It's the last day of 2015, and, like most people, I find this day a good time for reflection on the past and dreams for the year ahead. In terms of writing, this past year, I accomplished the following:

  • I wrote an essay for TueNight, that was picked up by Huffington Post, about how "Black Flag's Henry Rollins Helped Me Become the Coolest Girl in School." That was a fun piece, and I had many of my friends from San Pedro, California, contact me to tell me how well they remembered that day.
  • I had a short play produced at ActOne's "Fractured FairyTale Festival" in Sommerville, Massachusetts. My script, "Losing It," was one of 9 chosen out of 300 submissions, and the production was fantastic!
  • I wrote another short play about the Disney Princesses at middle age, "Bad Princesses, Bad Princesses, Whatcha Gonna Do?" which was performed locally at CAB (Creative Alliance of Baraboo) Theatre's production of "MaCABre."
  • I worked on my third novel. I was hoping to finish this round of revisions by November, but after my car accident in August (which left me dealing with brain fog and near daily headahces), that became impossible. 

...which brings me to dreams for 2016. I hope to be well enough to:

  • Finish my novel and send it to my agent.
  • Write and publish more travel pieces.
  • Send out more of my flash fiction that I have sitting around on my computer files.
  • Finish my full-length play.
  • Write every day.

What are your proudest accomplishments of 2015? What do you hope to accomplish in 2016? Let me know in the comments--and happy New Year!

Every October a theatre company I'm involved in, CAB (Creative Alliance of Baraboo) Theatre, produces a night of short Halloween-themed plays written by local playwrights. The entries were due last spring. I knew I wanted to write about the Disney princesses again, and I liked the idea of Snow White and Cinderella handing out candy to trick-or-treaters, but I was having a hard time coming up with a conflict. My thirteen year-old daughter Alice suggested that maybe too many Elsas could come to the door, and immediately my wheels started turning. As I wrote, the theme song to "Cops" was playing in my head (not a wholly unusual occurrence, as it was my dad's favorite show, and so the theme song often plays in my head), and those two elements--Elsa and "Cops"--led to my short play, BAD PRINCESSES, BAD PRINCESSES, WHATCHAGONNA DO?

Last night it  was performed in the theatre at the University of Wisconsin, Baraboo/Sauk County, to about sixty audience members, in a production that was free and open to the public. And what a thrill it was for me to see it acted out by two incredibly talented actors, Rachel Lizzardo-McPherson as Snow White and Iveta Petkova-Ball as Cinderellas. Plays are blueprints, and they must have strong storylines and interesting characters, but it is the actors and directors who truly bring them to life. I am so fortunate to have had Rachel and Iveta bring my characters to life, under the thoughtful direction of Rhonda Siebecker.

There were a half-dozen other funny and interesting and creepy plays performed last night. I found Scott Rawson's monologue "Children" riveting.  Brian Riley's play about Frankenstein and Werewolf meeting on the subway was funny and thought-provoking, and Ben Bromley's play about Sherlock Holmes and the Missing Dipstick was hilarious.

But my play was my favorite.  :)   Thank you, Princesses!  (I'm afraid I didn't quite capture "bad princess" as well as these two. That's why they're on stage.)  I am not quite ready (after my accident) to write another play yet, but when I am (when I can think and write creatively, and when I don't get headache-y and nauseated after spending too much time writing or reading...), then, once again, you will be my muses!

In August I was in a bad car accident. I got T-boned (right at the driver's door) by a van whose driver went through a red light right.  I have had quite a few issues to deal with since then, which is why I haven't posted lately, and which I won't get into here. I am just checking in to wish everyone a happy new season that marks new beginnings. I am indeed not only glad to live in a world where there are Octobers, but also very happy to be alive to enjoy this one. Happy Fall, dear readers! Hope you read some great books and have fun writing your own!

Please read my essay about the time in the early 80s I got Black Flag to play on the lucnh steps of San Pedro High School...and became the coolest girl in school.

(For a few weeks, anyway...)

My short play LOSING IT, about a graduate student in media studies interviewing the original Disney Princesses about their "wedding nights," was one of 9 plays chosen out of 300 submissions for Theatre@First's Fractured Fairy Tale Festival in Sommerville, Mass. I love these pictures (taken by Jay Sekora and Katrina) of the production, which shows these talented actresses bringing my words to life.

As a reader, I have always loved fairy tales. As a writer, I am interested in retelling them with a feminist, modern perspective. I have a love/hate relationship with Disney, and in writing about these characters in new ways, I feel I am having a conversation with Walt Disney, with the Grimm Brothers, and with my young self, who yearned to be like Snow White, Cinderella, and Sleeping Beauty.

I am grateful to Theatre@First and everyone involved in the festival for choosing LOSING IT and bringing it to the stage so beautifully, and of course, I am grateful to the audiences, without whom our work as playwrights would have little meaning.

Check out this fine theatre company's website for more information:

And let me know in the comments which is your favorite (least favorite)  Disney princess--and why you love (can't stand) her!

