Do you have a memory you’d like to preserve so your children or grandchildren will know about your life? Or is there something that happened when you were a child—or an adult—a story you’d like to tell, but when you put it down on paper, it doesn’t come out the way you want it to? Maybe you’d like to write a short story or a novel, but you don’t know where to begin. Take it from one who knows. You’re never too old to start writing. And publishing.
I liked writing as a kid, but the experience of a cruel rejection when I was a timid high school freshman made me retreat from creative writing altogether. I swore I’d never write anything again. Two experiences, both many years later, helped to free me from my writing paralysis. I learned to write and take pleasure in it.
The first experience occurred in a class that I took with a friend from work. The teacher’s idea was to have students write their memories, beginning with the first one they could remember, but not in the voice of an adult looking back on the memory but in the voice of the child who experienced it. The writing and later reading aloud were profoundly moving for all of us. People wrote as abused children and broke down in tears as they read what they had written. People wrote as spies on their parents’ lives and re-experienced the guilt and fear they had felt. Many, perhaps most, of the memories were painful, but the writing experience freed up a great deal of pent up fear, anger and sadness.
The second came from Julia Cameron’s THE ARTIST’S WAY, a book designed to free up creativity based on the Alcoholics Anonymous twelve step program. I didn’t do all of the exercises Cameron prescribed, but one that I did for years was to write three pages every morning as soon as I got out of bed, not thinking about what I was writing but simply continuing to put pen to paper until I had filled three pages. For years I got up at 4:30 in the morning and wrote my three pages before my long commute to work. I threw out the notebooks years later because they were mostly garbage. But they were a greatly freeing experience, writing with pen and ink with no constraints and no critic.
I began writing more seriously after I retired. I was lucky enough to find a writing group and a great teacher. I published my first mystery novel at the age of 79, my second at 80, and my third, PSYCHIC DAMAGE, will be out very soon.
If you have a dream and you want to make it come true, remember that you’re never too old to begin.
First let me say, I am a huge fan of your work. Even a bigger fan with knowing Harry & The Thief. Thank you for granting an interview to my readers.
Harriet Tubman (sometimes called
Moses) was a great historical figure to use for this play. Still, I need to ask, of all the heroes and heroines of Black History at this same time, why her?
Before I answer you question...I don’t think in terms of Black History or White History. Funny, we never come out and name White History? Yet we have the idea that there is something separate and distinct from the course of human events as Black History or Asian-American History, I mean everything (events) happen at the same time. They occur in one big soup of the present, mingling influencing, bouncing off each other. It makes me smile how we frame things. It does make the ‘past’ and present easier to digest. Makes the spin easier to control. Which brings me to my answer. I chose Harriet Tubman because I was interested in re-framing her historical narrative. While Tubman is a historical figure that is thoroughly alive in the present, most people know some basic information about her; none of that info is framed in a way that for me sufficiently highlights Tubman’s and the humans she helped to freedom; badass-ness nor their humanity.
Your other work, Sigrid, Seed: A Weird Act of Faith; Black Simulacra; Black Girl Rising; these works offer the same dark atmosphere and commentary on social/cultural concerns but without the irony/humor of Harry and the Thief. What moved you towards humor in this play?
I put humor in all my plays. I think with the titles you mentioned above the humor was not the first concern so they don’t have as many laugh out loud moments as Harry. For example with Seed I was working on a commission writing for a community of people...juggling the need to authentically represent their stories with my own artistic desires. When I was writing Harry I was writing for myself. The first and only priority was to make a play I would want to see and to make myself laugh. And it was hard to take seriously what I wanted to make: An action-comedy movie on stage about Harriet Tubman. Once I accepted that conceit, things got very funny and dark and the darker they got the funnier they became.
Black Girl Rising offers a mixed genre by placing the science fiction element of the protagonist having super powers. Harry and the Thief uses a time machine to take guns--lots of guns--to help Harriet Tubman. Is science fiction a good platform to use when wanting to "look back" and write about past events, while still making social statements on today's social status?
I dunno. I guess? Sci-fi is good. But so is melodrama or a western - I love a western!
Even when I am writing about the past I am writing about the now. Writing is how I sort through my ideas, thoughts and feelings about me and the world, as I experience it. And sometimes - a lot of times - I find past events and time periods speak to me; they give me a way to frame what I contemplating about the present. The genre for me is the drag the ideas are in.
The pace offered in Harry and the Thief, especially when reading the play, is rhythmic--like a dream beat calling on your audience to move along with you. This is especially telling in the reading of the play. How important are the words-- meaning and rhythm when writing?
The rhythm and meaning of words are extremely important to me. I write for performance. The words I write exist actor’s bodies and voices, in the space that they are spoken into. Spoken words have vibrations and textures that change the atmosphere. They dance with each other. It’s another form of music. And the music is multi-layered. You have how the word sounds - it’s pure rhythm. You have the meaning of the word - it’s history, like reverb; and it’s wonderful when a word has several meanings - the double entendre is so delicious - reverb bouncing off of reverb. And then you have the who is speaking the word(s) - for example the word ‘bitch’ feels different if a man is saying it than a woman. Then you have to consider, how are the words articulated? - Loud, soft, through gritted teeth, tears. For me all the emotional stuff the tone, the mood, the feel of a piece resides in how the words - and all their many facets are laid out, kina like how a song is arranged.
I have heard you have an interesting writing process. Okay, tell us the magic that happens when using a dry erase board.
Well...ummm...I stole the idea from writer Amos Oz. A friend told me about his process and I liked it. Basically - and I am recalling a second hand antidote from a few years ago... and I don’t remember how the dry erase board fits in...so, grain of salt. Basically Oz talks about just showing up at his desk like a shopkeeper and maybe the customers - the writing, the characters, muses, inspiration...what have you - show up and maybe they don’t, but you are open in case they do. I like that. It works for me. I just show up - lately it has been kicking and screaming - but I show up. It’s not magical and sometimes it is a choir and I feel like a failure. And sometimes it is wonderful and I am genius. I just write a lot. That is my process.
Where is Harry and the Thief Playing next? How can readers get tickets?
Harry and the Thief just opened in Baltimore - produced by the Strand Theatre and Directed by Susan Stroupe.
It’s running till April 10th at the St. Mark's Lutheran Church, 1900 St. Paul Street, Baltimore. http://www.strand-theater.org/ For tickets!!!
Next stop [Insert Underground Railroad joke here.] for Harry will be New York City - Produced by The Habitat and Directed by Katie Lindsay.
It opens in May. www.thehabitattheater.com/upcoming For tickets and info!!!