Monday, September 17, 2012

Where There's A WILL ...

One of the biggest surprises of my writing life has taken place over the last year and a half.

In tinkering with a particular project, I’ve been pleased to rediscover a writer that I had A) largely forgotten existed, and B) never thought much of when I was aware of him the first time around.

That writer?

Me. From about 18 years ago.

Now before you start picturing Present Me climbing aboard a time machine bound for the mid-90s with a box of wine and a half dozen gas station roses in hopes of giving Past Me a deep, self-satisfied soul kiss ...

"Well, hello there, Me. Couldn't help but notice what a handsome devil we are. How would we like our smug self-wienering? Vigorous or Gentle?"

... let me explain.

Due to cutbacks at work over the last several years, like everybody else I was feeling the financial pinch of the bad economy. So, the idea of establishing an alternate income stream was starting to look pretty appealing.

I took on a few freelance writing gigs, but unfortunately, that’s not the kind of work you can depend on coming around with any regularity. Also, they kind of kick your ass at tax time.

So I got to wondering ... did I already have some piece of writing that was just sitting around collecting dust when it could instead be collecting money?


Since Hollywood was stubbornly not begging to buy my prodigious stacks of unfinished screenplays they couldn’t possibly know about ... the most logical of my lazy options was to dust off my old grad school thesis play, WILL.

Over the years, I've had a couple of short plays published in various collections and they've brought in a little cash for performance royalties from time to time. (We're talking low three figures ... lllllladies.) So, if I could get it published, it stood to reason that this full-length piece could maybe generate a smidge more.

So the plan became: Do a quick and dirty polish and ship it off. If I could get it published, maybe I could sit back and collect a modest check once a year. Boom. Financial hole plugged. Fiscal hemorrhaging stanched.

Move over, Suze Orman! It’s my turn to be a financial genius! Now ... where to get me a set of them giant, terrifying teeth ...


Anyhow, it seemed like a pretty straightforward plan. Based solely on economics. Nothing personal. Nothing artistic. Just business.

Well, that was the idea, anyway.

I should point out that my history with this particular play has been ... well ... complicated.

Before I wrote it, WILL had been a huge, impossible idea that kicked around the inside of my skull for the better part of a decade. As ideas went, it was a doozy. And one that, back then, I didn't have the first clue how to write. I simply didn’t have the tools. It wasn’t until I got a little seasoning and some of that fancy book-learnin’ in grad school that I actually got up the nerve to even attempt to set it down on paper.

But while I did absorb some fine tutelage (from the late, great Roger Cornish), for a variety of reasons (nearly all of my own making), my three years at grad school were also some of the least happy and most personally dysfunctional of my life.

As a result, the production of WILL proved to be pretty rocky and contentious behind the scenes. Some long-standing relationships were strained, some cracked, some irrevocably shattered.

Which was a pity, because on stage, the show was a runaway success. The entire run sold out and audiences were extremely enthusiastic. (Both, fairly rare occurrences at that school back then, I'm told.)

I was grateful, of course, for the audience approbation, but given the chaos and strife I was experiencing and/or perpetuating behind the scenes, I was never able to see the end results clearly.

And soon after the show closed, graduation came. And with it came the very real and very inescapable reality of having to scratch out a living. Out of necessity, theater quickly disappeared in my rearview mirror. Rent needed paying. Life needed sorting. And priorities needed reshuffling.

I made a half-hearted attempt to market WILL, but cast size, along with set and costume requirements (it's set in Elizabethan England) seemed to prove daunting among the festivals and regional theaters I contacted. Interest, to put it politely, was slight.

So into the drawer it went. Along with all its attendant emotional baggage. A disappointing and painful chapter of my life quietly and unceremoniously laid to rest. It was time to move on.

Years passed. Lots of them. And slowly ... painfully slowly ... I managed to grow up a little. I eventually carved out a life for myself, found the absolute best girl in the world, and settled into what’s turned out to be the most stable and happy decade of my existence.

I even found myself writing again. A few screenplays got penned, a few shorts were filmed, a Hollywood screenwriting career was briefly flirted with.

But during all those years a funny thing happened. With WILL forgotten in that drawer, unbeknownst to me, all the bruises faded and the scabs flaked away.

(Yes, I AM aware of how gross a flaky scab metaphor is. But it works, dammit! Now hush!)

Anyhow, when I opened that drawer a year and a half ago looking for some financial help -- a drawer that was once so crammed with negative associations -- I was shocked to find just a script. All that emotional baggage that once seemed so important was gone.


All that was left was a play.

And you know what?

That play kind of doesn't really suck very much.

Trust me, I was as surprised as anybody.

"Whoa, whoa, whoa. Stand down, folks. Nobody get excited. No, it still sucks. We checked. Just not as much as usual."

Because my first response to most things I’ve written is generally not praise. I tend to be a pretty blood-thirsty self-critic.

Was it flawless? Oh, hell no. But it was a far sight better than I remembered.

But at this point I had put enough distance between me and the script that it didn't feel like my work at all. The person who wrote this play doesn’t exist anymore. Past Me was a very different guy than the one plinking the keys on the other end of this blog. Since then I’ve (fingers crossed) matured into a slightly less asshole-ish person. And I've evloved a somewhat different writing style and dramatic voice, too.

The play needed work, of course, and I do think I made a few improvements with this recent pass. But as I tinkered, I kept finding myself not hating it.

High praise.

So yeah, if I did have access to that time machine, I really would like to go back to 1997 and shake that guy’s hand.

You know ... if doing so wouldn’t fracture the space-time continuum and vaporize us all in a massive clap of matter and anti-matter.

"Oops. Sorry. TOTALLY my bad."

But, barring that ... yeah. A handshake would be nice.

Good job, kid.

Also, maybe try to stop being such a douche to everybody?

Till next we meet ...