspect I might enjoy this sort of thing if I was twenty years younger, but as it is, I dig a solid story.  Somebody do that, please.

Meaningless milestones and itinerant playwrights

Playwrights Nicholas Wardigo, Lindsay Harris-Friel, and Alex Dremann.

Another milestone!  I hit 85,000 words on my new novel, The Lost City of the Metal Men, which officially makes it the longest thing I have ever written.  I don’t know if that means anything to a non-writer, but I was proud enough to pour myself a martini on Wednesday night to celebrate.  There was also feta cheese involved, because I really enjoy briny things with vodka.

Yesterday, I holed up in my favorite coffee shop (Hothouse Coffee, in Bryn Mawr) and began the penultimate chapter, which is the climax of the whole novel.  I got there early, bought my croissant and latte, scored the prime table in the front window, prepped myself for an exciting morning of robot battles with machine guns, and my protagonist decided to tell a story.  Of course.  Because you can’t launch into a nail-biting firefight without putting it in context.  I’ll probably end up keeping most of it, because it is pretty good and rather insightful into the character, but I find it funny how Nifty has evolved from messing with her colleagues to messing with her author.

In more social news, I managed to steal away into the city for an evening of catching up with fellow playwrights Lindsay Harris-Friel and Alex Dremann.  I don’t see nearly enough of those guys.  Lindsay is embarking on the second season of her pod-series, Jarnsaxa Rising.  Sounds like it’s still in the development phase with rounding up the actors from the first season and whatnot, but it’s cool to hear she’s still working on it.

Alex, the maestro of short-short plays, is seeing a bunch of his produced in Seoul, South Korea, this summer.  To celebrate, the country is hosting a number of physical challenges this winter.  Say what you want about the Koreans; they take their theater seriously.

Season Three of Martinis with Nick

In case you haven’t heard, Season Three of my groundbreaking web series, Martinis with Nick, went live between Christmas and New Year’s.  That’s five action-packed interviews with some of Philadelphia’s coolest and most enigmatic theater artists, replete with saucy foods, smooth cocktails, and vernacular splendor.  Also, Mark Knight juggles potatoes.

So, if you haven’t already, go binge on entertaining and occasionally insightful interviews with Seth Reichgott, Michele Volansky, Howard Shapiro, Dan Hodge, and Mark Knight.  And if you’ve already seen them, go watch them again.  I’m sure you missed something.  There are deeper levels, trust me.  Secret messages to the Illuminati and whatnot.

I’ve been slacking off on the reporting of my recent theatergoing, but I feel the need to close this post with a photo from my cousin’s student production at the University of Penn.  2017 was a rough year, and her tiny hats always make me feel better.

The playwright, Anastasia Hutnick (center), flanked by her sisters and photobombed by her cousin.


Hades finds his final sunbeam

Hades, a paragon of nobility.

It is with a sad heart that I must announce that my good and faithful guardian has taken his final prance across the Rainbow Bridge.  Last week, Hades the greyhound was diagnosed with bone cancer, and Aurora and I decided to take him on his final visit to the vet, rather than let him deteriorate further.  He’s shown up in this blog before, most recently, demonstrating his intimidation skills with his doll.  Fortunately, we enjoyed some unseasonably warm weather last week, and Hades was able to spend some of his final hours in one of his favorite pastimes: relaxing on the front porch, alternating  between keeping an eye on the neighborhood and napping.

Hades’ loss is particularly difficult for me, since we adopted him after I received the Pew Fellowship and now spend so much time at home.  It’s odd, writing while the house is so quiet and not planning my day around his walks at 7, noon, and 6.  In addition to his invaluable contributions with spelling and finishing the last tidbits of my breakfast, he simply kept me company, and it’s a palpable absence, trudging downstairs to refill my coffee and not seeing him dopily sprawled across the couch.  I’m not sure if a writing blog is an appropriate place for an obituary to my dog, but there simply isn’t any other place to put it, so I’ll at least keep it short by quoting my friend, Margie Price: “The Spirit Dogs will show Hades where the leaf piles and good sunbeams are.”

Good bye, buddy.

How Hades and I spent our last afternoon, together.

Happy Barrymores!

The happiest photo of me ever taken.

Happy Halloween, everybody!

The 2017 Barrymore Awards for Excellent in Theatre are tonight, so I thought I’d celebrate by sharing photos from the last time I attended in 2015.  As I recall, Aurora and I had a particularly crappy time, which is unfortunate because it started out so God damn well, as the above photo will attest.  Don’t I look deliriously happy?  Like, you-want-to-punch-me-in-the-nose happy?  This was taken after I had to run back to the parking garage from the restaurant because my wife’s shoes were painfully uncomfortable, and I needed to retrieve her backup pair.  When I returned, there was a vodka gibson waiting for me, which Aurora insisted they make with Lillet because their vermouth was shit.  I love her very much.  This photo was taken shortly after that, when we ordered a shit-ton of oysters.  The gibson I’m holding is almost certainly my second.

