Category Archives: my projects

The challenges of plotting Mrs. Hawking part 4

Bernie and I have begun work on Mrs. Hawking part four, tentatively titled Gilded Cages, and we’re running into some challenges. I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised, as we’ve had this happen with each subsequent installment, but this one has presented some difficulties that are thus far unique.

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The biggest thing to deal with is the fact that we’re writing a colonial story. Part four is going to be split into a present day case in 1885, and a flashback story to Mrs. Hawking’s youth in the colonies. We haven’t decided WHICH colony, though, as we are still doing research to figure out if there are any historical features that would serve our turn. What I’d really like to display is that some terrible event that happened during Victoria’s childhood demonstrated to her how corrupt and broken the system is, which helped to shape her worldview in the present. A natural possibility is witnessing something of the horrors of Victorian colonialism. But I really don’t want to just turn the suffering of the local people to be just a lesson for my white hero, or make her into a white savior for those same. And I definitely don’t want to sidestep the issue and just end up tell a story set in a colony that’s only about the white invaders.

What I’ve got here is a Problem of the Protagonist, to use my own theory– when the need to centralize a particular character ends up objectifying or dehumanizing other characters. Because my hero is white, it runs the risk of turning any characters I include of the local people into objects who exist only to facilitate my protagonist’s story. And I definitely do not want to do that with characters of color.

I’m going to put in the work on this. I’ve got a lot of researching and developing to do yet. But I do know a good way to keep a character human is to give them their own arc, demonstrating that their story is one worth following, and affording them agency in the story, making them take actions in the service of achieving their goals and needs. So, while I’m by no means certain yet, my current idea I’m exploring involves having a local character whose personal mission is the central arc of the flashback’s story. This character, who’d probably be female, could have the protagonistic qualities of wanting something, taking actions to pursue it, and driving the plot with their efforts. Perhaps if she drives the story, and other characters are in the position of being reactive to that, I can avoid making any such person being subservient to Victoria’s development.

I’m not sure yet. I’ll have to do more work. But I’m resolved to figure out how to do this in a respectful, conscientious way.

Vivat Regina and Base Instruments by Phoebe Roberts will be performed January 13th-15th at the Boston Westin Waterfront Hotel as part of Arisia 2017.


Reflections on 31 Plays in 31 Days 2016

Well, I have completed the challenge for the fifth year in a row! I sure do like looking at five years’ worth of complete lists of everything I wrote.

I went into this wondering if maybe it wasn’t a good idea to do the challenge this year. I was finishing up a piece, the Hood pilot, which meant it would need more editing than generating very soon into the month. And then I had to focus on writing a bible for the show right after. It wasn’t the most conducive situation to a challenge where you’re just supposed to write new scenes. I was nervous that having to keep up with the challenge would become a burden and a distraction from the work I was supposed to be completing at this time. And then I’d just end up posting old scenes anyway that were written already.

I did end up needing to post some scenes that were written before the day I put them up. About four, starting with Day #7, were posted because I needed to do other writing work on that day. A few before that were posted because, even though I wrote new scenes, I didn’t want to post ones that revealed later climactic parts of the piece. So shockingly, most of what I wrote was new. I wrote scenes for Adonis, the Frasier spinoff idea, the Bridesmaids comedy, and Mrs. Hawking parts 4, 5, 6, and 7. All useful for projects I care about! Given that I wrote at least one scene a day for every day of the previous month as well, it’s probably one of the most solidly productive periods I’ve ever had.

Since 2013, the second year I did this, I’ve shifted my focus away from writing original standalone pieces and towards writing scenes for larger projects that are important to me. It’s been a really useful thing for me to do. I find that I am most productive when I use a drafting process— as in, bang out some garbage just so it exists, and then go back and improve it later. It prevents me from getting so hung up on imperfections that I don’t actually write anything, which is a problem I’m inclined to. Frankly, it works better if I’ve done outlining and planning beforehand so I know what each scene is supposed to include. That didn’t really happen this time, as I’d been working on the Hood pilot in the lead up this time around. But even without that, it definitely lowers the mental barrier to just getting writing done. My brain craves structure, and 31P31D effectively provides it.

