When is a job not a job?

I found this note in my pigeonhole at work yesterday.

I found this note in my pigeonhole at work yesterday.

I mentioned in my last post that I enjoy talking to library patrons about the choices they have made in reading material or movies. A few weeks ago, a lady was borrowing a documentary I had seen a trailer for : Tim’s Vermeer.

There were a number of reasons I was interested in this documentary. Firstly, the very first screenplay I wrote was about a Vermeer painting – “The Lacemaker“. It was a complex plot involving Salvador Dali, the Louvre, art fraud and a rhinoceros. The script is still available for development.

Secondly, the documentary is made by Penn and Teller, whom I admire for their magical skills and their zeal in uncovering fraudsters of the allegedly psychic variety.

Finally, it’s just an interesting concept. The subject – Tim Jenison – decided that Vermeer couldn’t possibly have managed to paint the variations of colour and texture the picture (he uses “The Music Lesson“) shows. There must, says Tim, have been some kind of device to allow Vermeer to see those variations as a camera sees them, not as an eye.

While keen to see the documentary, I hadn’t been able to get hold of a copy, and mentioned this to the lady, asking if she would let me know what she thought of it. She said she would, and took my name, remarking that it’s rare to be served by the same person twice at the library, since shifts change so often.

I was incredibly touched to return from my short break to find the handwritten review of the documentary shown above. That’s a great example of the OTHER kind of “Customer Service”.

The review reads:

Hi,

Verdict of Tim’s Vermeer:

The direction was clunky, more narration would have been good, and it would have been nice to hear more from the art world and less from Penn Jillette.

However, the subject matter was fascinating. The theory posited was intriguing, as was the way he proved it. I would have loved to hear more about the art world’s reaction to his experiment.

I wouldn’t suggest this as a good example of a documentary, but I do suggest it on the basis of the subject matter.”

All the things I plan to do.

I talk to people, when they check out their books. Part of it is Customer Service, that good old “engage with the patrons” philosophy that makes their trip to the library more than just one more chore on the list. But a lot of it is human interaction that I need, and the genuine desire to share my pleasure and excitement about some of the books I see crossing the desk every day.

If you don't get this, I'm sorry. Go watch "Labyrinth" and then "Game of Thrones". But don't get attached to any of the characters. You have been warned.

If you don’t get this, I’m sorry. Go watch “Labyrinth” and then “Game of Thrones”. But don’t get attached to any of the characters. You have been warned.

Right now, of course, there’s a lot of people checking out the various books from “A song of Fire and Ice”, more commonly known as “Game of Thrones“. If someone is picking up the first, I warn them they’re in for a long haul, and that they shouldn’t get too attached to any of the characters. If they’re picking up something later in the series, like book five or six, we exchange some words about the long wait for the next book, and the chances that the tv series will outpace the novels.

I had a plan on the wall, but it also covered the sofa....

I had a plan on the wall, but it also covered the sofa….

Something I say a lot, when talking about GoT, is that I hope George R.R. Martin has a big plan on his wall. I want it to start with the history he hints at – the Targaryan conquest of the Seven Kingdoms by dragon, all the way through the death of the Mad King and Robert’s seizing of the Iron Throne to a decent conclusion. (Don’t worry if this is all meaningless gibberish to you, I have a point coming up…)

The point is the plan, the shape of the whole story. The books are wonderfully compelling, and Westeros is a great place to visit from the safety of your couch or your favourite reading nook, but I really, really want to know that George has an end in mind, that he’s not just moving his pieces round a Risk board and wondering who’s going to come out on top.

For years, I’ve been what’s known in the trade as  a “pantser”. I wrote by the seat of my pants, starting with a vague premise, or some lines of dialogue and simply following the trail, only able to see a little way ahead as I wrote. It was fun, and sometimes the result was particularly good. Even as recently as “Love in a Time of Zombies”, a chance line in the early pages turned into a crucial plot point at the climax of the play, something a review called a “classic example of Chekhov’s Gun“.

The flyer for the show - you can still get tickets!

