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Wednesday, September 28, 2011

A Master Multitasker: Interview with author Patrick Gabridge

I'm honored to be the first stop on Patrick Gabridge's blog tour today. Patrick is a "triple threat" writer -- a novelist, a playwright, and a screenwriter. His paranormal novel Tornado Siren -- a love story about a tornado researcher and a man with an unearthly connection to tornadoes -- was published by Behler Publications in 2005; it's now available as an e-book for Kindle, Nook, and other formats (via Smashwords). As an award-winning playwright, he's had numerous short and full-length plays produced nationwide, and he is a Huntington Playwriting Fellow at Boston's prestigious Huntington Theatre Company. (That's a big deal, folks -- they only pick three every two years). The newest anthology of his plays (Collected Obsessions: Eight Short Plays of Captivating Lunacy) has just been released by Brooklyn Publishers and Heuer Publishers. And  . . and . . . and . . .
Wait, I have to stop and catch my breath. And this is only a snapshot of his numerous writing accomplishments. Maybe I should stop writing his entire biography and just get to the interview? For a full list of his publications and productions I'll refer you to his comprehensive website.

I've known Patrick for years as a fellow writing group member and a friend, and I've long admired his time management skills and his incredible productivity. At any given time, he is either drafting or revising a play and has at least one in production. He also has completed several novels within just a few years, and is embarking on a new one. He runs three successful blogs. And he actually has a life. So I thought I'd introduce him to you, and see if he'd share some of multitasking writing secrets with the world. Check out his photo above -- yes, he always looks that calm. Yet he is a whirlwind -- dare I say a tornado? -- of activity! How does he do it all and still keep his feet on the ground? Let's find out! Welcome, Patrick!

I think of you as a Master of Multitasking. You write novels for adults and children, stage plays, screenplays, and radio plays (audio drama). You have multiple projects going on at any given time, in various stages of production. And you have a family! How do you juggle these various projects and genres? (And what is the secret to your amazing productivity?)
I love writing, and I love having my work reach an audience.  It’s never a chore for me to sit down and work on a project, and I can get a little antsy if I’m not actively creating stories/characters on a regular basis.  When I hear my work in front of an audience, or get feedback from readers, that spurs me on, too.  I end up involved in a lot of different, projects not because I get bored easily, but because I get interested easily.

I do a lot of planning when it comes to writing projects—at the start of every year, I’ll take a couple days and write down a detailed plan for all my upcoming projects and where they’re going to fall during the year.  This schedule shifts and slips constantly, but it gives my writing life some structure.

What does a typical writing day look like for you?
It varies, depending on the project.  I’m most productive when I set aside a block of 3-4 hours in the morning for writing.  I’ll try not to turn on the internet or check my e-mail for that time.  Once those hours have passed, then the rest of the world is allowed to come in, and the million different distractions come flooding in.  But if I actually sit myself down for a chunk of 3 hours, I get an enormous amount accomplished. 

Do you ever get “stuck” or “blocked” in a writing project? What do you do when that happens?
I’m careful to avoid the word “blocked,” but I do get stuck sometimes.  When that happens, I  either work through it, or put the project aside for a while.  Sometimes working through it is a losing battle, because I become increasingly frustrated and that makes finding a solution harder and harder.  That’s when there’s an advantage to having multiple projects going.  I might set aside a novel and go work on a play for a while.  This makes the process of finishing any particular project take longer, but I get more done in the aggregate.
I’ve been doing this long enough to recognize that I don’t always solve every problem in every book or play.  Sometimes the problem is beyond my current skill level to fully solve, and I have to accept that the piece is as good as I can make it right now.  Perfectionism is the enemy of achievement.  

As if you don’t have enough writing to do, you also run three excellent blogs: a blog about the writing life, a blog about going car-free in Boston, and a blog about urban gardening. How do you budget time for blogging? What do you find challenging and rewarding about blogging?
My time to work on the blogs ebbs and flows.  Lately, I’ve been so busy on other writing projects that I haven’t had enough time to write as many thoughtful entries as I’d like.  I’m still able to share with my friends and fans what I’m up to, but I’d really like to be writing more about the state of the writing world.  I have great plans for some interesting posts later this year.

The best part of blogging is when I do write something interesting and all of a sudden the blog post gets a hundred hits in one day.  I love tracking how many people are reading my work (I’m a total numbers guy—I keep track of how many people attend all my plays or read my books or visit my web site).  The instantaneous feedback is a total thrill.  