Here’s a breakdown of what I wrote this year:

Mrs. Hawking – 11 = 35.5%
– Part 4 – 3 = 9.7%
11. “Bloody Great Fool”
17. “Reginald Managed It”
28. “Loyal Servant of the Empire”
– Part 5 – 3 = 9.7%
1. “A Separate Battlefield”
10. “As My Guest”
12. “The One You Should Fear”
– Part 6 – 2 = 6.5%
16. “From a Bloody Nightmare”
30. “Alone”
– Part 7 – 1 = 3.2%
29. “After Two Years”
– Miscellaneous – 2 = 6.5%
25. “Wedding Toast”
31. “True Gentleman”

Crane Boys – 8 = 25.8%
14. “The Cousins Crane”
15. “Subtle But Unmistakeable Disappointment”
19. “Lucky Bear”
20. “Reaching Out”
22. “Men of the Ivies”
23. “Hanging”
24. “Grading Circle of Hell”
27. “Grow Up”

Hood – 7 = 22.6%
2. “Bullseye”
3. “Rich Boy Out of Water”
6. “More Than Flash”
7. “Let the Grown Ups Handle It”
8. “Get the House in Order”
18. “He’ll Show Them”
21. “Run”

Adonis – 2 = 6.5%
5. “Carrying”
26. “A Small Thing”

Bridesmaids – 2 = 6.5%
9. “Nothing in Common”
13. “About Me”

Beloved Monster – 1 = 3.2%
4. “The Part of Me I Kept for You”

Freddy Crane – 8
David Crane – 6
Nathaniel Hawking – 6
Robin Locksley – 6
John Prince – 5
Marian Doncella – 4
Victoria Hawking – 4
Scarlet Scathlock – 4
Mary Stone – 4
Maureen Bell – 2
Nancy Breyer – 2
Hannah Brodsky – 2
Jess Diaz – 2
Elizabeth Frost – 2
Guy Gisborne – 2
Clara Hawking – 2
Leah Keoh – 2
Paulina Rao – 2
Tanya Stern – 2
Arthur Swann – 2
Beast – 1
Callisto – 1
Diana – 1
Alice Doyle – 1
Reginald Hawking – 1
Maid – 1
Morna – 1
Much Miller – 1
Pavilla – 1
Eleanor Prince – 1

As with last year, when I had to sub in scenes to post, it’s not a totally accurate representation of what I wrote this month, but I do like looking at the data anyway.

At the moment Hood is the most important project for me. I’m really pleased with myself for that one, as I wrote a solid, commercial action pilot with only about two months development. That is ridiculously quick!

I want to continue with the Mrs. Hawking stories, so the fact that I wrote so many scenes for them is definitely valuable, particularly since I want to put together part 4 in the near future. Over the years I’ve done quite a few scenes of part 4 during 31P31D, so I’ve got a nice head start. Also, this was the first time I wrote much for part 5, the plot of which I had literally zero idea for until recently. Figuring out that Nathaniel was going to get taken captive really blew a lot of that open! For some reason it’s fun writing scenes about him being tied to a chair. 😆

The other project I really did a fair bit of work for was my idea for a Frasier spinoff pilot. Now I know it’s not the best use of my time. Unless I get an opportunity to talk directly to NBC, it’s basically just fan fiction. But I actually think I have a pretty strong idea for it, and I ended up writing the first half of it shockingly easily. That probably means I can finish it pretty easily as well, meaning it’s not going to distract too much from other work. I really would get a kick out of finishing it, so I’m probably going to. (Plus Londo asked me to, and I’m a sucker for writing stuff that people enjoy.)

I didn’t work much on Adonis, which I’m slightly sorry about. I haven’t been thinking about it that much recently as I’ve had more pressing projects, but I do want to continue onto the next story. I also wish I’d done more for Bridesmaids, as I think that has a lot of potential as a funny half-hour comedy show. But that pilot will require plot planning, which as I mentioned I didn’t really have time to do. Still, I’m really happy with how the (two combined pieces of the) opening scene came out, so I think it’d be worth working out.

Some random observations. Three of these (#2 – Bullseye, #9 – Nothing in Common and #13 – About Me combined, and #15 – Subtle but Unmistakeable Disappointment) were openers for the pilot episodes of TV shows. I like all three of them, but I think Bullseye is the best screenplay beginning I’ve ever written. I love the idea, and the execution was a bitch, but I’m super happy with how it came out. Amusingly, the other two both use the device of the lead character talking to a psychiatrist about their situation. I guess you could say the repetition’s awkward, but I think the device works in both cases.

Freddy Crane, who was in all 8 scenes I wrote for his pilot, is the character who appeared most frequently. Mrs. Hawking appears in the most 31P31D scenes over the five years I’ve done it, but she only ended up in 4 this time around. The second, third, and fourth most common characters were David Crane, also appearing in the Frasier spinoff, Robin Locksley the protagonist of Hood, and Nathaniel Hawking, all with 6 scenes each. Despite these frequent appearances, I wrote about twice as many different female characters as male.

My favorite scenes I wrote this month? I have a few. As I said, #2 – Bullseye is an awesome TV show opener. #17 – Reginald Managed It explores some really important emotions of Mrs. Hawking’s. #1 – A Separate Battlefield has Clara and Mrs. Hawking clashing, which is always fun. #9 – Nothing in Common is actually pretty damn funny, and sets up the Bridesmaid cast really well. #31 – True Gentleman is cute and sweet.