The flyer for the show

But the satisfaction of pantsing has been tempered by the number of projects that stalled because I didn’t know where to go next. They reached a quiet point, where the characters stop and turn to you and say “Yeah? What now?” Raymond Chandler once said that when things got boring in his books, he would have a guy walk through the door with a gun. It’s nice philosophy, very much in the Panster tradition, but when they were filming “The Big Sleep”, the director suddenly realised he didn’t know who had killed one of the characters, the Chauffeur. Chandler was called and quizzed, but admitted he had no idea either. It just wasn’t that important to the plot he was building. Pantsing can leave plot holes.

The Big Sleep (1946) Poster

So my last two plays and the two e-books that came before them have been planned. I’ve written a short precis, which expanded into a pitch document, which became an outline, which got broken into scenes on a huge sheet of paper on the wall. Now, instead of aiming for word count targets, I’m writing a scene a day, knocking off sections of the project and knowing exactly how many I have to go before the end. I haven’t noticed any dip in creativity, but there has been a drop in the number of abandoned drafts.

Holidays... Don't you just hate 'em? The sunshine, the calm, the beauty... Ick.

Holidays… Don’t you just hate ‘em? The sunshine, the calm, the beauty… Ick.

This last week, staying out in Osoyoos with my parents on their third trip to Canada, I discussed a new play with Mrs Dim. From no real idea, to a neat concept in the course of ten minutes by the pool. When August begins, I’ll start my new planning document, and what is only a sentence now will begin to grow.

So what’s YOUR preferred method? Is planning the writing putting a straightjacket on the creative muscles, or is pantsing an amateur mistake?

The Quidditch Global Games… Wait, what?

There’s a joke circulating on the internet that goes something like this:

Despite the darkening tone of the books, there’s no denying the appeal of the magical world depicted by J.K. Rowling, but it’s nonetheless surprising that one of the few things to leave the books and arrive in the Muggle world, along with Chocolate Frogs and Bertie Bott’s Every Flavour Beans, is Quidditch.

A GB player attempts to defend the goal from another determined US attack.

A GB player attempts to defend the goal from another determined US attack.

Ok, the admissions: Firstly, clearly, no one is flying here. None of the balls in play are moving of their own accord. And the Golden Snitch is not a tiny magical metal marvel, it’s…well, see for yourself:

He's the Snitch. To score, you have to grab what's dangling from his shorts.

He’s the Snitch. To score, you have to grab what’s dangling from his shorts.

But there are more similarities with the written game of Quidditch than differences. All players have to be on broomsticks, making catching the thrown Quaffle (here substituted by a Volleyball) that much harder. The Beaters may not have bats, but they throw the Bludgers (gym balls) at opposing players, and if you’re hit, you have to drop the Quaffle (if you’re carrying it) and run back to touch your own goalposts before returning to play. And there are three goalposts at each end of the field of play, two low hoops on either side of a higher central hoop.

This shot of Team GB leaping into action at the start of the game shows the three goals nicely. Also the ACE team strip!

This shot of Team GB leaping into action at the start of the game shows the three goals nicely. Also the ACE team strip!

Like the books say, Quidditch is a fast and furious game. There were no injuries in the UK/US match we watched, but the game preceding it was stopped twice for injured players to be helped off the pitch.

What astonished me most was that teams had travelled from distant countries to compete here in BC for the Global Games (sadly, and for whatever reason, not The Quidditch World Cup). There was a team from Australia, for pete’s sake! Each team was enthusiastic and dedicated, and played hard, though it’s hard to deny that the UK were outclassed by reigning champions USA, as they went down 150 to…. zero! (In this game, capturing the snitch only awards 30 points.)

It made a good spectator sport, and I was sorry we only had time to watch one and a half games. There was a good crowd, made up of supporters from around the world, and there seems to be a good chance that Quidditch will stick around as a sport, though whether it will make the jump from amateur University teams to the Pro Leagues is anyone’s guess…

Two beaters...er...tussle over the Bludger. Eventually a UK Beater tapped the US player with the other Bludger and released his team mate.

Two beaters…er…tussle over the Bludger. Eventually a UK Beater tapped the US player with the other Bludger and released his team mate.

