Friday, October 14, 2011

Writing is a messy business...

Being a writer doesn't feel like you think it will...

When I was ten years old, writing my first poetry and submitting them to contests, I'm not sure what I thought the life of a "real" writer would be like. All I knew was that I loved to write, and wanted to do a lot of it. I don't really remember a lot more of how I felt back then.

But as I got older, perhaps a starry-eyed teenager, I guess I formed a picture in my mind of what it would be like when I finally became published, became well-known, or at least, well-read by intellectual types. Maybe I would sit at a wonderful old oak roll top desk, with a little lamp on the corner sporting a cheerful green glass shade (it had to be green). I thought I'd be sitting at that desk all day with an old typewriter clacking out page after page of wonderful Stuff. Or I'd be sitting by a crackling fire, sipping cognac, pondering Great Thoughts.  Honestly, where did THAT come from?  Masterpiece Theatre?  LOL.

When it came time to go to college, I decided to major in art. To this day I wish ONE person had said “You have talent. You should write.” It took years of frustration trying to sell my artwork before I started writing about it instead and stumbled onto a whole new path.

Well, you know what? I finally got published. And it was NOT the way I thought it would be. My first desk was a fold-up, rickety card table in the corner of my bedroom in a low-rent apartment. I had an electric typewriter by then, but produced a manuscript using plain white paper and a lot of White-Out.  (Ironically enough, I'm writing on a rickety card-table again.  This time it's temporary, and is in the utility room of an old 1930 house we're remodeling, and I'm writing on an old laptop, and not a typewriter.)

My first advance for a 250-page book was $500. In those days, that paid about one month’s rent and a few bills. Over the next few years, the royalties weren't much more than that. But I didn't care; I was published!

My first books were resource guides that took hours and hours of research and correspondence. After twenty plus years,  that got old, and my old dream started nibbling at the corners of my mind.  I wanted to write STORIES, maybe even see people act them out.

You think you’ll sit down, and begin at the beginning, and write a story or a play from beginning to end. You think that if you have your little stack of color-coded index cards, that you’ll have your plot all worked out, nice and neat. Little do you know that once you put two characters in a room alone, they’ll start a conversation and pass you by so fast your head will spin. You’ll have no control over them, what they say or do. You’ll be freaked out about this, but go with it.  And they will wear the most atrocious clothing, like Mina Harker does in my new vampire comedy spoof inspired by Stoker's DRACULA.

You won’t have set hours to work. You’ll feel like crap all day because you stayed up too late the night before, have a cup of tea (caffeine!) at 5pm, then the next thing you know it’s 4am, you’re freezing, and you have produced some pages. You have no idea what you wrote, or where it came from.

You feel Out of Control. You are a writer.  Writing is a messy business.

You think that you’ll “dream up” the beginning of a story, and if you keep working on it, you’ll work straight through from beginning to end. Nope. Doesn’t work that way. The first inkling you have of a story might be a snippet of conversation you hear over breakfast in the neighborhood diner.  Like the one I overheard recently.  "…after my first son was born, I had a flap of skin that hung down to the floor, honey…” Take that and run with it. Turn it into a character. Write about that poor woman, then see what she wants to do. Or it might be a news story you hear in passing about a mutant rodent. Go with it.

Here’s the Big Secret that it took me years to learn. You don’t always start at the first sentence---you hardly ever start at the first sentence. Writing is not a linear activity, it’s more of a spiral thing. A story is organic, it grows, a little this way, a little out that way. You don’t have to know the ending until you get there.  You don't even have to know the beginning until later, either. Wow, what a mind-boggling idea that is!

I sure wish I’d known this long ago. I think it would have helped me be a little freer with my writing and get to the authentic stuff before now. I would have written more without stressing over having to know the first sentence, or trying to write a perfect book straight through. I would have paid better attention to the folks in the back corners of old diners.

Here’s the other Big Secret…you are not in control. Not really. You are a writer.

Bobbi A. Chukran
Copyright 2010

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

It's alive, it's alive! My DRACULA e-play adaptation...

Come on, you KNOW you want to read it...

No, not Frankenstein's new Kindle e-book on Amazon!  Just in time for Halloween reading...THE JOURNAL OF MINA HARKER is now ready for purchase for only $2.99.


Since a few of my friends have asked, I thought I'd write a bit about the background of this play, and how I came to write it.

A few years ago,  I was looking for a classic book to adapt into a serious, literary play, suitable for high school students. I decided to do Bram Stoker's DRACULA since I grew up watching (and loving!) the old DRACULA movies with Bela Lugosi and other vampire movies of the time.

Look deeep into my eyes...

Although the Lugosi movie was loosely based on the book, it didn't completely follow along with the original story.  I didn't know that until I actually sat down and read the book.  Once I started, I was mesmerized by the language, the imagery, and the story.  And I was fascinated to learn that a lot of the things we think we know about vampires didn't come from the novel; they came from the movie.

Turns out, the book is told through a series of journal entries, some by Jonathan Harker (Daniel in my story), and some by his wife, Mina.  Some of it comes through letters sent back and forth between the main characters (Jonathan even collected recipes that he sent home to Mina).  When I read it, I was astounded to learn that it really was Mina's story that she had pieced together from all these letters.  So I decided to tell it from her viewpoint.  Since it is a play, I had to shorten it so I choose to leave out a few of the original characters and scenes.  I do mention Holmwood and Texan Quincey Morris, but they don't show up in the play as real characters.

So, if I started out writing a serious adaptation, what happened?  LOL.  Well, the characters took over.  When I write fiction or a stage play, it plays in my head like a movie. When Dracula first enters and stumbles and almost falls, it occurred to me that he was "blind as a bat."  Hmmm.  I tried to ignore that, but  later, when poor Mr. Renfield ran into the room with his underwear over his head, spouting his Renfield rap---in Latin, no less--he's a really bad poet---I knew it wasn't going to be a serious adaptation.  Mina started wearing the most ginormous hats,  Daniel got a craving for an onion tart, and the Count demanded to know if his new home had nice curtains. After that, the characters took over and it became a comedy.  What else is an author to do?

Let's just say, it ain't Bela's DRACULA.  :-)  Sorry, Bela!

 (And with apologies to Bram.)

(And this hilariously fun play still needs a production.  Run time is approximately an hour.  E-mail me if interested.)

bobbi c.

Monday, October 10, 2011

DRACULA adaptation, The Journal of Mina Harker, published for Kindle

Dear readers,

Ever since I got a Kindle for Christmas last year, I've wanted to make some of my work available in that format.  Last year, I started work on my DRACULA adaptation, THE JOURNAL OF MINA HARKER, a comedy vampire play.  I edited and re-edited, reworked the characters, decided to go for a pure campy style and decided to tell it from Mina's point of view.  Yes, it's a bit twisted; it is a spoof, after all.  Finally, I was satisfied with it enough to publish it.  (By the way, I'd say it's rated PG-13...with just a few naughty innuendos. :-) )

So, just in time for Halloween 2011, I uploaded it to the site tonight.  Within 24-hours, it should be available for purchase in Kindle format for $2.99.

I'm convinced that people love to read plays and act out the parts in their minds.  I know I do.   At any rate, the script is also available to groups who want to do readings (and of course, productions).

I'll post the link when it's available on the Amazon website.

Happy trails,

bobbi c.