Toward a New Year—
Perhaps for the first time since high school (about a hundred years ago), we don’t have a new stage production planned. We’re booking King Lear, continuing to work on it, and starting to edit a version for DVD. We’re still performing Gifts here and there. We’re commencing a reading/performance tour for our new edition of Rash Acts. But we don’t have a new idea that wants to be staged.
At times something’s fallen out of the sky: an offer to direct, a notion floated from a theatre interested in a collaboration, a story that just reaches up out of the ground and grabs you by the ankle. Those unplanned excursions have been blessed ones, and I’m halfway hoping that may happen.
Meantime, our energies have been consumed with writing fiction. We’ve just published our third short story, “The Blue Lotus,” in Printers Ink Journal, the first one we’re actually being paid for — about enough to pay for five weeks of coffee. And our first novel, Realists, is now in print.
Realists started in the theatre. In 2001 we were invited to do a residency at Juniata College in PA, and in six weeks wrote and staged the play, starting from a scenario with extensive student improvisation. It’s still one of our favorites, but with a cast of 15 and an on-stage bus, it had little future on other stages.
In 2005 we rewrote it as a novel, but it wasn’t until a few years ago, when we really started to get serious about writing fiction and about actually learning the craft, that we approached it again. Through six drafts you begin to begin.
For me, the greatest challenge in moving from one story-telling medium to another is the “rhythm” of perception. An audience for sketch comedy has very different antennae than an audience for full-length realism, and a reader still another. Writing styles in prose have a wide range of densities, but all tend to be new languages to a playwright. Particular differences — the need for description, shifting points of view, inner thoughts, etc. — have their own challenge, but overall they’re an invitation to a deeper exploration of the story, an opulence of choices. Now on the fourth draft of our fifth novel, we’re just starting to see the potential.
One thing is shared by the playwright and the novelist: the certain knowledge that he/she is doing something immensely worthy and transcendentally foolish.
Two weeks after returning from our East Coast tour of Lear, I took off on a solo journey, researching our current novel Akedah: the Binding, which involves the characters on a car trip from Chico, CA, to Shiprock, NM. I drove the path of the characters, a trip of great utility and excruciatingly bleak motels — but that’s what the characters do. Fortuitous moments: I’d planned to drive through Yosemite but found that all the passes were closed due to snow, so the characters had to make a long horseshoe loop to the north — a great improvement for Chapter 8.