Many of your short plays are written for the youth market, and have been performed at hundreds of high schools and youth theatre festivals. In addition, you’ve mentored young playwrights at the MIT Youth Astronomy Apprentices program. What do you enjoy about writing plays for young adults and working with young people?
The energy and enthusiasm of student actors is completely inspiring.  The funny thing is that I didn’t start out writing short plays for young people, but it turned out that my work for adults offered what students actors needed in competition scripts:  exciting acting challenges that enabled them to show their stuff in front of judges, minimal staging, material that featured genuine human interaction.

The differences between the YA and Middle Grade fiction market and the youth theatre market are very curious.  Publishers of YA fiction define that work as requiring teenage main characters, and often work with very particular struggles around determining self identity.  My theatre work that’s most used by students tends to feature adult characters.  When it comes to playing other people on stage, teenagers don’t want to be confined to characters their own age.  They want to stretch.  For the theatre market, we face constraints on language and actions, mostly due to the public nature of performances (and parents in the audience).  For YA fiction, books can have much more frank language, sexuality, and violence, since reading is a private act.

How can teachers or high school students find your plays?
Brooklyn Publishers publishes about 35 of my short plays for use by high school students.  Heuer Publishing also publishes a bunch (mostly the same scripts, because Heuer owns Brooklyn).  They both publish my newest collection of short plays, Collected Obsessions (eight short plays of captivating lunacy).  In addition, Playscripts publishes three of my one-act plays, and YouthPlays publishes another half-hour one act for students.

Several of my plays have been used by students to go very far in national competition.  I strongly encourage students to contact me and let me know if they’ve had fun and success with the scripts on stage and/or in competition.

What are you working on these days? Is there a project you’re especially excited about?
This summer, I finished the first draft of a Civil War historical novel.  I’m forcing myself to let it sit and stew until November, when I’ll try to turn it into something readable (my first drafts can be pretty rough).  I love working on this book.

Some local filmmakers are shooting a short film from one of my ten-minute plays, so I’ll be in helping out with that in October.

I’m also working on Flight, a new full-length play, that my playwrights’ group just read in our Rhombus Readings Festival in mid-September, and it’ll have a reading in New York in February.

In October, I’ve set myself a challenge of writing a new full-length play, while my novel and Flight both gestate a bit.  I have only the vague whispers of a concept, story, and characters.  So this challenge seems nearly impossible to pull off.  Which has me excited to give it a try.

You’re an avid gardener, and I’ve heard a rumor that you’re studying farming. How do gardening/farming feed into your writing life? (Or do they?)
My wife, Tracy, said that farming is a way to keep myself occupied instead of obsessing about the various frustrations of the writing life (the business side, not the creative side).  Gardening/Farming feels like a natural complement to my writing work—it has an intense focus on creation (of vegetables rather than words), and my garden projects all have an aspect of audience—whether it’s feeding our family from our community garden, or a neighbor family through a shared backyard garden, or anonymous neighbors through my 200 Foot Garden Project.  My farm training through the New Entry Sustainable Farming Project over the next few years will expand and improve my skills and knowledge.  I love writing away in my basement office, but gardening/farming provides a sense of balance to my life—it gets me outside, working with hands in the sun. 

Imagine you’re having a dinner party and you can invite three guests, living or dead: one novelist, one playwright, and one screenwriter or film director. Who would you invite, and why?
That’s a tough question.  I want to try to sound very serious and literary, but I’d be faking it.  I’d like to have John Green (who wrote Paper Towns, Abundance of Catherines, etc.) because he’s incredibly funny and witty and seems like he’d be really fun.  (I’d also like to hang out with Nick Hornby and Jasper Fforde.  I’d like to meet Camus, but I sense he might be a bit of a downer at a party.) If John Green isn’t available, let’s ask Markus Zusak.

For a playwright, Chekhov would be interesting, except I don’t speak Russian.  Tom Stoppard would be high on my list—he’s amazingly smart.

Screenwriter—definitely Charlie Kaufman.  I’m a huge fan of Being John Malcovich and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.  Let’s ask the Coen brothers along. (But I worry they’d mostly talk to each other?)
Can we ask some historical figures to come, too?  If you could invite Robert Smalls, William Tyndale, and Johannes Kepler, I’d really appreciate it.  I’ve spent so much time with them, it would be nice to get to meet them in person.

That sounds like an awesome dinner party; I'll rustle up three extra chairs for the historical folks. Well, I hear the train whistle calling -- you're off to the next stop on your blog tour. Thanks so much for stopping by, and best of luck with your many exciting projects!

How does Patrick Gabridge find time to hang out online? I'm still stumped, but here's where he goes:
His website
The Writing Life x 3 (blog)
Choosing no Car (blog)
The 200 Foot Garden blog)
Twitter (@patrickgabridge)
Facebook (come "like" him and you'll get his cool updates!)

