Reading tonight at the Colonial Playhouse!

Playwrights Mark Knight, Nicholas Wardigo, and Greg Nanni, enjoying pints at Fergie’s Pub.

It occurs to me this morning, that I have failed to blog about my impending reading tonight.  Which is a little silly.  Sure, I’ve had a lot going on and plenty to take up the pages of my blog, and yes, I certainly sent out plenty of emails (blanket and otherwise) to alert my gentle fans, but I never actually blogged about it.

Anyway, as the title suggests, it’s tonight.  Here are the details:

Wednesday, October 17, 7 pm
The Colonial Playhouse
522 W. Magnolia Avenue
Aldan, PA  19018
The play in question has been banging around Philly for the last few years.  It’s called Pillowfights on Zeppelins and deals with an archeological team that discovers the remains of a ninth-century community of “diminutive people” in Greenland whom they believe to be the impetus behind the Santa Claus legend, and the television film crew from the cable-network science channel funding the expedition, who immediately want to exploit the discovery.  Amongst the romps and pillowfights, the play actually does have something to say about the uncomfortable relationship between science and entertainment.  Also, there are velociraptors.
In case you’re wondering, no, the photo at the top of this post has nothing to do with this reading, but I hate to post anything without a photo.  This is from Mark Knight’s reading at Fergie’s, earlier this summer.

New production at Quantum Dragon Theatre!

So, a kickass, new announcement: my play, The Do’s and Don’ts of Time Travel is receiving its west-coast premiere in January 2019!

I know, right!  I’ve known about this for some time, but I promised Quantum Dragon Theatre I wouldn’t say anything until they issued their press release, which they did three days ago.  Here’s their announcement page, and if you scroll to the bottom, you’ll find the link to the press release.

For those of you keeping score, this is the third production of The Do’s and Don’ts of Time Travel, the first being in Philly in 2008 (Straw Flower Productions), and the second being in Indianapolis in 2009 (Phoenix Theatre).  If you care, you can access production photos, cast lists, and reviews on the DDTT page on this site.  This production will finally complete the classic, American, Philadelphia-Indianapolis-San Francisco theatrical trifecta, and I couldn’t be happier.

Side-note: while going through the original program for the Philly production of DDTT, I realized that the original production is now celebrating its tenth anniversary.  Seriously.  October 2008.  Exactly ten years ago, we were in the middle of our run.  I mean, it’s cool and all, but also mildly unsettling, and…appropriate, maybe?  Not sure.  Certainly queer.

So if anyone is in the San Francisco area in January, you should check out my show.  And if you’re in the SF area any other time, you should check out Quantum Dragon, anyway.  They’re one of the few theaters in the world, dedicated to science-fiction/fantasy plays.  Hopefully, I can look forward to a long future, working with them (cross your fingers).

In unrelated news, I’m attending the Push to Publish Conference tomorrow.  I haven’t been there in a few years (though I did have fun in 2015), mostly because I wasn’t finished my latest novel, and I abandoned selling my last one.  But now with The Lost City of the Metal Men ready to go, I feel pumped and ready to shamelessly peddle that bastard.  So, if you’re going to be at the conference, look me up, and maybe we can go out for drinks, after.  I’ll be the guy in the blue jacket.


Interview with the Liars

The Liars: Gregory Frost, Jon McGoran, Merry Jones, and Keith Strunk.

Unbeknownst to my gentle readers, I was interviewed a few weeks ago by the good folks of the Liars Club for their podcast (or, as they like to call it, “Oddcast”).  Last week, that interview went live.  Admittedly, I should have blogged about this a week ago, but life got in the way, and anyway, it’s not like podcasts go stale.

Even if you have no interest in hearing me prattle on about playwriting and novel-writing and how cool a 1934 Buck Rogers ray gun is, you should check out the Liars Club, anyway.  They offer METRIC TONS of fascinating interviews with every stripe of novelist, including a few Hugo Award winners.  Playwrights seem to be in the minority, but I’m sure that’s one reason they invited me to their show.  Anyway, check out my interview for fun, but check out the other interviews for actual, accurate information.

Metric tons.  Seriously.

 


New Mural at the Drake…with my name on it!

The Drake Theatre, festooned by a flashy, new mural.

So, while I was plunking away at my novel, something interesting happened over the summer; I had my name and a quote from one of my plays plastered on the side of a building.

Okay, sure, so did 39 other local playwrights, but that doesn’t make my statement less true.  The Drake Theater (located on Spruce Street, between 15th and 16th) got duckied-up with a new mural, which incorporates quotes from 40 local playwrights.  I’ve been squawking about the Drake for some time, and I’m proud to have a line from one of my plays splattered across it.

What line?  Glad you asked.  It’s from The Do’s and Don’ts of Time Travel and goes like this:

“Everything is set in stone.  But there are an infinite number of stones.”

Deep, right?  Or maybe simply pretentious.  It’s hard for a line to land when you take it out of context.  Anyway, it makes sense when you read the play.

So, if you’re in the neighborhood, check out the mural, find my quote, and maybe read some of the others.  Nothing’s more fun than reading lines out of context!

A closeup of the script snippets that litter the mural. Mine is third from the bottom (a little tricky to read).

An extreme closeup of my name, just to prove I’m not lying.


Post-Hiatus

Summer on the deck.

Whew!  That was a long break.  But I had a lot to do, and I hate summers in general, so if I had posted anything, it would have come off as grumpy and verbally itchy, and that doesn’t do anyone any good.  Oh, also, there’s a new dog.

But I digress.

So, a lot has happened, I have a lot to announce, and frankly, as I sat down this morning, I was lost as to how to begin.  So, let me focus this post on where we left off, to wit, my new novel.

In short, The Lost City of the Metal Men is complete, and I’ve been querying agents for about four weeks.  Out of my initial five queries, I received one request for a partial manuscript, which is cause for some celebration, since I don’t expect responses for up to three months.

Last week, I sent out five more queries and received one outright rejection.  So, the tally so far, ten queries, one request for a partial, one rejection.  Not too shabby.  I am holding myself to five queries a month, if for no other reason, I don’t want to discover a glaring error in my letter, correct it, and have no one left to send it to.  Also, July and August is a wonky time to query; a lot of people on vacation or whatnot.

I think I mentioned before that my last novel, Solomon’s Archivist, was rejected (or ignored) by forty-two agents over two years.  It was rough laying that book aside and starting something new, but I was determined to make it a learning experience.  Out of those forty-two agents, a handful were interested enough to start up a bit of an e-mail dialogue.  So my first five agents are basically that handful.  A couple moved on to other agencies.  One isn’t accepting any science fiction at the moment, but someone else at the same agency is.

My second set of five agents are the result of research.  A few were mentioned in the blogs of the first five agents.  A few represent authors that I like.  That research gave me more than five agents, but as I said, I’m holding myself to five queries a month.

All of this is to say, I’m being extremely methodical in how I sell my book.  Not that I wasn’t, the last time around, but I feel like the rejections of the last few years have made me smarter.  Hopefully, that’s a trend that will continue (and not just with writing).

I’ll wrap this up by thanking my beta readers: Nate Brown, Derek Noonburg, Maureen Kilkeary, Bob and Jennifer Fritz, and Mark Knight.  I should also thank all my fellow novelists at the Liars Club for listening to me read my query letter and offering me useful advice.  In case you care how it turned out, you can read my pitch under the “Novels” section of this website.


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.