Least favorite? Mostly the ones I know will be important scenes but I wrote so fast and so sloppily they didn’t come out well. #28 – Loyal Servant of the Empire is a particular offender, as is #29 – After Two Years and #30 – Alone. #26 – A Small Thing feels like a waste. I am so eager to examine Pavilla’s objectification of Aidan, but I can’t quite figure out how extreme to take it, so I keep backing off and taking the teeth out of it. But you know, mostly what I wrote I’m pretty pleased with— at least the ideas in them, even if most of them will have to be edited to make funnier, sharper, or less rushed. I notice they tend to cluster near the end when I’m pushing to finish.

Favorite lines? I love the therapist in #9 – Nothing in Common telling Jess “We discussed this. I can’t laugh at everything to make it okay.” In #25 – Wedding Toast, “Now… I’d best straighten my tie and shut my gob, before all this fair regard makes me become truly un-English,” is just a cute little character moment for Nathaniel. I also like him telling Mrs. Frost the title line, in #12 – The One You Should Fear. But I think the very best is from #17 – Reginald Managed It, when an uncharacteristic ally soft Mrs. Hawking says, “Oh, Reginald. We ruined one another, didn’t we?” Then, hardening again, “But he chose it. Not me.”

So, despite my reservations, I am pretty damn happy with having done this challenge. I guess this is why I keep coming back after it year after year.


31 Plays in 31 Days 2017, #31 – “True Gentleman”

I powered through and finished! EARLY too, the earliest I’ve ever finished the 31P31D challenge, but I had the time and I wanted to knock it out.

This last one deals with an idea I’m surprised I’ve never noodled with before. One little character bit in the Hawking stories that I enjoy is the fact that Clara and Nathaniel met through Nathaniel’s older brother Justin, because Clara dated Justin before she and Nathaniel got together. Their mild romantic history is alluded to in Base Instruments; it was Bernie’s idea and he pushed to include it. Basically, as they are the same age (three years older than Nathaniel) they came out in the same year, and so met while attending the same parties. They courted for a little while, until Clara got fed up with his interest in other girls and broke it off. She and Nathaniel got together gradually after that.

This little scene is from five or so years before the first Mrs. Hawking play, and depicts how their relationship began to change into something that would lead to falling in love, getting married, and having a couple of babies.

I FINISHED THE CHALLENGE! FOR THE FIFTH YEAR IN A ROW! WOOOOOOO!

Day #31 – “True Gentleman”
By Phoebe Roberts

NATHANIEL HAWKING, a young gentleman, early twenties
CLARA PARTRIDGE, a lady his brother courted, mid twenties

