SCOTTSDALE BLUES A Lenny Chapton Mystery
by Kerry Rose
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I was a senior at Trinity University in San Antonio. In those day Trinity had a graduate drama program at the Dallas Theater Center. I knew the Dallas Theater Center before then. As a high school student, I attended an adult playwriting class there, and some of the people I knew at Trinity went on to the Dallas Theater Center before I did. Somehow a one-act play of mine made it to the Dallas stage before I finished my senior year at Trinity. There was every reason in the world for me to be excited and nervous about that. I grew up in Irving Texas, very near to the Center, which meant almost certainly my parents and sisters could and would attend the production. (I’m not sure how many of my friends went.) There would also be there a reviewer from the “Saturday Review of Literature”; another reason for me to be nervous.
The set was wonderful, an actual wrecked car; the acting, professional. Congratulatory telegrams arrived and even maybe a rose. In other words, by then I had every imaginable reason from being distracted from what my real job was, as a playwright.
Don’t you know what your play is about?
Of course, I knew.
During the play, instead of focusing on the audience, I looked at the actors on the stage.
“Good job,” I said, and applauded.
I ignored the reaction of the audience. “But by and large they enjoyed the play.”
But knowing that was not good enough. I should’ve paid attention and seen at what point members of the audience leaned forward and when they slouched back in their chairs. When they dropped their jaws? Where in the script did they start to fidget, if they did? I couldn’t have told you. At no point did my excitement and nervousness allow me to pay attention to the details that would’ve helped me rewrite the piece.
But wasn’t the play completed? Didn’t it, after all, receive a professional production?
Sorry. I’m sorry I didn’t rewrite the play.
Three years later Paul Baker directed a full-length play of mine; again the production was at the Dallas Theater. This time I had a more direct relationship with the production because I could attend rehearsals. Of course, the same excitement and nervousness existed. That is the one thing that happens to playwrights during rehearsals and productions. Oh, how exciting. Nothing can be more exciting for a playwright than to see one’s own play on stage.
And did I focus on the audience during the run of that show? Honestly, I don’t know. I don’t remember. (By then I had had other plays professionally produced, other opening nights.)
But I do remember Mr. Baker calling me up to his office after the show closed. I’ll never forget what he told me. He said, “Ford, now you can write your play.” Now understand that he said this to me after the show supposedly had a successful run and was held over. Oh, my! What did I know? Nothing. Did I rewrite the play? No, no, instead my wife and I joined the Peace Corps.
Getting published was something that I thought was beyond my grasp. Publishers in Tucson are friends, but I’ve never approached them about publishing anything of mine. I thought I wasn’t good enough: maybe a fact, maybe not. I don’t know.
I have always thought, for a playwright, that in the theater having a play produced was more important than having it published and used that as an excuse. I find now that getting published is easy; anyone can do it and it costs nothing or next to nothing. Getting published then ceases to be important; it’s easy so why try? The answer to that question always comes back to the age-old struggle of making a living from a love and that struggle can now be expanded to include publishing on the Internet.
I had to go to the Internet. There are these blogs. There are short stories and a play or two I have posted on my website. In a library archive there are also copies of some of my plays. I have left a considerable amount of my work for my grandchildren. These are the best ways that I know to become known, and it is the only way I think I can get published. But it is still getting published, using the Internet, and it provides the discipline I need to write. This brings me back to my thesis that getting published is easy and anyone can do it.
Self- publishing provides the same outlet (it’s cheap but not free). I’ve looked at print-on- demand, readily available and cost efficient, no more garages filled with copies of the same book, and it doesn’t cost as much as it once did to be a published nonentity, starving, struggling, and disheartened. In this new world then, at the beginning of the Twenty-first Century, publishing, I think, has been turned upside down, and the biggest unknown to me now is: does this new reality open the floodgate for sloppy work or does it actually raise the writing-bar for everyone?
At home, in writing classes, and anywhere else, good writing comes from practice. And more practice. I remember trying to write a sentence when I didn’t know what a sentence was. A few years ago I couldn’t have written my last sentence without me painfully contorting my words as I tried to be “a writer.” Only by practicing have I been able to cut the crap, and I’m still not sure if this is a smooth sentence. Entering this brave world then, particularly at my age, I face the unknown with some trepidation (not out and out fear), but my prospects seem brighter than ever. (The truth is that I never much worried about it before. Honestly?)