But then I had an awful time at the ceremony, and only a slightly better time at the after party.  Which is unfortunate, because there was a time when I was one of the biggest proponents of the Barrymores.  I attended (I think) the very first one in the mid-to-late-90s, and went every year until the thing collapsed a few years ago.  I even wrote the script for the ceremony in 2006.  I was thrilled to hear that they were bringing it back under new management, and promptly blew the dust off my tuxedo in gleeful anticipation.  So what went wrong?

Back in the day, the Barrymores was the venue to meet all the players in the industry.  When I was starting out, I’d go to these things with a list of people I wanted to meet.  My goal every year was to meet three people on that list, which I’m proud to say, I almost always achieved.  Year by year, I slowly expanded the people I knew, until I became one of those people.  Then, it became more of a place to touch base with everyone.  Managing directors, artistic directors, director directors, other playwrights I would strangely only ever see at this freakin’ venue every year.  Whenever I met someone trying to break into the industry who solicited my advice, I’d tell them to attend the Brick Playhouse Tuesday night readings, and get your ass to the Barrymores (in fact, I did just that not too ago, in a 2014 posting).

Was it expensive?  You bet your ass.  I see that the ticket is currently $75, but I seem to recall it being  more when it started.  Plus, I had to rent a tuxedo (it started out as a black tie event).  Plus, I had to eat somewhere beforehand.  Plus, I had to have money for the inevitable after party, after after party, and whatever you call eggs and coffee in a corner diner at 4 am.  At the time, I was making $30k a year, so I couldn’t afford to bring my then-girlfriend (not that she particularly wanted to spend all night talking shop).  I had to set money aside, months in advance.  But I did it, because it was important.

Having attended the 2015 ceremony, I can’t say the same thing, anymore.  Part of it, to be sure, is that so many of the players have changed.  Theaters have come and gone, and there is a preponderance of tiny theater companies manned by recent-graduates, and even someone like me, who sees more theater than the average person, has trouble keeping up.  But the decision-makers of the larger theaters, the theaters that have been around a couple of decades and have a proven track record?  They weren’t there.  Seriously.  I walked in there with half-a-dozen people in mind that I wanted to touch base with.  None of them were there.  Other than a couple actors and a playwright I hadn’t seen in forever, I didn’t talk to anybody.

And the people that were there didn’t seem interested in mingling, in favor of hanging out in their own conclaves.  Granted, I’m tantamount to a dinosaur, now.  And it’s possible I was in one of the conclaves when I was twenty years younger.  But I remember telling jokes to a reviewer of The Philadelphia Inquirer over martinis.  I remember hanging out with my favorite director (Tonda) and Bill Egan, the then-president of Plays & Players Theater, in one of those seedy all-night diners at 4 am, trying to figure out how the three of us could work together.  I remember shooting the bull with Bruce Graham in Coco’s, spilling dirt about how various theaters were pissing us off, and then spoking a cigar with Tonda on the sidewalk, afterwards.

Now, it seemed like the Barrymores was just a bunch of pretty people, sucking each other’s dicks.  Maybe it was always that, too.  Maybe I’m misremembering, or only remembering the parts that didn’t annoy me.  But I enjoyed and craved that annual catch-up with the movers and shakers.  Without that, there’s no reason for me to go, and so I won’t be attending the event tonight, and I’m $75 richer.  Maybe it’ll change; I hope so.

And, of course, I’m still in favor of any celebration of Philadelphia theater (even though, to be honest, that was never the reason I attended).  But as I’ve said in earlier posts, EgoPo’s The Seagull is nominated for a few things, and I hope something comes together for them.

And for anyone reading this who is attending tonight, try not to mind the grousing dinosaur too much.  Have a great time, then tell me about it.

Me and my charming spouse.

75,000 words!

Nick’s lunch: brie, salami, fresh bread, hot coffee in a Writer’s Digest mug, and a Doc Savage novel.

Yeah, yeah, yeah, I keep promising to give details of my new crappy novel, and I keep failing miserably.  This time, I have a good excuse: I was actually writing it.  And, I just hit the 75,000-word mark, which, if my outline is to be believed, is the three-quarters mark.  And so, to celebrate, I’m sharing my pitch for The Lost City of the Metal Men:


It ain’t easy bein’ a dame and a crackerjack mechanic in a podunk town. But when Nifty Brandenburger catches her break, welding together an exhibit for the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair, she finally has her chance to show those chowderheads back home what she can do. That is, until her boss tells her to hit the bricks…Hey, if they don’t want her gawking at Hector Halibash’s new robot invention, they oughta keep it from wandering off. But that’s water under the bridge, what with an army of mechanical monsters busting up the fairgrounds, pinching Halibash’s robot, and snatching the man, himself. The world’s begging for a hero to save the day. What it’s got is a dame with a tool belt, a pair of steel-tipped boots, and one helluva chip on her shoulder.