London, England, 1875
~~~
(A twenty-three-year-old CLARA PARTRIDGE dashes in and paces, fuming with the beginnings of tears in her eyes. After her comes a twenty-year-old NATHANIEL HAWKING. Both are in evening wear.)

NATHANIEL: I say, Clara! Are you— are you all right?

CLARA: Why, Nathaniel! What are you doing here?

NATHANIEL: Pardon me, but I saw you dash out of the ballroom, and worried something might wrong. When Justin didn’t go after you, I thought someone ought to.

CLARA: Well! That’s very kind of you. Justin shan’t be following after me, not if he knows what’s good for him.

NATHANIEL: Whatever do you mean?

CLARA: I mean I don’t think I shall be seeing so very much of Justin anymore.

NATHANIEL: You mean— oh!

CLARA: Yes, well.

NATHANIEL: I— I’m quite sorry. He hasn’t— done anything ungentlemanly, has he?

CLARA: He’s Justin, isn’t he?

NATHANIEL: That prat. What’s he done?

CLARA: Oh, never you mind.

NATHANIEL: If he’s hurt you, miss—

CLARA: Oh, you know him! It’s only that he has a wandering eye. One grows weary of feeling like the plainest girl in the room.

NATHANIEL: Goodness, Clara, you could never be that!

CLARA: Oh, my.

NATHANIEL: I mean— forgive me, but— as you said, that’s his way. It’s no fault of yours that he’s an absolute rake.

CLARA: Perhaps not. But I’ve no patience for it any more.

NATHANIEL: Nor should you.

CLARA: I only hope I haven’t made a perfect fool of myself. Losing my calm with him and dashing out of the ballroom for everyone to see. Certainly I’ve ruined the last dance.

NATHANIEL: Not at all. I’m sure no one paid it any mind.

CLARA: You did. You had to run out here after to me.

NATHANIEL: Well— I hated the thought that you might be alone in your distress.

CLARA: Thank you for that. It’s quite kind.

NATHANIEL: Think nothing of it, miss. And, please… never think that my blasted brother’s conduct means you’re not beautiful. If I may say so… I don’t know how any man courting you could look away from you.

CLARA: Why, Nathaniel…

NATHANIEL: Oh, that was dreadfully impertinent. Now you think I’m just as much a rake as he is.

CLARA: Not at all. Quite the contrary… you are a true gentleman, Nathaniel Hawking.

NATHANIEL: It means a great deal that you’d think so. Is there anything else I can do?

CLARA: You’ve been a great comfort to me tonight. Indeed, I think I shall be presentable to return. You ought to go out and enjoy the rest of the ball. You’re shipping out soon for your tour of service, aren’t you?

NATHANIEL: If you can call it that. They’re sending me to Newcastle, of all places.

CLARA: Sounds as though you’re in for an adventure.

NATHANIEL: Indeed, fighting off boredom as I keep the logbooks.

CLARA: They’ll make a soldier of you yet. Well, if you’ll excuse me, I had best find a place to freshen up. I’d like to make my return more dignified than my exit.

NATHANIEL: Certainly, miss.

(He bows and turns to go. Just before he exits, he turns back around.)

NATHANIEL: Miss, since it will be so dreadfully dull away in the armory, it would be very cheering to hear a word from home now and again. When I have a moment, might I write you? Some letters might be just the way to pass the time.

CLARA: I would like that, Nathaniel.

(He smiles, then bows again and exits. She watches him go with a new interest.)


What I wrote in 2016

I like to look at the pieces I completed over the course of the year and see what work I did. It seems I accomplished more than I realized, at least in the screenplay department. Hood is the only wholly original full-length piece of significance, but it was also important of me to get a good version of the Mrs. Hawking screenplay done as well. Not bad for a year that also included two production cycles of two full-length plays! Especially since the previous year at this time I was worried I was slowing down.

Completed 2016

Screenplays
– Mrs. Hawking pilot, versions 1, 2, 3, and 4
– Hood pilot, versions 1, 2, and 3
– Frasier spinoff pilot, version 1

Tabletop games
– Silver Lines

Articles
– Smile and smile and be a villain: supporting the narrative function of villain roles in larp, version 2
– No battle plan survives contact with the enemy: the tension between narrative structure and player autonomy in larp, version 1

Larps
– Pub Crawl

Scenes
– “A Separate Battlefield”
– “The Part of Me I Kept for You”
– “Carrying”
– “Nothing in Common”
– “As My Guest”
– “Bloody Great Fool”
– “The One You Should Fear”
– “About Me”
– “From a Bloody Nightmare”
– “Reginald Managed It”
– “Wedding Toast”
– “A Small Thing”
– “Loyal Servant of the Empire”
– “After Two Years”
– “Alone”
– “True Gentleman”
– “Three Ships”


What I wrote in 2015

Well, this list ended up a hell of a lot shorter than last year or the year before. My gut reaction is to stress about that, but if I’m being more reasonable, I directed two plays (technically three!) this past year, which took up a lot of the time I would otherwise have devoted to writing. Also, production of my pieces is just as important as generating new pieces, if not more so, at this point. So I’m going to chill out about it.

Completed 2015

Full-length Plays
– Base Instruments, versions 1, 2, and 3

Screenplays
– Adonis, versions 6 and 7

Larps
– Woodplum House

Article
– Smile and smile and be a villain: supporting the narrative function of villain roles in larp, version 1

Scenes
– “Who Was Your Mother?”
– “Make It Good”
– “Bombshells”
– “Lead and I’ll Follow”
– “The Mirror”
– “Old Friends”
– “Gravestones”
– “Pinching”
– “Orestea Helen”
– “The Roof”
– “Perpetual Sophomore”
– “Rings”
– “Reunion”
– “Gifted”
– “He Inspires Them”
– “Britannica Gloriana”
– “Protect Him”
– “Turn It Off”
– “Parental Approval”
– “Black Eye”
– “Don’t Panic”
– “Not Anymore”
– “What Choice”
– “How You Hated Him”
– “New Girl”
– “Skin a Cat”
– “Like a Language I Did Not Speak”
