It’s been a long while since I’ve blogged anything of substance, and for that I apologize and offer the usual excuse that I’ve Been Busy. I’ve already mentioned the industrial work that took me right up to a flurry of workshops, cabarets and one-night events, not to mention the start of rehearsals for Gypsy at Signature Theatre; what I haven’t mentioned is that on November 1st, I started writing a new book.
See, there’s this thing called NaNoWriMo which happens every November. Essentially, you pledge that you’ll write 50,000 words of a brand-new novel during the 30 days of November. They don’t have to be polished words – in fact, you could be writing utter crap – but the idea is to just get yourself to put words on paper on deadline.
Now, you would think for someone with a journalism background that putting words on paper on deadline would be dead easy, but it ain’t so. I am a persnickety author with a very strong Internal Editor so my M.O. when writing is to write a few sentences, edit them, polish them, and then move on. It works for me (after all, I’ve already got two completed novels under my belt) but sometimes you’d like the Editor to back off a bit so you can just let the words flow. I thought trying NaNo this year would help me achieve that goal, and I’d made tentative plans to write a light romantic comedy for the competition.
Problem was, I was so busy in the weeks leading up to November 1st that I wasn’t able to do the necessary planning for the rom/com novel. Hadn’t anything but the roughest idea of a plot, hadn’t decided who the main character would be – in other words, all I had was a title (it’s a great title, though, which I will share once I write the darn thing). So I was a little panicked by mid-October.
I was already about 30,000 words into the third book in my fantasy series and was running into a series of hiccups with it, mostly centered around motive and personality for my lead protagonist and antagonist. Just as an exercise, I’d written some material about both characters’ childhoods and upbringing, and I was growing more and more interested in exploring that further. Why not write that book for NaNo? I asked myself, and myself, feeling exceedingly harried and irritable at the time, responded “YES YES DO WHATEVER YOU WANT.”
So on November 1st, in the midst of an extraordinarily busy week, I started writing a new novel. It was helpful that I had a good clear idea of where I wanted to go with the story, but it was hard making myself just spew the words rather than stop and polish. And I did need to spew. In order to write 50,000 words in 30 days, you have to write at least 1,666 words per day. That’s a lot of words, particularly when you don’t have a lot of focused time. So I squeezed in the writing whenever I could, sometimes getting up a few hours early, sometimes writing while I ate, sometimes grabbing a spare 20 minutes between rehearsals, just to get the words down. There were days when I couldn’t write at all and had to make it up the next day; there were days when what I wrote was so heinous that the Internal Editor leaped in before I could stop her; there was a particularly awful morning when I discovered that I had somehow neglected to save my work properly the day before and had lost some 1300 words that I then had to recreate in addition to that day’s quota.
In spite of all this drama, what I was writing wasn’t half bad. In fact, it was pretty good. Maybe all these years of writing means that the ratio of Junk Spew to Decent Spew has tipped in favor of useable material. Once I got past the first couple of weeks, it started to come easier. Part of that may have been that when Gypsy rehearsals began, I wasn’t called all that often so I had more time. Part of it may also have been that I’d disciplined myself to grab those precious free minutes to write, rather than cruise the Internet or sit in front of the TV (or sleep). I actually ended up crossing the 50,000 mark a few days shy of the deadline and was able to call myself a NaNoWriMo Winner. I can’t tell you how exciting it was to log in my word count on the NaNo website that day and see this screen pop up on my computer.
Of course, that didn’t mean the book was finished, not by a long shot. I continued writing through December, difficult as that was what with the holidays and all, but since I had a great deal of downtime in Gypsy, I was able to write in the dressing room and log in several hours a week that way (witness the photo at the beginning of this blog). I continued the pattern in January, with a helpful push from like-minded writers at Absolute Write. I made myself a new, easier goal – to write 500 words a day – and a few days ago I was able to write THE END on my NaNo novel. I did a quick editing pass on it and put it aside, intending to give it a week to percolate, but impatience got the better of me and I rewrote the beginning, made another editing pass, formatted it into chapters and fired off an email to my faithful beta readers to see if they’d be willing to give this new book a go. It’s shorter than my other tomes – a mere 71,000 words – but I’m pleased with it.
The question yet to be answered is if this book is going to be right for the series. In other words, will I need to position it as the first book in the series and try to get it published that way, or should I view it as an interesting exercise and put it aside? Only time will tell. In any case, as Grand Experiments go, I’m calling my NaNo experience a success, and I’m already making plans to participate in the 2014 event. I still have that rom/com to write, you know.