The UK team manager/coach had the right outfit, the exuberance and the team spirit. Possibly he should have studied the tactics as well....

The UK team manager/coach had the right outfit, the exuberance and the team spirit. Possibly he should have studied the tactics as well….

Keeping astride the broomstick may be authentic, it may be part of the rules, but it isn't graceful...

Keeping astride the broomstick may be authentic, it may be part of the rules, but it isn’t graceful…

For more information on playing Quidditch in the real world, check out www.usquidditch.org

 

 

A week in reading

Sometimes reading feels like famine or feast. I go through periods of brilliant books, then can’t find a damn thing to read anywhere (and when you consider that I work in a library…)

This last week has been a feast period. I started with two fun Star Wars books, downloaded a gripping audio book and found a bargain e-book written by a friend. So let’s start with that one.

Jane Turley is an English writer who I have come to know through G+. She’s cheerful and friendly and encouraging, and has often mentioned that she’s been working on her novel. That novel is “The Changing Room“, and she posted it online this last week. I downloaded a copy, keen to see what she’d produced, expecting – hoping – to enjoy it.

What I didn’t expect was to be totally swept away by it. The book is written from the point of view of Sandy, a wife and mum who is a great salesperson. She doesn’t love her job at the furniture store, but she likes people, and her work helps support her husband’s building company in the tough times of recession. During the course of the novel, Sandy moves from her sales job at the store to a more flexible one working from home, then finds a surprising extra source of income when a friend reveals she runs a sex chat phone service.

Throughout all this Sandy is caring for her mother, who is sliding deeper and deeper into Alzheimer’s. Sandy wants to put off taking her mother into care, but it has to happen eventually, for her own safety as much as for Sandy’s sanity.

I won’t detail everything that happens in the book, but suffice to say, I read it in two sittings. Sandy’s life is busy, it’s funny, it’s sad, it’s unexpected and familiar at the same time. More than anything, this book feels REAL. I have no hesitation in recommending this book.

The two Star Wars books I read this week were “Allegiance” and “Choices of One” by Timothy Zahn. Both these books are now available under the “Star Wars – Legends” banner, since Disney decided all books produced after “Return of the Jedi” were non-canon. HERESY! Ahem.

I thought I had read both these books before, but I was delighted to discover that I had made a silly mistake. “Allegiance” is the first of the two, and I had only read the second book. When I picked up “Allegiance” last time, I read the blurb and thought it sounded familiar, so I assumed I’d read it. Here’s why:

The first book deals with Mara Jade, the Emperor’s Hand. She’s got a mission to fulfill. A group of stormtroopers, disgusted with some Xeno-cleansing they have been ordered to take part in, accidentally kill a political officer and go on the run, fortuitously stealing a fully-equipped and disguised ship. They elect to continue as rogue stormtroopers, serving their image of the Empire, as a just bastion of stability and order. Meanwhile, three very familiar rebels are also on a mission – Han, Luke and Leia (and Chewie!) – that takes them into the same area of space.

What follows is a clever dance. Zahn introduced the character of Mara Jade in the first post ROTJ book “Heir to the Empire” and showed us then that she had not met Luke Skywalker previously, though she knew of him and hated him for killing the Emperor. By writing these prequels, Zahn risked contradicting his own work, so he has managed to manipulate the characters and events so that the stormtroopers work with both rebels and Jade, but those two groups never communicate directly with one another.

It’s not world-changing stuff, and it’s really most fun if you’re a fan of Zahn’s previous work and want to see Mara in her prime and Luke as a know-nothing proto-jedi. Read them in order, and be surprised at how you can come to admire a group of stormtroopers.

The audio book I’ve been enjoying this week is “The Silkworm” by Robert Galbraith (Or JK Rowling, as he’s also known….). Mrs Dim and I both enjoyed “The Cuckoo’s Calling”, finding it mildly less grim than “The Casual Vacancy”, and “The Silkworm” is in much the same vein. Of course, since solving the high-profile Lula Landry murder, Cormoran Strike and Robin are on a much better financial footing, and Cormoran himself has finally found a new place to live, so he’s not sleeping in the office any more.

