Sunday, June 29, 2008

A Play in Twenty Four Hours

The festival was a blast! Exhausting, but so much incredible, focused, collective energy, not just from our own team, but from all the teams working at the same time, trying to create art, or a semblance of it.

On friday night at 6:30 everyone gathered at the Ukiah Player's Theatre to meet, sign in as a team, make a plan, and find out the theme. We got lucky. "Death" was chosen. My writing partner Natasha Yim had an idea that fit perfectly so that gave us a head start. She and I went to her husband's office, put on the coffee, and started brain storming.

I've never worked with a partner before, so it took me a while to figure out how to proceed. I tend to just write everything down in one expulsion, sort of like vomiting words, not worrying too much about each line of dialogue. Once the structure is there, I go back and fix the words. Natasha sets up an outline first, going line by line, making sure she's staying on track. In took about an hour before we were in the zone, finding that balance point where we were both contributing. We spent as much time laughing as typing. By midnight, we had a play. By 3:00 am, it was a good play. I got to bed at 4:00, then up at 7:30 to meet the actors and director.

8:00 am the whole team got together outside the theatre and did the read through. The actors loved it. It sounded better when they read it than how I imagined it in my head. Right away, the actors embodied the characters, adding nuances to the dialogue I hadn't foreseen. Natasha and I were exhausted, but happy. We left to get more sleep while the actors got to work.

At 3:00 pm I went back to the theatre to watch them on stage. Incredibly, they knew most of their lines already! I can write a play in one night, but there's no way I can learn lines in 7 hours.

8:00- Showtime! It was a good turn out. All four plays were about death, but every team had a different idea about it. There was a campy Sci Fi comedy about reigniting the sun, a play written by a group of high school students about Canada nuking Ukiah, a play about ghosts messing with a fake psychic, and one about a mad taxi driver on his last night of work. Our play was about Vampires in a support group to help them fit in with humans. The vampire therapist has a nervous breakdown after listening to them "whine for the last millennia." After all the players took their bows, I found my teammates and we hugged, everyone feeling high on fatigue and excitement. It was an incredible experience.

To celebrate, my hubby and I went to the Ukiah Brewery to dance to The Mad Maggies, an eclectic, polka, ska, celtic, zydeco, rock band; the kind of music you MUST dance to. By the time I made it to bed at 1 am I felt that I'd climbed Half Dome in a day. But what a day!

If you've never done a 24 hour play fest, I highly recommend it. Exhausting, yes, but it's incredible what can be created in a short amount of time. I plan to do it again next year!

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Mendocino County is On Fire

On friday, we had an incredible lightning storm. I was out that night with my writing group and as we left the cafe and walked across the overpass, we watched the flashes of lightning strike through the treacherous black clouds which were smothering the hills. Fascinating and beautiful. And then I thought, Uh Oh. I bet there's a fire burning now.

Not only is there a fire burning, there are over 130 fires burning in Mendocino County, one just ten miles from the city of Ukiah where I live. Every fire is burning out of control because there just isn't enough man power to deal with so many fires at once, especially when you realize that all of Northern California is threatened by fire. Cal Fire is on overload, so Mendo Fire Crews are battling the blazes mostly on their own. There are a lot of Community Volunteer fire crews, inmates from the County Jail, and homeowners out there, battling thousand acre blazes with garden hoses and shovels.

In Ukiah, we are mostly safe, but of course, not completely. Besides the heavy smoke dimming the sun and reducing visibility to less than 1 mile, a fire could reach this town. When I was in the seventh grade I lived in Lakeport in Lake County. That summer, Cow Mountain caught on fire and the fire blazed almost unstoppable toward the town. My family and I stood on a hill in town one night and watched the flames crest the hill and race toward the freeway. We were all praying the flames wouldn't leap the four lanes of asphalt, but the fire was burning so hot and the air was so dry, the town was on high alert. No one slept much that night. We had suitcases packed, waiting for the evacuation order. Somehow, CDF and local fire crews managed to keep the fire from reaching the freeway, saving the little town of Lakeport. A few days later, the fire was out.

I have a list of things to take, just in case. Documents, medications, some clothing, food and water, dog food, both computer towers, my lap top, and Paul's letters. If there's time I'll grab the photos. Both vehicles have full tanks of gas and we have friends in the Bay Area we can go to if need be. Odds are, Ukiah will remain untouched by anything more than dense smoke, but just in case, I'm ready.

This is California. We all need to be ready. If it's not catching fire it's falling down in an earthquake. I've lived here my entire life, so droughts, wildfires and earthquakes are nothing new to me, but the loss of life and property is tragic. You can't take anything for granted, not even in California where the weather is gorgeous 80% of the time and the views rival the French Riviera. Enjoy the beauty, but watch for smoke.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Good enough by Kim

So, I have submitted my, er, name -- and rep -- as a candidate for presidency.

Just kidding. Actually, I have submitted my candidacy for Litquake, SF's highfalutin' yet edgy literary festival. But it might as well be the presidential race, because it feels like there's a lot at stake here.

The issue, as I see it, is Am I Good Enough? Or, more accurately, Do They Think I'm Good Enough?

Such are the trials, tribs and baggage of the Chick Lit writer. Now, I think I'm good, and my mother thinks I'm on the verge of cracking the literary canon -- but does the rest of the literary world concur? There's still a double standard when it comes to commercial fiction, especially women's fiction, and especially women's fiction penned by women that is packaged in jackets that might include some shade of pink.

