Category Archives: VBS Plays

Curious Affectation

Okay, somebody explain why in the heck I do this.

It’s something I’ve been conscious of for years, and it never seemed to bother me until a week or so ago. That’s when I got an email that inspired this recent post. At one point, the correspondent said,

I go out and buy notebooks and pens and write short spurts here and there.

To which I replied, “Yeah, I do that, too.”

And I do. Especially if I’m not working on a novel. An old idea bubbles up, or a couple of notions collide with each other to become an idea, and all of a sudden my brain is saying, This is it… workable novel idea.

What happens next is that I wander into the nearest grocery store, drug store or office supply outlet and buy a notebook or a notepad or a ream of blank paper. And if I don’t have a Pilot G-2 handy, I buy at least one of those, too.

Then I sit down and start writing the book, by hand, because dang it, I really can’t help myself.

I’ve started a great many books this way. Some of them have even been finished – The Mushroom Shift, for example. I’ve got about 20 handwritten pages of the UFO novel that I hope to pick up and start Officially Writing soon. I’ve got almost 200 pages of another novel spread over three or four notebooks that I need to pick up and finish at some point in the future. And I’ve got a ton of one, two, three, four, five page starts laying here and there, ideas begging to be fleshed out with another 500 pages of text.

Since getting the email the other day, I was amused to find out that I wasn’t the only one who did that kind of thing, reading into his words the fact that he indeed underwent the same tortured process I went through.

But I started to become unhappy about it. Because I still don’t know why I do this.

No, it’s not a passing thing. After lunch with my wife and mother-in-law this afternoon, I found myself in a Walgreen’s in that aisle because two notions collided – one of which was a bit I had written one paragraph of on another sheet of paper – and it wanted to come out.

So I weighed my options. I’ve been writing on a pastel green printer paper of late – it’s easy on the eyes. But Walgreen’s only has white. I pass over the spiral bounds – got too many of them at home. Ditto the yellow pads. Never was much for off-size stuff, either, although I used to draw in Steno notebooks.

Ah, there it was! A 120 sheet pack of looseleaf paper, college ruled, on sale for 97 cents. And I have plenty of three-ring binders at home! Huzzah! The planets have aligned!

But why do I do this? Not just sometimes. A lot. It’s like part of my personality or something. A behavior pattern.

I’ve tried to do some quick self-psychoanalysis since this started bugging me and have come up with a handful of maybes on why I behave this way:

Continue reading


Because I’m A Lousy Friend

Tonight we wrapped up my VBS play “The Amazing Secret of the Castle Omi La” (except for an encore performance on Sunday night for those who missed episodes or want to see it again). Now I can now turn my attention back to some other pending literary projects – picking up work on converting A Death of Honor into ebook formats, starting work on the final draft of Drawing Down the Moon, and putting the finishing touches on this web site.

And there’s one thing I’m not going to do.

I’m not going to look at anybody else’s manuscripts any more.

As a matter of policy, I don’t do this for anyone who is a member of the general public or a casual reader of this blog. My time is limited, and there are legal issues that could arise from me doing that (and it’s not just me on the latter issue – try getting Stephen King or Tom Clancy or whatsername, the vampire writer, to take a look at your work). But there were always some friends or family members that I made an exception for.

And I inevitably let them down. Scheduled reading times always got eaten up, self-imposed deadlines were missed. It’s not that I didn’t want to read stuff and help – it’s just that I always gave reading other people’s manuscripts such a low priority that they were one of the first things that got pushed to the side at times when everything was getting pushed aside for something else. A lousy thing of me to do, but when it’s weighed against my relationship with God and Family, making a living, and trying to get my own writing in, it’s going to give way, no matter what kind of promise I made (I should also note here that in the 14 months before I got my Kindle, I didn’t read any books at all – I might have read a couple of graphic novels in the odd moments, but that was it – so I didn’t even make time for America’s best selling writers).

So, in order to evolve from a Lousy Friend Who Breaks Promises to a Mediocre Friend Who Won’t Read Your Writing, I’m pulling the plug on my literary largesse.

That’s not to say that I won’t answer your questions about writing. Some of the best entries in this blog have come from questions that other struggling writers have asked me. I just won’t look at your manuscript until it is finished and published and (hopefully!) formatted for the Kindle. I hate to do this, but I have to… I think I’m a prettydarngood writer, but I’m still working on being a better human being.

