Don't be fooled by the grim-faced picture. It was the only unblinking one. For me, words are worth a thousand pictures. I'm looking forward to saying hi to all of you.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Seminar: How much humiliation does it take for a Writer to learn to Write?

Seminar: How much Humiliation does a Writer need in order to Write?

Watching Theresa Rebeck’s searing and funny play, Seminar, at The Golden Theatre, about an unethical, power-mad, but brilliant celebrity editor, Leonard (Jeff Goldblum) giving a $5,000 a pop seminar to wannabe writers, I was haunted by the memories of a few of the writing instructors I had had. Like Leonard, their teaching tools were humiliation, not just of your work, which they ripped apart with barely a glance, but your life was fair game as well. One teacher told me that I should learn to speak differently. He was a Queens brat like me, but had taken on a pompous, professorial tone. Even when he spoke one-to-one with you, he orated. And oh, how thumb-nosed I was for living in suburbia and being married with children, never mind that that was part of the theme of my first novel that I went on to publish with a major house.

If you dared to defend yourself against the teacher’s tongue lashings, you were licked. Leonard snipes to Kate (played by Lily Rabe), “If you’re defending yourself, you’re not listening.” If you tried to defend any of your classmates, it only went worse for them and for you. “If it were really good,” Leonard barks, “you’d fucking hate it. Writers in their natural state are as civilized as feral cats.”

Good thing I came to writing in middle age, because Izzy (played by Hettienne Park) was like just one of the many young women I saw who would have made Gloria Steinman plotz by screwing her way into the teacher’s favor, usually only to be dropped after the seminar was over. (Sometimes during.) . But for the women in this play at least, the great and terrible Leonard did throw them some literary crumbs. I had to laugh (a nervous and sad titter) at Leonard’s outrage that freshmen were now legally off-limits to him.

Was it worth all the money I invested in taking my own writing seminars? The time? The humiliation? Yes, because that’s what I needed to do to tell myself that I was really a writer back then. Even though I did have some fine teachers, the ones who humiliated me prepared me for things I’d have to face as a writer: scathing public reviews, readings where only two people show up and that’s because they were already in the bookstore and noticed that you put out a platter of cut-up cheese. How about the people who look at your picture on your book jacket, then back at you, and say, “I didn’t expect you to be so old.”

I had some nurturing writing teachers as well who didn’t go after a first draft like a shrike, tearing it to bloody shreds. But those classes wouldn’t have been entertaining enough material for a play. In fact, when Leonard does open his heart to Martin’s (Hamish Linklater’s) talent, the play falters. We want the blood!

Still, seeing Seminar has confirmed my commitment to never have a thing to do with another writing seminar. But, ahem, I must admit I do teach them.

Today, one of Leonard’s acid lines to Kate kept clopping me on the head. “Your story is a soul-sucking waste of words,” he said. It was as if Leonard had meant that line for me. All my writer’s angst was stirred up. But I did what I have taught myself to do. I turned on my computer, quieted the critical voices, and began to write.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

DeCompmagazine--great find for writers

Fascinating online magazine for writers that allows you to comment on the contents.


Saturday, March 31, 2012

The Hunger Games

If only you could have sat next to the fourteen year old girls that I did in Hunger Games, you would have enjoyed The Hunger Games even more, life even more. During the coming attractions, the girls bounced in their seats, elbows bent fists near their chins, saying, “Eeeee” with anticipation.
“I am coming back to see this every week until it’s not in the theaters,” one girl announced, “and when it goes on DVD, I’ll watch it each week.”
Both girls knew the lyrics to the song and so many pieces of dialogue from the book that they recited under their breath while the film was on.
The Hunger Games is thrilling. Instead of large-scale wars, two tributes (kids) are chosen by lottery from each district of this fictional world. The one who kills all the others is the victor. The focus is on love, honor, and heroism, and the murders are done in soft focus so that you don’t see much of the carnage. Don’t be afraid to take your tweens. Don’t hesitate to take yourself.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012


There’s so much to say about the amazing song writer and lyricist, Stephen Schwartz, but probably just mentioning that he wrote the lyrics and music for Wicked would be enough. I just got home from an ASCAP Foundation New York Musical Theater Workshop which was directed by Stephen Schwartz with panelists Lynn Arrens and Andrew Lippa.
Here’s what I learned in the discussion that could benefit all writers, regardless of what you’re writing.
1. The order of the scenes if crucial. If the order is wrong, the show will fritz. Sometimes your last scene needs to be your first one, etc.
2. You have to know and show who the lead is from the get-go. The audience has to know who to follow. Who am I supposed to like? If you introduce too many characters in a strong way too early, the audience won’t have an alliance to any of them.
3. Be able to say what your play is about in a couple of lines as if you’re pitching it to a producer.
4. Your story needs to be filled with emotion, passion, and dreams.
5. Set up the protagonists and story clearly.
6. If you have characters who are new immigrants, they wouldn’t use words like “acronym,” for example. Keep your language true to the characters.
7. Your early scene should be a cliff hanger, leaving the audience dying to know what’s going to happen.
8. Know what your central dramatic question is. What is at stake?
9. Do not tell about a character. Reveal the character himself through his actions and dialogue.
10. Simplicity is the hardest, but most effective thing. The writing shouldn’t be about how clever the writer is, but about the characters and how to tell their story in a clear and humble way.