Sunday, July 13, 2014

"How's the house?" and "How is your book selling?"

The Wonderful World of Writing … from the Director’s Point of View

Directing a musical theater production has its constraints. There’s a definite time frame, and you have only so many weeks to select the show, cast the show, rehearse the show and then give it to the cast to perform for a limited time. For high school and community productions, generally that is one weekend, and over those two or three performances the audience sees the results of all your hard work. My sense is if I have done my job, nobody really cares who directed the show; they see words and music come to life on the stage through the actors and musicians who live a story and share it with everyone in the theater.

Of course, we hope there is an audience. The bigger the better! Actors love what they do, but they also love to hear the laughter, applause, and yes, the intense moments of silence when the audience is moved. So one question we all ask the box office personnel: “How’s the house?” Meaning are there going to be people in the seats to enjoy and appreciate this production? Of course, there have been expenses connected with putting this show up, and good houses also mean we can continue this venture and begin work on another show.

One of the first things I do as director is prepare a rehearsal schedule and attempt to make sure there is ample time provided within that schedule for adequate rehearsal of each and every scene, each and every musical number. Not just to learn them, but to polish them. To make what the audience sees looks fresh and new because the cast knows what they are doing so well the people watching aren't aware of miscues. We all know it won’t be perfect (I had a friend quote a mentor who told her “perfection is for the gods”), but we try to make it as nearly perfect as we can. Once the weekend is over, what are left are wonderful memories. We may direct or act in this show again in the future, but it will never be the same, because the people who are part of it are different.

When I wrote my first novel, How I Grew Up, my good friend Eric Mark who read and copy edited it kept reminding me “there is no opening night.” As a director I was accustomed to the time constraints of the rehearsal period. I have had to learn those time constraints do not exist for a writer. Eric is right; there is no opening night. The book is finished when it is complete.

I loved the 1965 film The Agony and the Ecstasy about Michelangelo painting the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. Pope Julius II (Rex Harrison), in an increasing state of high dudgeon, kept asking Michelangelo (Charlton Heston) “When will you make an end?!” to which the artist calmly but firmly replied, “When I am finished.” I’ve learned it’s sometimes difficult to tell when that is, but at some point, the writer believes the story has been told as well as it can be told. For How I Grew Up, that happened after some four months.

I have written a second novel, Eli’s Heart, which was released recently. It took me considerably longer to write this book. It covered a longer period of time. It required more research. I did a good deal of rewriting. I wrote four different endings. This book took over nine months. I wanted to finish it. I wanted to get it “out there.” Eric wisely cautioned me again not to be too hasty. He was right, the extra six weeks or so I spent on the book undoubtedly improved it.

My theater friends know I have just released Eli’s Heart, and some of them say to me, “How's your book selling?” My response is “there’ve been some purchases.” There’s no opening night. There’s also no closing night; Eli’s Heart as well as How I Grew Up will be available for a long time for my audience – my readers – to decide to look at my work. And they don’t have to read it in two or three hours, the length of time the audience spends watching a show. My readers can spend weeks, even months, reading one of my books.

It is a thrill when I hear from a friend or acquaintance that they have read and enjoyed my work. I think these stories are good stories, and I tried to tell them as best I possibly could. I’ve had some modest success with How I Grew Up, and hope more people will buy it and read it. There have been some purchases of Eli’s Heart as well. As an independent, self-published author, I have to market my books. I have no publicist, nor do I have the money to do this aggressively. Word of mouth, social media, book signings are my primary means of getting the word out.

But at my stage of “advanced youth” I have no illusions about becoming a best-selling author. I started writing because I had a story I wanted to tell. I continue to write because more stories have come into my mind. I write because I find it immensely satisfying. I self-publish because it is a thrill to hold the book I have written in my hand. It’s my work, it’s the creative part of me finding an outlet after a lifetime of re-creating music and musical theater. Music is my passion, so I write about music and how strongly it can influence people’s lives. "Writing is its own reward" is a profound truth.

So to the question “how's your book selling?” the answer is: people are finding their way to my books. I hope more people find their way to my books; I believe they are worth reading. And there’s no closing night.