If you’re one of the people I’ve made promises to about such things, please accept my most sincere apologies. I said yes with the best of intentions, but we know what kind of pavers those turn out to be. And hopefully I’ll be able to continue evolving into a nicer kind of human being – one who doesn’t make a promise that he probably can’t keep.

The Green Acres Effect

After much delay at the hands of family matters, I’m back on the case of finishing The Amazing Secret of the Castle Omi La for this year’s VBS.

A little bit of history here. The first VBS play I did was The Terrible Misfortune. It was a pirate-themed show. It was influenced by every cliche in every pirate movie I’ve ever seen.

Next came An Unpleasantness At Lonesome Gulch – you guessed it – a wild west themed show inspired by every cliche in every western I’ve ever seen.

In line after that was The Incredible Adventure of the Frozen Man, a pastiche of cliches from the original series of Star Trek.

And for this year? The pre-knights of the roundtable tale named above. And it’s major influence is…

Robin Hood? Nope.

Camelot? Nope.

Monty Python and the Holy Grail? Nope – and I’m working really hard to keep it that way.

No, the major influence for this year’s show is the redoubtable Green Acres.

(Wait a minute – did he just say Green Acres as if it was something worthy of respect?)

Yes, I did. And here’s why.

While a lot of people saw Green Acres as a “hick show” that went along with a lot of the CBS lineup at the time (The Beverly Hillbillies, Petticoat Junction, Mayberry RFD, Hee Haw), it was quietly subversive by building one of the most surreal universes on television, at least until Twin Peaks came along (and David Lynch may owe some gratitude to GA for making TP possible).

It did this by taking the fish-out-of-water plot (city couple moves to the country) – and after the first few episodes to get everything established, it began to turn things inside out. Lawyer turned farmer Oliver Douglas suddenly found himself (ironically, since he was the one who wanted to make the move) operating in a world whose rules he could never quite comprehend. His ditzy wife, Lisa (who didn’t want to make the move) takes to this new world like a duck to water and understands it perfectly. But Oliver becomes the one voice of sanity in a place where sanity is optional.

After Green Acres, the fish-out-of-water plot was never the same. It was no longer enough to put someone in a strange place. The strange place had to have its own set of rules, to a point where reality became stretched rather thin. Hence the groundwork is set for Twin Peaks and Northern Exposure and… well, I’m sure there might have been a couple of others, but I’m not that big a TV watcher.

Granted, this idea of the misplaced fish is not a new one. Jonathan Swift and Aldous Huxley used the fish-out-of-water to great effect in their respective satires to point out the foibles of society as they saw them. The difference between them and Green Acres is that they used Gulliver and John Savage as why characters, a character that exists so the new world can be explained without resorting to clumsy dialogue and exposition. What made Green Acres so subversive is that the good folks of that universe never offered any explanation as to why it was the way it was. It simply existed that way and it was good enough for them. If Oliver Wendall Douglas couldn’t quite fit in or figure things out, that was his problem.

All of this extends its influence into my current VBS play to the point where characters veer off into an argument over subatomic particles “which haven’t even been discovered yet”, but most folks just seem to know about. There’s a goofy inventor who was consciously based on Hank Kimble, the scatterbrained county agent. And there are not one but two waterless fish – the young man who has come to claim his inheritance, and the nasty King who is blocking his way. Although while the newcomer is only moderately bewildered by some of the goings on in his would-be kingdom, it is the king who suffers the most by trying to get his subjects to conform to what his idea of medieval squalor should be.

Okay, maybe that’s a bit much for a bunch of grade school kids. But there’s enough slapstick and other goofy gags to make them happy, just like in all my other productions.

In the meantime, if you’re called on to discuss a novel or movie where one person is just unable to fit in with a universe that is becoming increasingly bizarre, you can throw a spanner into the works by insisting that the influence is not Swift or Huxley – but rather Green Acres.

And judging from the limited and under-educated viewpoint of many, many writers out there, you’d probably be right.

Just Another Night at Wal-Mart

Finished episode two of The Amazing Secret of Omi La, after struggling against weeks of interruptions and time burners. Two more and we’ll have us a VBS play.

Meantime, here’s an excerpt from the novel I’m on the verge of finishing up, …and that’s the end of the news (except when I’m calling it Drawing Down the Moon). I’m not sure why I am doing this, except perhaps that it makes me feel better to do something nice for people when I’m feeling lousy and downtrodden. On the other hand, I’m not sure if you’d find this a nice thing to do or not.

But doing it makes me feel better.