– “Brockton Returns”


A work by any other name

I’ve always struggled with choosing titles for my written work. A lot rides on a title, so I have have standards for them that I’ve never been that good at meeting. They are the symbol of and the reference by which the work is known, so it should appropriate and worth to represent piece’s soul and quality.

A title needs many things. It must be easy to say and remember. It needs to sound good, with the right ring to be appealing. It can’t be too generic, or it won’t seem special to that story or stick in people’s minds. And it needs to really sum up the work it stands for, in a quick, catchy way. That’s a pretty tall order! Which is why I find it so challenging to come up with titles I’m satisfied with.

I tend to default to naming my stories after their protagonist. It’s often the easiest way to come up with a short, punchy, indicative title that sounds okay. I do choose pretty good character names, so at least they have a ring to them. “Mrs. Hawking,” for example. But they’re definitely on the obvious rather than the clever end of things.

The sort of titles that impress me most are those that use a non-literal idea that somehow represents the spirit of the story. Like, if you know what idea the title represents, you can see how that idea represents something important to the piece. The closest I’ve ever come to that sort of memetic title is “Base Instruments,” the name of Mrs. Hawking part three. A major theme of that story is people whose grandest ambitions and purposes demand perfection, but they are forced to confront the fact that human imperfections will always limit them. But, as Mrs. Hawking says, “Our instruments are base ones, but they are all God gives us for the task.”

Generally I’m not a fan of the “title drop” in the dialogue. It was supposedly a feature of the traditional “well-made” plays, like “Sometimes I feel like a cat on a hot tin roof!” But I usually find it so awkward and self-conscious, like it grinds the story’s momentum to a halt as it takes you out of the flow. But I included that because most of my early readers didn’t see the title’s relevance without it, and I think that phrasing keeps it a bit more of a natural piece of dialogue than if I just reproduced the actual construction in the name.

I also tend to like titles with a slight note of irony, I find. It’s usually not obvious, but I like knowing that the ones I pick both represent the story and yet also hint at an important conflict in their inaccuracy, if you know what I mean. All the Mrs. Hawking titles have this. “Mrs. Hawking” is the protagonist’s name, but identifying her in terms of her marriage is in no way accurate to the person that she is. “Vivat Regina” is a patriotic expression means “Long live the queen,” but the hero of that story strongly disapproves of the queen and all she stands for. And as I said, “Base Instruments,” refers to human limitations compromising the perfection of enterprise, but still the people confronting this truth possess truly exquisite instruments nonetheless.

The best one I’ve ever come up with— as is often the case with this piece, I find —is in my opinion “Adonis.” Punchy, evocative, representative, mellifluous, recognizable, and with that delicious undertone of irony. Adonis refers to our protagonist Aidan, and yet it doesn’t— it refers to an artificial personality that was forced on him, one that he resents, and stands for the major problem of his life. That’s a lot to ask from a single word, and yet it achieves all that. It’s good enough that I have no idea what to call the subsequent installments of the story, because I don’t know what else could ever be as good.

Bernie also recently brought up the issue of titles not just for individual works but for series. They present an additional level of challenge, because they have to sum up an entire collection of stories. With my own, I tend to default to the title of the first work, referring to them as “the Mrs. Hawking series” or “the Adonis trilogy.” The only good one I’ve ever devised is “Breaking History,” the collective name I gave to everything within my greater historical fiction universe, which includes the Hawking stories, the collection around The Stand, and the greater Fairfield family.

Some random titles I admire, ignoring those named explicitly for their protagonist or for the obvious setting. Game of Thrones is excellent, definitely better than the series name, so I’m not surprised that the TV adaptation chose to go with that rather than A Song of Ice and Fire. Halo, for the video game, is one of the most exquisite titles I’ve ever encountered for any creative work ever. I do not like puns, however, which cuts out a huge chunk of possibilities. I haven’t watched Orphan Black, so I don’t know if it’s representative, but just on ring alone that’s fantastic. Boardwalk Empire is great. Lost is super punchy. I rarely like long titles, except as a joke about how long they are. Hark, a Vagrant!, the comic by Kate Beaton, I always loved for its specific bizarre awkwardness. So I can appreciate things outside my box. But I’m so particular about it, and the way they strike my ear can really influence my impression of the work.


Reflecting on 31 Plays in 31 Days 2015

I am proud to announce I have completed the 31P31D challenge for the fourth year in a row! I have to say, however, this year worked kind of… weirdly. I was in the home stretch of finishing the initial draft of Base Instruments when August started, and I thought I would use the challenge to help me finish it. That did happen, as I worked on it every day and did in fact complete the draft, but it had a weird effect on my “output” in terms of the challenge.