And it still yanks my chain.

As anyone who's read Jody Gehrman, Jennifer Belle, Jennifer Weiner, Candace Bushnell or a long list of other writers who -- I'm guessing -- are writing largely for women (and are read largely by women) can tell you that they're dealing quite evocatively with universal human themes. So why the derogatory labels? I'm not going to get into a deep discussion of the Chick Lit moniker here; let's just say applying to a literary festival gives one pause. It gives one Deep Thoughts. It also gives one an upset stomach, but what's a girl writer to do?

According to the Litquake Web site, their criteria for consideration are: Is the author local? Check. Does the author have a book coming out this year? Check. Can the author provide an entertaining reading experience? Checkalicious, baby (not sure how they know this, because I did not have to submit a video of myself doing stand-up or nude burlesque).

Hooray! I'm overqualified for the first time ever! But seriously...this is one of those situations where I want it so bad I can taste it. Why? Well, I want validation from the stinking edgy SF literary establishment, that's why. Also, I want dozens of sycophants to slobber all over me as I mince around in my (edgy) platforms drinking copious amounts of Stella and blathering on about universal themes. Why pretend otherwise? I would go so far as to say that a certain segment of the author population thinks as much about peer admiration as they do about, er, universal themes. Is that so wrong?

Thankfully, I'm a Capricorn and a 3 in the Enneagram personality profile so I don't blame myself too much.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Obviously I didn't do my BEA homework well enough, because despite my plans and goals for the event, I spent most of the time wandering around the LA Convention Center, hopelessly lost. Spending time at BEA is a lot like spending time on the internet. You intend to do research on a particular topic, say Beverly Hills shoes, but you start clicking on other links and exploring more sites and before you know it two hours have passed and you now know everything there is to know about South-East LA weather patterns. I missed all but one of the workshops I'd signed up for and missed every author signing I was interested in. Attending BEA became a test of Zen.

However, I don't think it was a complete waste of time. I did get a glimpse of the bizarre and somewhat elusive book industry, and I was pleasantly surprised by how polite everyone was. Not once did I get mowed over or ignored. Even rep's at the Simon and Schuster pavilion were cheerful and chatted about books with me. They graciously accepted a flier about Laura's book while offering me a pre-release book of their own, some of which I accepted. That's one thing about BEA I learned very quickly: say no to an offered book or you'll quickly spend the day hauling around 30 pounds in your bag. But behind the smiling reps at Simon and Schuster and Random House is where the real purpose of BEA is. At numerous tables in each pavilion sat well dressed men and women making deals and taking book orders. Their heads were bowed close together as they looked over contracts and papers, speaking in quiet voices, and finishing their discussion with a firm handshake. I heard snippets of conversations: "that's not very many units..." "he doesn't know what he's talking about..." "I'm not sure about these numbers..." "this display alone cost one thousand dollars." I felt that I had wandered into a secret society's secret convention and the secret members were speaking in a secret code. They even had secret handshakes.

I also learned that I was under-dressed. Despite the fact BEA is a convention, people were dressed in black suits and sleek dresses, and most wore impractical, high-heeled shoes. Because I'd been warned over and over to wear good shoes, I noticed people's feet. 60% chose style over comfort. In my jeans, Medusa's Muse t-shirt, and red Keens, it was obvious I wasn't an "insider." Several times I was asked if I was a librarian. I guess librarians like to be comfortable.

Speaking of librarians, I couldn't find any. The American Library Association booth was abandoned and there was no "library section." I spent all Saturday morning hunting for them, eager to hand out free copies of Traveling Blind. No luck. That was the same time I lost my cell phone, so by lunchtime on day two of BEA I was ready to sit on the floor and cry. Happily, an exhibitor found my cell phone and when I called my number I found them. Thank you so much, Interlink Publishing! After the cell phone fiasco I found librarians in a workshop called "What Librarians Wish Publishers Knew." An interesting talk, and I'll go into more detail in my next post. I gave free copies to two of them and handed fliers to the rest.

I did manage to find the Independent Publishers Section and Writer's Row, both located in the very back of the West Hall, about as far from the Main-South Hall as you can get. All I can say is these people are brave. While walking up and down the two aisles, I got very depressed. There were table after table of writers and publishers, practically leaping into the aisle and thrusting a book into my hand, as if begging me to take one. I took too many, and while a few were poorly produced in my opinion, I did find some treasures, especially a book by Simhananda published by Orange Palm and Magnificent Magus Publications. I will write about more Indy publishers I met at BEA in a later post.

The highlight of the event for me was the 20 minutes I chatted with Gordon Burgett while drinking champagne during the PMA Fortieth Birthday bash at their booth. He wrote one of the books that helped start Medusa's Muse: Publishing To Niche Markets.

The other wonderful, as well as humbling moment, was when I found Laura's book on the PMA shelves. At first, I couldn't find it, but then, hidden amongst the other biography/autobiography books, was Traveling Blind.

Overall, I'm glad I went, but I'm not sure I'll go again. Or if I do go when it returns to California, I'll just buy a day pass. And I definitely won't go alone! Jane was planning to come with me, but circumstances kept her away, so I had to go solo. I'm not a naturally outgoing, gregarious person and a shy person at BEA doesn't stand a chance. I'm sure I would have had more fun if I'd been there with a pack of friends and we schmoozed our way into some of those after-hours parties. Also, I would dress better. Nicer outfits, skirts with stockings, but I'd still wear my comfy shoes.