So here is Ricky Gold, after having traveled halfway through hell, as he prepares to run an important errand in one of America’s shopping meccas.

He bailed out of the car and walked quickly into the store, breath held. Once inside under the white fluorescence of the store’s lighting, he exhaled and relaxed. Everything seemed so… normal.

Just keep it that way, he told himself. Keep things normal and don’t attract attention to yourself.

Gold made his way thorough housewares and pet supplies, past the electronics department that normally would have been a magnet to him – Wonder if the new Shyamalan is out on DVD yet? – and wandered into the sporting goods department. He slowly wandered up and down the aisles, looking closely at what the shelves held. Fishing lures, roller skates, soccer balls, archery supplies, camping equipment, flashlights, batteries, but nothing resembling—

“May I help you sir?” It was a heavyset woman in classic Wal-Mart Blue.

“Bullets?” he asked.

“They’re behind the counter,” she said, pointing. “I can help you.”

He followed her to a glass counter filled with knives and binoculars. Behind it, glass cases full of rifles and shotguns. Beneath the weapons, in a low case, was row upon row of boxes in the familiar colors he had seen at Earl’s Place. “Well all right,” he said.

“What do you need?” asked the woman.

Gold set the small bullet down on the counter. “Some of these.”

The woman stared at him for a moment, then looked down toward the bullet. Her eyes stopped before they got there, locking on Gold’s right hand. He looked at his hand and saw what she saw; the skin a deep ochre with a network of cracks across the palm, up over the fingers, and across the back of his hand. It looked like an ill-fated creek bed damned by a blistering sun and a summer of drought.

“This?” He pulled his hand away. “I, uh—“

“How many,” she said quickly.

“How many?”

She picked up the bullet. “Of these.”

“Oh.” Gold thought about it. The sign in Earl’s Place showed between fifteen and twenty-five dollars for fifty rounds. How much should he have to keep Nighthorse at bay if the need arose? “How about…” He drummed his fingers on the glass countertop, trying to act nonchalant. “Fifty bucks worth.”

“Fifty dollars worth of .22 long rifle?”

“You can go over a little if you have to,” Gold said.

“Any special brand?”

“Something dependable.”

The woman turned to the glass case and pulled a ring of keys from her pocket. Gold wandered down the counter, looking at multi-bladed knives and what looked like small walkie-talkies boasting secure code channels. He wondered if he should get a set.

“You’re doing some major plinking, then?” the woman asked.

“Real major,” Gold said, hearing the beeps from the cash register.

“You been in here before?” she asked.

He swallowed. “Not this time of night.”

“What brings you in at this hour?”

“I’m on my way home from work. Got done early for a change.”

“Where you work?”

Where do I work?

“The dairy,” he blurted.

“Hmmm,” the woman said. “You look familiar.”

“I do?” His fingers started to rattle on the glass and he forced himself to stop.

The woman nodded. “Cash, charge or check?”

Gold handed her three twenties.

“Which dairy you work at?” the woman asked, punching the amount into the register.

“You watch television?” Gold asked.

“Television?” She hit a button and the cash drawer popped open.

“I think you’ve seen me on television,” Gold said.

“You? On TV? Really?” She pulled change out of the till at a glacial pace.

“Well, not really me,” Gold smirked. “But people tell me that I look like the Big Boy restaurant kid.”

The woman gave him a blank stare.

“Never mind.” Gold held his hand out for the change. “It was a joke.”

“Sorry.” The woman counted the change into his hand and then hefted the bag with the ammunition. “Let me double bag this for you. It’s heavy.”

Gold cleared his throat and tapped his foot while she went through the excruciating process of finding another bag, holding it open, placing the original inside the new bag, then closing the whole mess off and stapling the receipt to the outside. He took the bag by the handles and then put one hand under it for support when he felt how heavy it was.

“Thanks,” he smiled, and turned to leave.

“Hey,” the woman said, and his stomach jumped. He kept walking. “Hey mister!”

He stopped. Swallowed. Then turned.

“I figured out who you look like,” she said.

“You did?” he croaked.

She nodded happily. “My second husband. He had hair just like yours, only redder.”

“It took you that long to remember your second husband?”

“We weren’t married long. You know a guy named Jamie Pikeman?”

Gold shook his head. “I’ll keep my eye open for him.”

“You don’t have to look any farther than the Mount Pisgah cemetery in Ponca City, Oklahoma. We were married three weeks and he started getting action off of some little trailer park waitress.”

Gold smiled. Why are you telling me this?