Also, you can follow Pat on the next two stops of his blog tour. You can learn more about Patrick and his writing, and check out these fantastic blogs in the process!
September 29: Lori Foster, On Writing, Living and Loving
September 30: Donna Hoke, My Life as a Wordsmith

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Friday, September 23, 2011

Group Blogging: Is it for you? (Part 1)

Now that I'm a few weeks into my kidlit mystery writing blog, Sleuths, Spies and Alibis, I thought I'd reflect on the process of launching and running a group blog so far. I'm by no means an expert yet, and I'm learning a lot by trial and error. But if you're considering banding together with other writers and starting a group blog, maybe the following questions will help you to chart your course.

Why do you want a group blog?
List pros and cons before you start. Here are some to get you started. Running a solo blog has great benefits. You're in total control of content and scheduling. It's all about you. On the other hand, a solo blog can be very time consuming. There are times when the well of ideas runs dry.

On a group blog, you can share posting responsibilities and blog less frequently, while still having a dynamic site that provides fresh content weekly or even daily. You can also feed off other members' ideas, collaboratively generate topics or themes to work with, and potentially interact with a wider base of readers than you might on your own. However, unless you have a clear plan, there can actually be more work involved with managing content and various administrative details. (These are the hidden time costs of group blogging, which I'll say more about later).

Personally, I like running my own blog, and will continue to do so. But I also get tired of talking about me, me, me. I started a blog with other mystery writers because I wanted to blog about something larger. I wanted to link to numerous resources and provide an educational service for mystery fans, writers, teachers, and librarians. I also wanted the synergy of group blogging to break up the isolation of writing alone.

How many people should you have?
I've seen group blogs run equally well with three people and with ten. It may depend on how frequently you want to rotate posting responsibilities and how often you want to have fresh content on the blog. If you are managing the blog, will you get overwhelmed if you have many people? Will two or three people feel too much like running a solo blog? Sleuths, Spies and Alibis has seven members right now, which feels good to me; we've been able to divide up the schedule so that no one posts more than three or four times per month.

How should you assign responsibilities?
While I came up with the initial concept for my group blog, everyone has equal input. I love how all our members have fresh ideas about design and content, and the blog is evolving in a direction I could never have taken it all on my own. However, it's helpful for all members to have some kind  of role. This includes someone who is sort of an overall organizer slash communicator type. To avoid chaos, confusion, and long silences, someone should be in charge of general group communication, sending out notes from email discussions or conference calls, presenting issues to think about going forward, scheduling, etc. In my group, I guess that's, uh, that's me. You can see I'm a little uncomfortable with the role. But the fact is, there's no blogging interface that will actually run the blog for you. People have to take leadership roles. There can be more than one. And the roles can rotate!

Other roles that can be assigned might include:
  • CTweetO (Chief Twitter Operator). Your blog should have an accompanying Twitter account and someone to announce your posts, help manage giveaways (if you're doing them), thank followers and retweeters, etc. This can be more time-consuming than it sounds -- especially because, starting out, you have to get followers without looking like a spammer. I recommend having more than one person  in charge of a Twitter handle, or rotating tweeting tasks on a regular basis.
  • Design Czar. All members should have design input, but it's helpful for a designated person to create the initial design and/or implement changes to the template. It's useful to draw up a priority list of design elements in or near the beginning. Think about color schemes, what you want on sidebars, content for tabs, desired widgets, your banner, any logos or buttons, etc.
  • Technology Guru. If someone has more advanced technological knowledge than others, or more experience with your particular blogging interface, then that person can be in charge of fixing technical glitches that are bound to arise. This person might also be the administrator of a Google group for communications, or the administrator of the blog itself. 
Next week, I'll discuss more questions to ask yourself starting out, including: How long should you plan before you launch? How should you launch? What's the best way to communicate with group members? What are the hidden time costs of group blogging -- and how can you avoid those?

Are you in a group blog? I'd love to hear how other group bloggers have designated roles or considered these issues.

Are you considering starting or joining a group blog? I'd love to add more questions to this list. Maybe I or other group bloggers can take a stab at answering them!

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Thursday, September 15, 2011

My Wildly Eclectic Fall Must-Reads

Fall makes me miss being a student and being a teacher. It also makes me hungrier than ever for books. Lots of books. The fatter the better.

My reading list this fall feels more ambitious than ever, since many writer friends are coming out with new releases this season. I'm devouring mysteries since my partners in crime on Sleuths, Spies and Alibis, my mystery blog, keep sending great recommendations my way. And I'm in a reflective mode these days, longing for long books, books with substance and heft.

Now that my own novel is in copyedits, I have an illusion that I have time to catch up on all my reading. This is only an illusion. I know this. Copyedits to look over will descend any day. I'm also slipping back into my work in progress. And, you know, there's the whole business of living one's life. I will never make it through my whole fall list. I may not even make it through my top five. But at odd moments in the day, and late at night, and while waiting to pick up my son from preschool, I'm sure some books will get read.