As I mentioned, I found myself not wanting to post the scenes I wrote revealing the progress of the mystery, since I didn’t want people reading them out of context. But I wanted to have something to post on my LJ for accountability. I ended up posting others pieces I had that were roughly an equivalent amount of work, but were not actually written within the challenge period. Sometimes I posted previously completed, less spoilery sections of Base Instruments, sometimes other scenes I’d already written that had yet to see the light of day. So while I was fulfilling the dictates of the challenge by writing a scene piece every day, what I used as proof of completion did not actually reflect what work I was doing.

I guess that’s fine. As I keep reminding myself, the point is make myself write and do work on projects that are important to me, which I totally did. But I can’t shake the feeling that I kind of “wasted” the challenge— like, I was already going to push myself to finish Base Instruments anyway, so it didn’t cause me to generate anything “extra.” But that’s totally stupid— again, the point is to use it to write pieces that are important to me, and part three of the Mrs. Hawking series definitely counts! And God knows I can get off track if I don’t have structure to force my brain to focus and get work done.

The other thing that’s unbalanced is the statistics I like to keep. I like to mark down what projects the scenes apply to, and which characters I chose to write about. The fact that I didn’t always post the scenes I was actually writing at that moment, and posted some old scenes in their place instead, means it doesn’t accurately reflect what I was thinking about. But again, whatever, the statistics serve only to satisfy my list fetish and don’t actually have any real bearing on my creative output.

Still, it messes things up when I try to evaluate based on that list, which you know I love to do.
Mrs. Hawking – 14 – 45%
– Base Instruments – 5 – 16%
o 2. Everything I Do
o 3. Of the Mariinsky
o 12. I Have You Now
o 15. Enter Justin
o 17. Lord Seacourse
– Part 4 – 4 – 13%
o 8. Old Friends
o 9. Gravestones
o 25. Black Eye
o 29. How You Hated Him
– Part 6 – 3 – 10%
o 6. Lead and I’ll Follow
o 27. Not Anymore
o 28. What Choice
– Part 7 – 1 – 3%
o 18. Reunion
– Other – 1 – 3%
o 16. Rings

Adonis sequels – 7 – 23%
– 1. Who Was Your Mother?
– 4. Make it Good
– 7. The Mirror
– 11. Orestea Helen
– 20. He Inspires Them
– 21. Britannica Gloriana
– 22. Protect Him

Baker Hall – 4 – 13%
– 13. The Roof
– 14. Perpetual Sophomore
– 19. Gifted
– 31. Skin a Cat

Bombshells – 3 – 10%
– 5. Bombshells
– 10. Pinching
– 30. New Girl

Fan fiction – 2 – 6%
– Bojack Horseman – 2
o 23. Turn It Off
o 24. Parental Approval

The Body – 1 – 3%
– 26. Don’t Panic
Victoria Hawking – 9
Mary Stone – 7
Nathaniel Hawking – 6
Diana – 5
Charlotte Holmes – 4
Aidan – 2
Arthur Swann – 2
Bojack Horseman – 2
Mabel – 2
Morna – 2
Gertie – 2
Jane Watson – 2
Julie – 2
Justin Hawking – 2
Michael Holmes – 2
Pavilla – 2
Saturnina – 2
Captain Sister – 1
Charles – 1
Christie Zwicky – 1
Clara Hawking – 1
Cleo – 1
Daisy – 1
David Solan – 1
Elena Zakharova – 1
Elizabeth Frost – 1
Fay Ray – 1
Gareth Stanton – 1
Gloriana – 1
Hollingsworth – 1
Herb Kazzazz – 1
Luciana – 1
Nicholas Cavil – 1
Reggie Hawking – 1
Reginald Hawking – 1
Yulia Sherba – 1

So it’s hard to draw conclusions from this data when I know it’s somewhat artificial. According to this, 45% of the pieces were from various Mrs. Hawking stories, 16% of which for Base Instruments, but in reality it was probably much more than that.

Roughly speaking, however, clearly I was very focused on development for Mrs. Hawking. I’m hoping to write one of those plays a year from here on out, so this helps me be on track for that. Also, everything I wrote was for an idea I’d already had, and most of which was development for something I’d like to write at some point. After I finalize and release Base Instruments, I plan on moving to the Adonis sequels, so I’m glad I dug into that. Maybe I can’t do anything with Baker Hall, and maybe I’d never actually have a use for a Bojack Horseman spec script as anything other than fan fiction, but they are ideas I’d had in my head. So it was definitely the most focused 31P31D I’ve done, and I’m glad of that.


Adonis made the top ten percent of the BlueCat Screenplay Competition!

They’ve finally begun the rounds of judging for the BlueCat Screenwriting Competition, and I am delighted to announce that Adonis, the screenplay I wrote with Bernie, has made the top ten percent of Features for 2015!

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I am so happy about this. I had been feeling pretty good when we got our initial feedback from the contest, and I felt like it gave us a really good direction for the edit. The version produced for this one was the one that we would be judged on, and I felt it was very strong.

Though this was the last possible version to submit, BlueCat actually offers a second round of feedback on it, which I’d been meaning to write about here but hadn’t gotten around to. Bernie and I felt like our first reader grasped the script really well, giving us both astute positives and valid, useful critiques, so we asked to have them look at our next draft as well, but unfortunately they were not available. That made me nervous, as we had addressed their criticisms specifically. But our replacement seemed to get the piece as well! It’s such an encouragement to see that people with film industry training and perspective can get behind a piece as challenging as this one.