The book is slower to start, lingering more on the details of Robin and Strike’s lives, but I was perfectly happy with that. Rowling didn’t go into a great deal of detail on her principal characters in the first book, and I was interested in how things had gone for them in the intervening time. There’s still plenty to be told – mention is made several times during the book of the traumatic events that made Robin drop out of her course at university, but unless I missed something, we never found out exactly what it was. Her fiance does express surprise that she wants to become an investigator herself “after what happened”, so there’s a clue there, maybe…

I found myself making excuses to plug my headphones in so I could listen to the story, and inevitably got cross with myself after finishing it. What am I going to listen to now? I enjoyed it so much, i found it hard to understand the negative reviews it garnered on Amazon. Not many, certainly, but I think most were still looking for another Harry Potter book.

They make you swear, they really do….

Actually, that’s not true. In the Citizenship Oath, you have the option to swear OR affirm.

WP_003747

It wasn’t that long ago that I shared this post about sitting our citizenship exam, and we began the wait for the Oath ceremony. Certainly the exam was the more nerve-wracking of the two – though there were several dire warnings about what could happen if you failed to repeat the oath, or didn’t produce the required documents.

The main difference this time was taking the entire boatload of weasels along. Only Eldest Weasel was actually required to make the oath, the other two being below the age of fourteen, but we made this emigration as a unit, and we signed in as a unit too. They seated us together, a row of five seats on the right hand side of the same room we took our exam in. The clerk explained what would happen when Judge Nguyen (pronounced “Wen”) took her seat and began proceedings. The judge was a calm, smiling presence, and took the opportunity to tell us about her own history – nine escape attempts from her home country when she was only a little girl. At least six trips to “Re-education camps” before the successful escape which led to a refugee camp and finally Canada. Mrs Dim and I exchanged glances. Suddenly the various stresses and panics we’d suffered in the run up to our own arrival here seemed very, very minor.

The flags were waiting for us on our seats, along with copies of the Oath and little Maple Leaf pins

The flags were waiting for us on our seats, along with copies of the Oath and little Maple Leaf pins

We were all asked to state our full names in loud clear voices, one at a time. I was happy to note that even Tiniest Weasel had no trouble with this, and then we were reciting the Oath in English and French. After that it was a simple matter of lining up to receive our certificates and take photos with the judge.

DSCN0837After that it was much like the day we took our exam – with a beautiful day outside and no one having to really be anywhere for a while, we walked the seawall all the way up to Milestones on English Bay. Anyone who’s read this blog for any length of time will know that’s the first restaurant we visited after arriving in Canada. It’s just round the corner from the apartment we rented during our first month, and we’ve celebrated at least one arrival anniversary there. Since we missed the five year anniversary meal out, this seemed like a great opportunity for a double celebration.

Walking the Seawall. I love Vancouver.....

Walking the Seawall. I love Vancouver…..

Messing about in Milestones. Good food, though!

Messing about in Milestones. Good food, though!

Every time I think “Ok, that’s it, now we just start living…” another big moment pops up. Is there more to come after gaining citizenship? Now we have to apply for passports and things, and I already miss the security of carrying my Permanent Resident Card with me. But I can vote now! I get to take an active interest in the things going on around me, because I have a voice and I am going to use it. Local, Provincial or Federal, I will get out there and use my vote!

Love in a Time of Zombies – Vagabond Alley Productions

The flyer for the show - you can still get tickets!

The flyer for the show – you can still get tickets!

On Saturday I drove Mrs Dim down to Seattle. For the first time in years, a play of mine was being produced within driving distance, and I was determined to see it in person. Despite having over eighty scripts available, and those plays being bought and produced somewhere in the world every month, it’s rare to get a chance to see a production.

Susan (D'Arcy Harrison) nearly brains Brian (Jason Sharp) as he comes home from foraging.

Susan (D’Arcy Harrison) nearly brains Brian (Jason Sharp) as he comes home from foraging.

D’Arcy Harrison, the Producer and one of the actors in the show, had been in touch a number of times to check details. Since the script was very British, there had to be a number of adaptations for the North American setting D’Arcy planned to use. I was keen to see how this turned out. Mrs Dim was keen to spend a night in a hotel and get the chance to visit Seattle.