I also noticed that my fall reading list is the most eclectic it's ever been. Because of its highly eclectic nature, I thought I'd share some highlights from the list. Here, then, are my five most anticipated reads for the season:

I'm a huge fan of Paul Griffin, and I've been eagerly awaiting his new YA novel, Stay With Me. It just came out this month, and I bought a copy of it yesterday. An award-winning author of two other YA novels (Ten Mile River, The Orange Houses), Paul Griffin is one of the most original voices in YA fiction. I love how he writes about people whose experiences are vastly different from mine, yet he makes me know them and even relate to them. This one's a love story, about an A-student and a high school dropout who bond over a rescue dog. Stay With Me is at the top of my towering stack of fall reads.

I'm eager to read Mary Johnson's An Unquenchable Thirst. Just released, and receiving rave reviews for both its striking content and its literary style, this spiritual memoir tells the story of how Johnson entered a convent at eighteen and worked for twenty years with Mother Theresa and the Missionaries of Charity. And then it tells how she left. I'm eager to read about a lifestyle I know nothing about, and I'm always looking for great writing about finding your right path in life, in whatever direction that may be.  The story of how this memoir came to be written (over ten years) sounds as fascinating as the memoir itself, and there's a great article about Mary Johnson in the current issue of Poets and Writers magazine.

I'm joining legions of Haruki Murakami fans in anticipating his latest novel: 1Q84 (to be released in English October 25). I'm guessing everything else on my nightstand -- and the nightstand itself -- will simply crumble and splinter beneath the weight of this 1,000-page tome. No matter. Murakami is a fascinating writer, and I will follow his surreal journeys anywhere, for as many pages as he wants to take me.

Barry Lyga's Mangaman (coming November 15) looks like a really fun graphic novel. I love his novels, so I'm really interested to see his work in a different genre, with the artist Colleen Doran. I love the concept of a manga character falling into the "real world" and the mix of manga with western-style comics in the artwork.

I'm sure everyone has a book or two they're mortified to admit they've never read. Confession: I have never read Howl's Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones. (I know, I know!) It's been on my to-read list for years. I never saw the Hayao Miyazaki movie version either, because I wanted to read the book first. But every time I almost read the book, I'd think, No, I really want to see the movie. Years have gone by this way. It's time to get out of this ridiculous cycle and read the book already!

Eclectic, would you agree? And these are just the top five! What's on your reading list for fall?

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Friday, September 9, 2011

My new website is launched!

It felt like Christmas morning today when I woke up and found my new website had gone live. Yes, my website has a new look! My blog now links to my website! And it's all shiny and new!

I like the feeling of adventure here, and my favorite part is the train on the home page. If you turn your sound up, you'll hear a little melody of chimes as it passes. That's an actual jingle from one of the Tokyo train stations; each one has its own melody, and that's one of my favorite memories of Tokyo. The sound instantly takes me back there. On the "Links" page, under "Portals to Japan," you'll find a link to all the Tokyo train station jingles for your listening pleasure! (Or your listening aggravation, depending on how you feel about chimes!)

This site is the creation of my web designer, Denise at Biondo Studio, who has been amazing to work with. I had a vision for this new site which now pales in comparison with what she produced. She made the daunting prospect of a website overhaul feel effortless. If you like her work, please check out her other projects, which include sites for many other young adult and middle grade authors. (I could sit around and watch her flash animation home pages all day). Thank you so very much, Denise!

I also want to publicly thank my friend Patrick Gabridge, who set up my previous site and guided me through the bewildering word of websites. That site served me well for years. I went into this new project with a better understanding of web design and some web vocabulary because of my working with him. And Denise was able to incorporate some of the features he had set up on the previous site. So thank you, Patrick!

And thank you, blog readers and website viewers, who've taken the time to visit today. There are so many stations on the Internet where you can fritter away -- er, I mean spend -- your time, and I'm so glad you've gotten off here!

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Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Sleuths Spies and Alibis Launch!

My son is heading to preschool this week, which means I'll be able to access my computer, my working life, and my brain cells on a more regular basis. My nearly neglected blog will benefit from this! Meanwhile, I've written the launch post for my group blog, Sleuths Spies and Alibis, which goes live today!

I'm so excited about this project. We are seven young adult and middle grade mystery authors with debut novels coming in 2012 and 2013. We hope to be Mystery Resource Central for all things related to kidlit mysteries. Teaching resources, interviews, writing prompts, thoughts on craft, interviews -- we'll have it all! I'm looking forward to sharing with and learning from my partners in crime on this blog, as well as interacting with mystery fans everywhere. I hope you'll come check us out!

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