“This is both a period drama with a dynamic twist of fantasy and a powerful love story with considerable erotic frisson. It is set in the era of the Roman Empire – but a version where women are in charge. The screen direction on p.4 lays it out very clearly “Everywhere one looks is the grip of matriarchy; every slave master, every owner of property, every magistrate or enforcer of the law. Wherever there is position of power or authority, it is filled by a woman.” There is no question as to which is the second sex. This storytelling device allows the writers to take a fresh approach to somewhat tired material (a gladiatorial contest) and ask some pointed questions about a civilization that resorts to bread and circuses to keep dissatisfaction contained. It also paves the way for some deliciously bawdy inverted sexism (e.g. Orestea’s line on p.22 “he would make Vesta dampen her hearth” or Tamar’s reference to “Aphrodite’s saddle. The cradle of a horsewoman’s pleasure” on p.24). This inversion of the usual sexual hierarchy is very thought provoking. It causes the audience to rethink attitudes to both historical cultures and our representation of them. If a male general were to have a relationship with a female slave in the way Diana connects with Aidan, it would seem like a well-worn trope. However, switching their genders causes us to think more deeply about the power dynamics in such relationships, as opposed to taking the sexual chemistry for granted. The writing comes from a place of authority regarding such contests, and describes the protocol and the weapons used (e.g. Aquila’s gladii on p.19) with confidence, making it easy to believe in the world on the page. While Aidan/Adonis wins fans in the arena (and Diana’s heart), his sister Morna is sowing the seeds of rebellion. One of the most powerful elements of the screenplay is the slow, almost unnoticed rise of the crippled girl. By the time Aidan faces Aquila for the final battle, his sister has almost as much at stake as he does. Although it’s really no surprise that Aidan manages to strike the triumphal blow on p.95, the screenplay frames it as an unexpected win, triggering the revolution that Morna has so carefully put in place. However, the real victory comes with Diana and Aidan’s kiss on p.107, capping off their romance.”

I like a lot about this, but I think the best and most important line is “It causes the audience to rethink attitudes to both historical cultures and our representation of them.” This is the main theme of the story, drawing attention to gendered epic tropes by changing the customary gender roles, so I am delighted to see such understanding of it. He also liked the meat of the story (Aidan’s progress through the games, the romance between Aidan and Diana, and Morna’s sowing rebellion) as well as the trappings, such as our “deliciously bawdy inverted sexism.” I love those bits myself, so I’m glad they were noticed. I also love that he bought into the ship, considering “the real victory” to be Aidan and Diana’s kiss.

And now for the negatives:

“It seems you may be missing a major trick by making Morna and Aidan siblings rather than lovers. It would certainly add urgency to the entire story if Aidan was devoted to Morna, forced to fake fealty to Diana, and then torn between the two women, whom he loves for different reasons. Have you considered a painful (and therefore conflict generating) love triangle, with the slaves lying about the true nature of their relationship in order to stay together, similar to the one in DAYS OF HEAVEN? Although the writing is generally clear and eloquent, it may be a little long-winded and formal in places. Screenplays demand economy of language. Try to keep screen directions more concise. Describe visual beats in as simple a manner as possible, withholding comment or judgment, and describing only what can be seen within the scene. Try to avoid lengthy, dense blocks of description such as the one describing Morna’s ride around the city on p.45. Break it down into a series of specific beats, possibly a montage or sequence of shots. Aim for short, snappy paragraphs of screen directions less than three lines in length. When proofreading your screenplay, check for formatting errors such as character names becoming separated from dialogue over a page break, or scene headings separated from screen directions. Screenplay software should prevent this from happening. Also check for the occasional typo (such as “you sent me for” instead of “you sent for me” on p.60). When a screenplay has this level of overall polish, odd mistakes are all the more glaring.”

On one hand, most of this criticism is TRIVIAL. He doesn’t like how my screenwriting software (which yes, I did use, but it’s just a bad iPad port of a program called Celtx) sometimes separated the sluglines for names and scenes. A tiny thing I can fix manually in a minute. He thinks my scene descriptions were a bit too long and formal– yeah, they might be a little bit, it’s a problem I’ve had in the past, though I’m not exactly sure what “formal” means in this context. It’s actually a pretty good sign when you only get dinged on nitpicky technical things; it means there are minimal substantive things to criticize!

On the other hand, the only real thing he mentions made my eyes pop out of my head– he thinks we were “missing a major trick” by making Aidan and Morna brother and sister, as opposed to lovers. WHA-WHA-WHAT? I can’t even CONCEIVE of that. How would it even work? It kills SO MANY THINGS about the point of our story. In this schema, would he be with Diana and Morna at the same time? We’re supposed to like this guy– wouldn’t he come off as a major cad, boning the powerful person who can do things for him when he has someone looking out for him at home? A huge plot point is that up until he meets Diana, he’s never had the wherewithal to work on moving past his trauma– if he already has a lover, the power of him finally taking all that on so that he can be with Diana is destroyed. And also– a LOVE TRIANGLE? Ugh, that is SO played out.