My husband Louis Wenzlow writes poetry and flash fiction. His latest piece is up on the fantastic literary magazine CEASE, COWS today. It's about the last human on earth after the AI Apocalypse.

I'm reminded of last year's Thanksgiving dinner with Louis' family. Afterwards, sipping our libations in the living room, flipping channels to see what movie we should watch, Louis and his brother-in-law had the following conversation:

Louis: I'm concerned about the AI Apocalypse.

BIL: I'm concerned about putting three kids through college.

Then everybody laughed.


Image on Cease, Cows “Artificial Intelligence” (image via Flickr user GLAS-8)

I've just finished editing a manuscript for a client writing a thriller. His goal was to write a book that was a little deeper and more complex than the average thriller, while keeping the same page-turning qualities, and he certainly succeeded. I'm not at liberty to talk about this author or the plot of his novel quite yet, but I hope that you will hear of him soon!

In the meantime, editing this manuscript has made me think of the elements necessary in a successful thriller, and about how many of them apply to any genre. In my opinion, a good thriller:

1. ...Is thrilling. A literary novel is called such because of the way it is written. Romances and Science Fiction novels are categorized as they are because of their subject matter. But a book is labeled a thriller because of what it does to the reader: it thrills us.

2. ...Has high stakes. Vonnegut says that the protagonist needs to want something, even if it's only a glass of water, and that he/she must want it badly. This is true of the protagonist in any genre. However, in a thriller, the stakes are higher than mere personal thirst: usually, the protagonist wants (needs) to save the world. These high stakes (will the protagonist be successful? Will the world be saved?) make us readers keep reading.

3. ...Shows and tells but mostly shows. "Telling"--that is, exposition--is a necessary component of any novel. Sometimes we need description, or a bit of background information, to ground the reader in the world. But successful thrillers "show" much more than they tell--that is, they use scenes to reveal the action, character, and plot, and to keep moving the story forward. The narrator cannot tell us the protagonist is brave: we need to see her or him acting bravely for ourselves.

4. ...Has short chapters that end in cliffhangers. Chapters in thrillers are not thirty pages long; they're five to ten pages long, more or less. The chapter length seems to be in keeping with the fast-paced, roller coaster action ride that is our reading of the novel. As an editor, I make a note to myself each time I set down the manuscript to take a break, pour myself more coffee, etc., and then I go back and try to see if there is a pattern. Did I set down the manuscript because I was tired, or because the story wasn't moving forward? The writer whose novel I just edited was adept at ending every chapter on a suspenseful note, so that the reader thinks, "Just one more chapter before bed..." (This is the goal of any writer, right? To make our readers sleepy and grouchy in the morning due to their reading past their bedtimes!)

5. ...Doesn't neglect character development. I think one of the main differences between a literary novel and a thriller is that in the former, the plot comes organically out of the character, whereas in the latter, the plot is often thrust upon him or her. (Oh, you don't want to save the world? You just want to keep drinking or parenting or sleeping or working or whatever it is you're doing? Sorry, you need to drop all that and go make the world safe for democracy once more...) That said, strong, believable characters make books in any genre--including thrillers--more gripping. When we can feel what it's like to be this human being, leaving his or her comfort zone to battle the villains, the book becomes deeper, the world becomes more real, and we care more about what happens to our protagonist.

My list is not meant to be exhaustive. If you have anything to add, please do so below. How do you think the writers (of thrillers) successfully THRILL us?

A retelling of "Gilgamesh" set in nineteenth-century Louisiana swampland. A trio of high school students who run away from home. Jewish women in 1492 Spain fleeing the Inquisition. A woman at a public relations firm who needs to make tough decisions regarding her work and her own heart. A boy adopted from Africa who can't acclimate to life in American until he sees his birth mother one last time. A World War II story that was so vast and complicated it reminded us of War and Peace, so its funny and humble author began referring to it as "War and Pieces."

These were just some of the remarkable novel ideas the participants in "Novel in a Week" worked on with me at the Iowa Summer Writing Festival in June. Our weeklong discussion included the following questions about each novel:

  • Is the initial conflict enough to sustain a novel?
  • How can we raise the stakes?
  • What does the protagonist want?
  • Who or what is standing in his or her way?
  • How does the climax organically come out the plot? (What is the climax?)
  • How can you go home and finish this wonderful book of yours?  :)

I have been teaching at the festival for about fifteen years now, and every year I derive great pleasure and satisfaction from helping other writers achieve their goals. And the goals are almost always the same: To get down on paper (or on the screen) this idea banging about in our heads in such a way that other people will want to read it.

            What could be easier?
            What could be more difficult?

I was lucky to work with an incredible group of talented, nice, and fun people. I hope they are now doing what I told them to do: which is to ignore laundry and finish their novels--because I can't wait to read them.

Thank you for reading my blog! This is my first post, and it is simply a test so that I can continue working the kinks out of the website. While you're here, click around and enjoy!

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