Here we are well into the summer and I am late, late, late with everything. I didn’t get my vegetable garden going until early July. I never did a Crass Commercial Announcement for The Music Man at Arena Stage, where I’ve been playing Mrs. Paroo for weeks and weeks now. I haven’t talked about my writing work. “Are you ever going to blog again?” John asked me, so today I have resolved to sit down and do it. It may be a bit disjointed so please forgive me in advance.
So first things first – a Crass Commercial Announcement for The Music Man. We only have 14 more performances to go and there are some great ticket deals available, so I suggest you hustle on over to Arena Stage‘s website and take advantage. The show is a lot of fun and has a great cast. Two of them are pictured with me in the photo above: Burke Moses as Harold Hill (bamboozling Mrs. Paroo, who seems to be delighted about it) and Ian Berlin as Winthrop Paroo. I don’t do a great deal in the show – don’t dance, barely sing and generally just do the Irish accent and make the occasional funny – but there’s so much else going on that you won’t miss me. The photo, by the way, is by Joan Marcus, Broadway photographer extraordinaire.
The garden is kind of pathetic this year. John got it tilled for me, but it was so wet in the late spring/early summer that the soil clumped up in great nasty clods and then dried that way while I was occupied with getting The Music Man up and rolling. I finally took a hoe and bashed the biggest clumps into submission and put in a scanty version of my usual vegetable patch: three Roma tomato plants, a Black Cherry tomato, a Brandywine and some kind of orange hybrid (the name of which escapes me now), a basil plant, a Red Cherry pepper plant, and a couple of watermelon seedlings. This is a wee little watermelon, but I have hopes that it will be less wee in the days to come. I must say that, even with a late start and probably owing to the combination of decent rain and absolutely vile heat in this area of late, the vegetable plants are growing at a lusty pace and I may actually get something to eat out of the patch by September, maybe.
And now the writing. After hammering away at it almost nonstop for the past year, Book 1 is finished. It’s an adult fantasy (and by adult I mean it’s not for kids, you dirty-minded people) and it’s tentatively entitled Kinglet. Three people were kind enough to act as my “beta readers” for the manuscript and have given me a lot of really terrific feedback, and all three brave souls are now launched into reviewing the sequel while I tweak the first book. Knowing full well that the odds are completely against me, I have also begun pitching agents to represent the book and have already received my first two rejections (yippee!). I’ll pursue this Plan A until I get an agent or dissolve into an ink-stained puddle, whichever comes first, and then there’s a Plan B and a Plan C and even a Plan D. I also submitted a short story into a competition and didn’t get squat from that, so said short story has been fired off to yet another contest and we’ll see what happens there. Meanwhile I writewritewrite and the whole process makes me curiously happy, rejections and all.
And now, as briefly as I can (because there’s nothing more boring than listen to someone yammer about their weight), to the title of this blog post: “Less of Me.” Those of you who’ve known me for years and have seen me in the flesh lately know that I’ve lost weight. No, check that: I’ve lost a LOT of weight. One lovely lady wanted to know if I had been sick, which made me guffaw. No, I’m not sick. I feel better than I’ve felt in years. At the end of 2010 I was at my highest weight ever (210 pounds on a 5’7″ frame) and my knees hurt and I was tired all the time and I was sick of not being able to wear cute clothes. At my request, my husband gave me a Wii Fit for Christmas and the first time I stepped onto it and it told me I was “Obese” it was like being slapped. But I was, and it was time to face up to it. I’d tried the Atkins diet and it had worked, for a while, but as a middle-aged and fairly sedentary lady I felt it would be a mistake to start eating all that fat again. I knew what my problem was: I just ate too much. So I joined the Lance Armstrong Live Strong website and punched in my weight and height and age and it told me what I should weigh and I started recording what I ate. Faithfully. Every single day. It was tough because I had to remember it until I sat down at a computer, but then I got a smart phone. Unfortunately the Lance Armstrong folks only had an app for iPhones at the time, but a friend turned me on to My Fitness Pal, which had an app I could upload to my phone and have with me everywhere I went. It has been a godsend. How much of a godsend, you ask? Well, as of yesterday I weighed in at 152.5 – which means that the Wii now tells me I am “Normal” and My Fitness Pal says I am within 12 pounds of my goal weight. Here’s a before and after, so you can see I’m not lying:
Making waffles, early February 2011. Now granted, I didn’t know my husband was going to take this photo, and it was early in the morning and I was wearing my sweats and an old sweater of my dad’s, but still…
Backstage at Arena, a couple weeks ago, getting ready to go to a post-show event. Now granted, I’m wearing a dressy outfit and I’m fully aware that I’m getting my photo taken (even if the flash wasn’t working right), but still…
And no, I didn’t do a lot of working out. I did at first, and felt better for it, but for some reason when I’m doing a show, it’s hard for me to get motivated. Once The Music Man is closed and I’m at loose ends for a while, I’ll probably get back into some sort of program. John gave me a bicycle for my birthday (and I should really be out riding it now, because it’s a beautiful morning) and I still have the Wii and now that I’ve lost so much weight stuff is starting to sag, but there’s no huge rush.