“He got drunk one night and went to meet her in her mini-van at a chained-off auto park entrance. Took his head clean off.” She drew her finger across her throat for emphasis.

“I think I would have remembered that happening to one of my relatives,” Gold said, shrugging. “Sorry.”

“Happy shooting,” the woman said.

“Thanks,” he nodded, then turned and walked away.

He couldn’t get out of the store fast enough. As early as it was, there were enough people inside to make him feel uncomfortable, like they were staring at him, trying to think of why he looked so familiar, and then when it hit them, pronouncing him guilty with their eyes.

Kada wasn’t in the lobby at the pay phones, so he hurried out the door. He spotted her walking across the asphalt to the Camaro.

“I got the stuff,” he called.

She turned at his voice and waited for him to catch up.

“Did you make the call?”

“I told them the name of the motel and the room number and I told them to be careful. We’ve got to move.” For emphasis she pointed out at the street. A police car whizzed by, running with lights but no siren. “That’s the second one I’ve seen.”

“I didn’t think of this,” Gold said. “Will that make getting to the interstate a problem?”

She shook her head. “It’s the other way. And you got the bullets?”

He held the bag up and she took it from him. “How many did you get?”

“Fifty dollars worth.”

“Why fifty?” She opened the bag and peeked inside.

“When I was at—“

“Richard, are you expecting to fight a war? You have two thousand rounds of ammunition.”

“No,” he said. “There should only be about a hundred, hundred and fifty.”

Kada stopped at the car and pulled out one of the boxes. “There are five hundred rounds in this box. And you have four boxes.”

“No, no. Three boxes at the most, fifty rounds in each, fifteen dollars a box—“

“Twelve dollars a box, five hundred rounds a box. You were thinking of bigger bullets for bigger guns.” She laughed as she unlocked the car. “A hundred-fifty rounds of .22 ammunition would only run a couple of dollars.”

Gold exhaled and looked around the parking lot. “I didn’t know,” he shrugged. “Let me take some of it back. Maybe I can hear more stories about the clerk’s headless alley cat husband.”

“That’s all right,” Kada said. “You’d better get in the car.”

“You don’t think I’m a stupid idiot? What if we need the money?”

“We’ll be fine. And I think you’re very sweet to go to such great lengths to protect me. Now we’re ready for anything.”

He watched as her smiling face turned and disappeared into the car. Then he looked out at the street as another police car sailed by, silently, overhead lights flashing.

Amazing. Molly would’ve dragged me back into the store and told the woman horror stories about my screwups while she processed the refund.

The passenger side door opened. “Are you coming, Mr. Argent?”

He climbed into the car. “Arizona?”

“Arizona,” she said.

Slowly I Turn…

So just to catch up on what I’m doing, I am currently working on the this year’s play for our Vacation Bible School program – a knights of the round table themed epic called The Secret of the Castle Omi La. I don’t think it’s going to be as big a scale as everyone expects since I have a small cast and limited budget, but I should have at least one person in armor before the show is over, drawing its inspiration as it does from both the life of Joshua and the Full Armor of God, as mentioned in the book of Ephesians. So that’s what I was working on tonight.

There’s no page count because I’m using Scrivener, a Mac-only application for writing novels that also doubles for writing screenplays, comic book scripts, TV scripts, and play scripts. It doesn’t really give you a running page count, although it is possible to get running words counts – although that doesn’t seem to be supported in an unobtrusive way when writing a play script.

No problem. Scrivener for writers is worlds ahead of the increasingly bloated current version of Word, and so far the scripting runs rings around Final Draft, which I’ve used before, but seems to be consistently buggy.

So I probably have a couple of pages on the manuscript tonight. Also worked on my continuing project of tagging and categorizing all the posts I imported – nearing the halfway mark! – and also on bringing over non-blog pages from the old web site (Precious Cargo rejoined the family tonight).

It’s all going to get there. But not much more tonight. Thunderstorms heading in, perhaps with residual tornados from the western half of the state. So pulling the plug. Now.

Life in Slow Motion

Yeah, it’s been slow but happy. Maybe these are the salad days. My wife and I are almost empty nesters now, with our son in China and our daughter in college. I’ve started walking the dog and occasionally picking up the guitar again.

Meantime, things are slowly gearing up to do something. I’ve been working on the 2010 VBS play. It’s been slow going this year – it’s my fourth one in five years and I think I’m going to need a break next year, just to get caught up on putting all the revisions from the previous shows into the computer and then figuring out how to get them out into the world.