Bernie was less bothered by it– he thinks the guy was just thinking out loud about what he might have done if he were writing it (in which case, I say “Why does it need to be mention in his response to OUR WORK?”). Bernie says that while it isn’t right for the story we’re actually telling, he could see it working if it were an urequited thing, like Morna loved Aidan from afar and never pursued him due to his trauma, adding an extra layer of tragedy to how she worked to protect and save him even though he loves another. But I am much more moved by the idea that Aidan and Morna are FAMILY, all the family they have, and that is a bond that can never be severed. I think there’s a lot of feeling that the only really powerful motivating force is romantic-sexual love, and I not only disagree with that notion, I want to depict how other kinds of love can be just as powerful.

Perhaps you’ll disagree with me, and I have no proof either way, but while I got the sense that the first reader was a woman, I would guess that this second was a man. If so, that’s actually possibly a good thing, as I think the hardest sell on a story like this is men. But the suggestion about making Morna Aidan’s lover rather than his sister is what clinched it for me. I think that represents a somewhat more typically masculine way to interpret a character like Aidan. I think the idea of having two women after him is sort of a way to “man him back up.” Bernie thinks I’m reading too deeply into it, but that’s what I think.

Regardless, this reader liked it enough that we made it into the top ten percent. Maybe Bernie’s right and it was just musing. I’m not sure what the process is, but I would guess that each reader has to care enough about the script to argue for its inclusions to all the other readers who didn’t see it, and if that’s the case, our guy pulled for us. And I’m really happy about it.

I don’t know if we’ll go any farther in this contest. I really hope so, though I probably shouldn’t get my hopes up. But I’m so proud of this piece, and I believe in it so much. Special thank you goes to, in no particular order, Jenn Giorno, Matt Kamm, Shannon Moore, Ben Federlin, Tegan Kehoe, Charlotte Oswald, Sam LeVangie, Caitlin Partridge, Frances Kimpel, Eboracum Richter-Dahl, and anyone else I’m sorry to be forgetting, who read the script and gave us such amazing and useful responses. You guys did so much to make it as good as it turned out to be.


The challenge of writing Base Instruments

The third installment of Mrs. Hawking is now underway. With Bernie’s help, I have begun the challenging process of plotting it out, and it’s clear that this will significantly harder than what I’ve done before.

First of all, Base Instruments will be a true mystery, as opposed to a caper like the first two stories. In Mrs. Hawking and Vivat Regina, our heroes are presented with a problem rather than a question. “Foil a blackmailer and return a kidnapped child.” “Bring a monster to justice who is hiding behind diplomatic immunity.” They knew what they were going after, and their challenge was to figure out how to accomplish it. In a mystery, however, they have to investigate to find out the answer to what’s gone on. That’s a very different story design process, as it requires the slow unfolding of the truth based on the gathering of clues, which is really tough to do in a theatrical medium. Think about it; most mystery stories require lots of people to interview and places to investigate, while in theater you have to minimize both locations and characters in order to make staging feasible. The few theatrical mysteries tend to be of the “locked room” variety, to keep both suspect pool and number of settings down.

Bernie and I are trying to use that “locked room” model after a fashion for that very reason. Still, this play is going to have a LOT of speaking characters, there’s just no way around it. We’ve got our three leads, of course, and we’re starting to build up a cast of supporting characters we want to recur and develop– in this case, Nathaniel’s wife Clara and Arthur, the policeman Mary befriended. I also want to include Nathaniel’s brother Justin Hawking, and of course there’s going to have to be all the characters specifically involved in the mystery.

But we’re trying to concern ourselves more with telling the best possible story than with “production stuff” yet. Writing a compelling mystery will be tough enough on its own. I’ve been watching a ton of mysteries lately for research, and we’re going to be working out a lot of kinks. Wish us luck! I want the next installment of this story to continue the upward trajectory of the last two.


What I wrote in 2014

Here is the list of every writing piece I finished this year! I edited two full-length pieces, wrote and edited two new full-length pieces, wrote two new larps, and a ton of scenes to be used later! Go me!

Full-length Plays
Vivat Regina, versions 3 and 4
– Puzzle House Blues, versions 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5

Screenplays
Adonis, versions 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5
The Tailor at Loring’s End, version 6 and 7

Larps
– Her Eternal Majesty’s Privy Council for the Continual Funding of the Mad Arts and Sciences
– Brockhurst

Radio Plays
Cabin Pressure: San Tropez

Scenes
– “Being Married”
– “Do You Miss It?”
– “No One Knows You Here”
– “Repute”
– “Because I Know You’re Not”
– “What If I Don’t Want To?”
– “Companion”
– “Never Really Here”
– “Humiliated”
– “Haven’t I Always?”
– “Your Vessel Has Not Betrayed You”
– “I Have Weathered You All”
– “Adventure Abroad”
– “Look Where That Got Him”
– “Family Dinner”
– “No One’s Cad”
– “The Stuff of Their Dreams”
– “Glad to Be Your Man”
– “The Cuff”
– “The Hand You’ve Been Dealt”
– “Distinguished Matron in Widow’s Weeds”
– “Make History”
– “As Sisters Should”
– “Have You Thought Beyond All This?”
– “Make It Good”

Prose
– “Blond Adonis”

Poems
– “No Vessels for Us”