When we were checked into our hotel and were dressed for Seattle nightlife, Mrs Dim and I met a couple of friends in a place opposite the venue. We shared a great meal and a lot of talk – one of the friends was at school with me, and his wife is great fun and a Seattle native. They came to the show with us, and we took seats in the front row.

sexymessyheart

The performance space is downstairs, provided by Pocket Theater. It was black walls and bare lighting bar, with the simple set only separated from the audience by a couple of feet – no raised stage. The whole thing felt very intimate. There looked to be seating for about forty people, and the seats were already half full. The director, Amelia Meckler, came over to shake hands and say hello. She was very excited and a little nervous, which made two of us.

It’s been a few years since I wrote the script, and I haven’t re-read it recently, so I was interested to see how much I would remember, and whether the little changes that had been made would stand out for me. But the lights went down, and the soundtrack started up, and I forgot all about comparing the script with the show. The soundtrack was a mish-mash of radio broadcasts showing the spread of the Zombie Apocalypse. Not something I’d written, but a device concocted by VAP, and it worked brilliantly. The mood was set, and when a hand came through the blinds of the window at the back of the set, the audience was hooked.

Brian isn't as pleased as Susan when a handsome and apparently NOT dead visitor (Robert Hankins) comes to call.

Brian isn’t as pleased as Susan when a handsome and apparently NOT dead visitor (Robert Hankins) comes to call.

VAP used a simple set, just the sofa, a suspended window, a table and chairs and a stairway behind a curtain. The entrance to the house was a blocked off door, but the door wasn’t there – just the heavy chest that blocked it. Everything was neat and spare and worked very well. Jason Sharp opened the play as Brian, entering after another day’s hard foraging and fending off zombies, and he was welcomed home by D’Arcy Harrison as his terrified wife, convinced he’s either a zombie or a hostile survivor.

The dialogue flowed brilliantly, with the pair communicating as much through their expressions and body language as with their words. They were clearly a long-married couple with many unresolved issues. Those issues were already a problem before the handsome stranger, Harry (played wonderfully by Robert Hankins) arrives and pushes things over the top.

It was a terrific evening. The show was captivating, and came with the bonus of enthralling Mrs Dim. She has never seen a play of mine that I wasn’t acting in. It’s one thing to say to people “My husband is a playwright.” and to see the royalties come in from time to time, but it’s quite another to see people cheering an applauding a production that he wrote, to hear from the actors how much they loved the script, how much fun they had.

For me, it was what I imagine authors feel when they see their novels in the bookstore. This is what my scripts are for. Although I write them, they aren’t complete until they are performed, and it’s the actors and directors who bring the words to life. For that, I will be forever grateful to them.

The show is still running, playing on the 14th, 21st and 28th of June at 2220 NW Market Street, Seattle. See the rave press reviews here: 

http://www.dramainthehood.net/2014/06/love-time-zombies/

http://www.heedthehedonist.com/this-one-act-zombie-apocalyptic-romance-not-to-miss

http://www.thehorrorhoneys.com/2014/06/love-undead-style.html

For more information, check out Vagabond Alley Productions or see the online trailer.

The Ultimate Question

Damian Trasler:

Delighted to appear on Stuart’s blog today!

Originally posted on beewaxing:

Why?(To which the answer is not  42)

Some visitors to Damian Trasler’s blog have arrived there as a result of existential searches.  Damian found the following inbound search terms in the blog’s data log:-

lazy bee scripts/why
why/lazy bee scripts

I have no idea whether or not the searcher (I assume this was one person, although the first search term cropped-up twice) found the answer, not least because I’m not sure what the question means.  It could be

Why should I buy something from Lazy Bee Scripts? Or
Why is there a company called Lazy Bee Scripts? Or
Why did Damian Trasler choose Lazy Bee Scripts as a publisher? Orpossibly
Why should I choose Lazy Bee Scripts as a publisher?

The answer to the first one is simple: we’re offering something that really appeals to you at a price you can afford.  Go ahead and buy it.  (Go…

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