Pretty cool, right?  I still love the hell out of my protagonist’s name.  Try saying it out loud.  Go ahead.  Do it now.  No matter how you feel, I guarantee you’ll feel at least slightly better after saying, “Nifty Brandenburger,” out loud.

An unintended side-effect of choosing that name is the compunction to write a character that lives up to it.  Easier said than done, believe me, but no one who reads what I’ve done can claim I’m not trying my damnedest.

Sadly, my timetable is shot to hell.  I was hoping to complete the book by the end of the summer, but right now, the best I can hope for is the end of the year.  Perhaps my initial timetable was overly optimistic, and I was hit with delays both medical and Austrian, so I’m trying not to be too hard on myself.  The most important thing is that I will finish the novel, and I’m happy with the quality of the thing.

If anyone’s interested, I submitted a slightly different version of my pitch to Ellen Brock, who is a freelance editor and had a Query Critique session on her blog at the end of August.  My pitch is number 4.  Her critique is quite insightful, and if nothing else, her opinion of my bio paragraph makes me blush.

Ms. Brock is one of the spunky YouTube channel heroines I mentioned in my last post.  When I get a chance, I want to talk about her and a number of others, but for now, I’ll just say that Ms. Brock is definitely one the better ones.  Perhaps not the most entertaining, but certainly knowledgeable.

Okay, now back to writing about the adventures of Miss Nifty Brandenburger.  I’ll try to give updates more often, but honestly, it’s hard to pry myself away from it.

Reclaiming my mojo

Hades and doll.

So, I threw my back out a few weeks ago.  Yeah.  That happened.  Not that I mean to complain or anything, only that, heaped onto my other medical issues of late, it’s rather prevented me from blogging as much as I’d like.  Funny how being helplessly flat on your back for a few days takes the steam right out of you.

And, I also find it funny how long it takes to recover from something like that.  It’s been three weeks, and I’d say I’m about 90% recovered.  Which is a big step from carefully shuffling in bed to find a position that isn’t mind-numbingly painful, but it’s still not where I want to be in life.

So, in short, I haven’t accomplished a lot to talk about.  No play attending, obviously, but even more depressing, not nearly as much writing as I would like.  I’m slowly getting back into my groove, though.  I wrote eight pages last week of dubious quality, which isn’t great, but at least is something.  I’m desperately looking forward to returning to my coffee shop after a four-week hiatus with every confidence that it will go a long way to restoring my writing mojo.

In the meantime, I plan to pump out a few postings this week, FINALLY revealing some details about my new novel and maybe talking about my latest fascination: spunky writer girls who have youtube channels.  I don’t know why I’m surprised that spunky cute girls have successful youtube channels, but it’s the sort of revelation that makes you feel like an idiot for not realizing it sooner.

Happy eclipse!

How to watch an eclipse.

Happy eclipse, everybody!  The celestial event has come and gone, and I managed to waste a perfectly good afternoon that I could have spent writing.  At least, I slacked off in style.  Note to all concerned: the cooler in the photo contains the Coke and ice; I am NOT drinking straight rum.  Also, you’ll notice the evidence of a just-mowed lawn all over my driveway…a testament that I wasn’t a complete slacker.

For what it’s worth, I more than made up for it today, hitting the 65,000-word mark on my latest novel. Not that that’s an important milestone or anything, but it happened, so I thought I’d mention it.  I’ll get around to talking about the book one of these days, but I think I may be slightly afraid that talking about it will make it not happen, somehow.  Not that I’m a superstitious person or anything, but everyone’s allowed to be a little incongruous, now and again.

Hard to tell from the photo, but I’m armed with a homemade pinhole projector for safe eclipse-viewing, and also a book to pass the time and the Cuba Libres.  At the moment, I’m halfway through The Bear and the Nightingale, by Katherine Arden, which I still have mixed feelings about.

I really am a little beat from a serious writing session today, but I want to give a quick shout-out to my fellow Liar’s Club member, Kelly Simmons.  Her new novel, The Fifth of July, launches tomorrow, and you can meet the author at my favorite bookstore, Main Point Books.  The shindig starts at 6:30, tomorrow (Wednesday).  I imagine a reading might be involved, followed by fisticuffs and ugly comments about historical events that never actually occurred.  Come join the fun!

I would also be remiss if I didn’t mention that the 2017 Barrymore Award nominations were released yesterday.  I’ll refrain from commenting too much, since I didn’t see a lot of theater last year, but I’m happy to see that EgoPo Theater’s The Seagull got a bunch of nominations.  If you missed it, I had a lot to say about the production here.

Hope all is going well for my gentle readers, and hopefully, I’ll come up for air more often to give you guys more current updates about my latest endeavor.  It’s a hoot!