On the long, long, long delayed and that’s the end of the news front, I finished the third draft last weekend – finally! It’s right now sitting while I have my First Editor (my wife) take a look at it. Also employed will be my new Second Editor, my daughter, who is a budding writer in her own, um, right.

There are some other writing projects on the horizon, too. For some odd reason, I dug out a book I was writing my hand in a series of notebooks over my lunch hour during 2005. I got almost 200 handwritten pages before I got too busy to deal with it and it got filed away. I found it while looking for tax records and decided to pull it out and have my First Editor take a look at it.

I’ve also been slowly outlining a Big Book, this one the UFO Novel. Not sure when I’ll get started on that one. Depends on the schedule for finishing and/news and the hunt for a new book agent.

So it’s going. Just not as fast as I want. But hey… there’s that whole salad days thing.

And on an unrelated note, a big “Hello” to anybody who may be joining this feed from Amazon.oom. I finally broke down and am in the process of compiling my Amazon Author’s Page, and the RSS of this very blog will show up there from this point on. If I clicked the right button.

It’s All Right To Feel A Little Fear

So I have hooked and crooked my way into ownership of a new computer, one that isn’t a collection of interconnected old parts cobbled together into a semblance of semi-functionality. Because of that, I now have a number of projects going.

First, I am starting to scan my novels into HTML format (thanks to some Iris soft/hardware) to format for the Kindle. I bought old copies of all of them from Amazon’s shops, and am in the process of cutting the pages apart with an X-acto knife and feeding them through my nifty little scanner.

Second, I am in the process of formatting my three VBS plays for publication through and for the Kindle. The big hangup here seems to be the name of the imprint I will use for my self-publishing efforts. I’m trying to some up with something with a slight Biblical reference, but nothing to give the impression that it’s strictly a religious imprint since the Kindle versions of my SF novels will be under the same imprint, along with cd’s or mp3’s of my music, if I ever get around to recording them. But nobody likes what I’ve come up with so far. Oh,well.

Third, I’m in the process of working out a new design of the website to coincide with the launch of all this previously mentioned stuff.

Finally, I’m editing the book code-named …and that’s the end of the news because, well, with a little work it’ll be ready to hit the markets. It deserves better than to sit in the metaphorical closet under the metaphorical bowling shoes.

Funny thing about and/news. After I got my Kindle in February, I decided to read the manuscript again in preparation for editing it. Thing is, I wanted to read it in such a way that I wouldn’t start marking it up, as is my instinct. Then I got a brilliant idea. I emailed it to my Kindle and read it there.

That experience was remarkable. It had the psychological impact – for me, anyway – of reading the book in a final form. I was able to actually step back and read it as a story, like it was coming out of a published book. At one point in my reading, I decided to try having the Kindle’s Text to Speech feature read parts of the book to me during my commute. And heavens to Betsy, what a rush that was. You’d have thought that I was listening to an official audio book narrated by James Earl Jones himself.

Then something else happened. I started to feel a little scared and a lot sad. Because for the first time, as I was reading one of my own pieces of writing, I could tell it was good. Really good. And then it hit me: what if I never write anything else this good again?.

That’s something I’m having to work through.

Currently, I’m about two-thirds of the way through taking a red pen to the manuscript. Then I will be going to the computer to put in the changes and rewrite from scratch some of the scenes that need work. Looking again at what I did, even with red pen in hand, that wistfulness and fear is coming back.

But I’ve decided to try and channel it.

I think and/news is good. And instead of being scared of it, I should let it make me feel confident that I can go on to another similarly epic project – not necessarily epic in pages, but epic in scope, perhaps. I’m thinking that perhaps soon will be a good time to start my UFO novel. Oddly enough, that book is going to be a study of human nature, and there’s going to be a lot of emotional depth to it. There’s emotional depth to and/news, so I’m thinking that perhaps it was a kind of dress rehearsal for writing the UFO book.

Instead of letting that fear and wistfulness intimidate me, I’m going to try and channel it into something good. So I’m looking at it as a kind of stagefright, the kind that always grips me on opening night. The feeling that, if I didn’t get it, I would worry about how lame my performance would be. Call it that jumpiness that a race horse gets before the gate opens, although my own personal thoroughbredness is questionable.

That’s where things stand today. I’m coming back onto the main road after the detour, the map is a little out of date, but I still pretty much know the way. Let’s see how far I can get before stopping to ask for directions.