My major barometer for this whole weight loss process has been jeans. I have been wearing the same style of Target Merona Fit 1 jeans for the past two years, and when I started working on dropping the extra poundage, I was wearing a size 16. Every time I lost more weight, I treated myself to a new pair of jeans in the next size down. Yesterday I put on my size 8 jeans and they’re a little too big, so it may be time to see if I can wiggle into a size 6. I haven’t worn a size 8 since I was in college; a size 6 seems incredible, like something out of a dream. I kind of wish I’d held on to one pair of the big jeans so I could do a photo of myself wearing them now, but as soon as I’ve outgrown clothes I’ve gotten rid of them so I won’t backslide. I’ve been buying clothes from Target and consignment stores until my weight stabilizes, but I have to admit that I’m tickled over the fact that I can wear cheap clothes. And I never, never, never get tired of being told by surprised friends that I look “FABULOUS!”
Yeah, I changed the format of the blog. Change is sometimes brought on by necessity, and in this case, I needed not to squint anymore. Hence the font size change.
Change is sometimes brought on by a desire to break away from the old, and in this case, the old format of the blog was looking more and more pinched – almost constipated. Hence the floatier, less boxed-in look.
And change is sometimes brought on by envy. I made some new friends at the writers’ conference, and a couple of them blog, and they use Blogger as their host, too, and their blogs were PRETTIER than mine. Damn it! I did a little investigating this morning and found out that my blog didn’t have to look so staid and formal, and a few clicks later, behold: a fresh new look.
Change by choice is always fun. Change by necessity, not so much. If you’ve been tracking this blog for any length of time, you know that I’m a stage actress by profession, and one of the hardest things for those not in the business to understand is that we show folk spend all our time starting over. Those of us who are fortunate enough to land a long-running show (be it theatrical or otherwise) get a little more settled in, but for most of us, it seems that we no sooner get comfortable with a production than it closes and it’s time to move on. Yes, we might work at that theatre again, or with that director, that designer, that stage manager, those crew people or those actors again, but never in that particular set of circumstances. At the end of a run, you drop it all and you move on to the next project.
As with any new venture, there’s a certain amount of trepidation as the first day of rehearsal draws near, which is why so many of us refer to it as The First Day of School. We have our version of school supplies: fresh new scripts and our pencils and pens and highlighters. We have our version of teachers: the director, the stage manager, the designers (and if it’s a musical, the music director and the choreographer). We have our version of hall monitors: company managers, production assistants, technicians, crew members, accompanists and other musicians. We even have our version of the school’s administration in the form of theatre management (the PTA arrives later, when the audience comes into play).
And yes, we also have our version of classmates, in the form of fellow cast members. Some of them you may have worked with before (which can be either good or bad). Some of them you may know by reputation (which again, can be either good or bad). And some of them will be complete strangers. So the first week of rehearsal is spent not only learning from all the teachers and hall monitors and school administration, it’s also getting-to-know-your-classmates time. You figure out who sits where, who’s going to be the class brain or the class president or the class clown. You find out who’s going to be your best bud and who you might have to watch out for on the playground.
My First Day of School is tomorrow, when rehearsals for The Music Man at Arena Stage begin. I haven’t worked at Arena in over ten years, and the place has changed a lot since then – so much that I’m taking a tour after rehearsal, just to get acclimated. I know the show well; I played Zaneeta Shinn in a community theatre production when I was 16 years old, and shows you learn when you’re that young have a tendency to stick with you. This time around I’ll be playing Mrs. Paroo, so that’ll be fun.
Some of the company I know already: I’ve worked with several of them, and am good friends with a few. (It’s not like when I was a kid, an army brat always moving to a new place and arriving at the first day of school not knowing a soul.) I’ve got my pen and pencil and highlighter, so I’m ready. And I’m not a kid anymore, not by a long shot.
But it’s still a new start, a new beginning. New faces, new names to memorize, new things to learn. There’s still that fluttery First Day of School feeling, still the little mantra that every New Kid recites to herself:
Hope it’s fun.
Hope they’re nice.
Hope I can learn it.
Hope they like me.