Q: First, thank you for taking the time to answer a few questions regarding what you do.
A: Glad to do it. Anything to keep me from doing what I do.
Q: "Stop him before he writes again," that sort of thing?
A: Well, who was it? Dorothy Parker, I think.
Q: Who did what?
A: Yeah, she wrote, "I hate to write but I love having written." That's pretty much how I feel about it.
Q: How did you choose this particular branch of writing, playwriting, as opposed to, say, novels or short stories?
A: I discovered early on that I was better at dialogue than descriptive. I can "hear" characters talk in my head. It's VERY hard to hear exposition.
Q: I see. What about—
A: (Interrupting) Or sometimes I can "see" something on a stage somewhere. A scene suddenly presents itself in my head.
Q: That must be a bit awkward.
A: Only when I'm driving. My wife will send me to the store and say, "For heaven's sake, don't think!" I guess I DO add a bit of exposition along the way. In my writing, I mean, not in the car.
Q: I was just about to ask—
A: (Interrupting again) In parentheses, right after the character's name, I sometimes add in how I picture the line delivered. I look at it this way: this ostensibly will be the last shot I will get at the script. So, I should put into the play everything, every idea I have concerning it and how it should play out. This is especially crucial regarding the pace of the piece.
Q: Did you ever take any classes in writing?
A: No, but I did major in drama in college, which helped me tremendously with my writing, although I didn't realize it at the time. I don't know if they still do this but back then, when the earth was still cooling, when you took drama you had to work all sorts of areas. We learned lighting, costumes, building sets, running shows and like that.
Q: How did this help your writing?
A: Now, whenever I write I remember those days "behind the scenes." Now, I stop and think "Do we really need a scene change here?" or "Does that character have enough time for a costume change?" Like that.
Q: How do you edit your work?
A: This starts usually from the very beginning. I treat writing as any other job—get in on a certain time, try for a certain output, quit at a certain time, that kind of thing. And after the first day's work—
Q: (Interrupting) How many pages a day do you try to write?
A: Five pages a day...when I can. Not a hard and fast rule there but I try. Anyway, on the second day, I read through the first day's work and edit as I go along. Then work that day. Then on the third day, read and edit the second day's work and so on. Then, when I've finished the first draft, go back and edit it as a whole piece. You really learn about your play, mostly, from the second act.
Q: Do you work from any sort of outline?
A: No, that doesn't work for me. Sometimes I MAY know how the play will end but that is the exception, not the rule.
Q: Sort of like painting yourself in a corner?
A: That's it exactly. That, to me, is a GREAT device. You create an impossible situation and then have to work to get out of it.
Q: How do you write?
A: (Holds up his right hand) See these? These are called fingers.
Q: Let me rephrase that.
A: Learned that my second year in college.
Q: I mean do you put on music in the background while you write? Or not have any music playing? Do you have specific "working" clothes? Do you only work in the mornings? Do you work from other sources?
A: Whatever it takes to get me to write, I do it.
Q: How "married" to a play do you become? In other words, how protective are you regarding your words?
A: Just my opinion here but in this kind of writing, invariably it will get changed. Sometimes by the editors and sometimes later by a production company. I call this "tailoring a play to fit your market." For instance, a church group may want to change some of the wording or a high school may change the gender of a characer. To me, this is perfectly acceptable. It comes with the territory.
Q: Do you consider yourself an artist?
A: No, not even close. If I were to sit down at my computer and think I was following in the footsteps of, say, O'Neill or Williams or Kaufman I would never write a word. The pressure would be WAY too much for this old country boy. However, if I say I'm going to write about two hours of entertainment, I'm off and running.
Q: Have fun with it?
A: That's it exactly. I write stuff that I, myself, would enjoy seeing.
Q: You say that you write every day—
A: I try to write five days a week, unless under a deadline.
Q: What if you don't have an idea?
A: Write until you get one. Writing is the sincerest form of schizophrenia. I will start with a group of characters and "let them talk." Just sort of... take off.
Q: But you MUST have SOME idea where it's going, don't you?
A: That's where mood comes in. Something, say a television show or a tune, may set you into a certain frame of mind—you go with that.
Q: What's your favorite sort of writing?
A: Comedies. Also, I've discovered I LOVE writing ensemble pieces—groups of people tickle me no end. Especially committees! I hate sitting on a committee but love writing them. Great sources for interplay, conflict, characterization and eccentricity there.
Q: What's the hardest part of writing for you?
A: Uhhh...depends on the play. Usually, it's the opening. I try to catch the audience's attention with a different sort of opening, a real eye-opener! Then, of course, I have to top it. Which brings us back to that 'painting yourself into a corner' thingie.
A: That's the technical jargon. You use this thingie to get you to that thingie, like that.
Q: I see. What advice would you give someone who's just starting out?
A: You want to write? Write! I know people are always saying there're thousands of plays out there and how can somebody come up with something new. I always tell a writer that nobody can write a play just the way YOU can. Nobody can tell a story exactly the same way you can. It's your story, tell it your way. You never know unless you try.
Q: What "perks" do you get from writing?
A: It gives you a great excuse to wear old clothes and talk to yourself.
Q: Obviously getting that first play published is quite a challenge.
Q: Outside of that, what's the second hardest thingie?
A: Getting your SECOND play published. My best advice would be to keep working. Finish one script and get back to work on a new one. This can work to your advantage.
Q: How so?
A: If you hear from a publisher. If they buy the script, you figure you're doing SOMEthing right. Or if they turn it down, you figure, "Wait until they see the new one!"
Q: finally, is there anything else you would like say to someone who's just getting started?
A: There's a wonderful story I always remember, or try to, anyway. Two people are about to speak at this writer's group. The first one, a professor, has all these notes and books and a prepared speech while the second one, an old editor, has no notes, nothing at all. The editor is the first one up to the podium. He looks out at his audience and says, "First, you write it. Then you edit it. Then you title it. Then you send it off." With that he returns to his seat. Next up is the professor. He looks over his notes and turns to the audience. "The guy in front of me said everything I was going to say," he states and sits down. That's what I would say. I would add to KEEP writing, KEEP editing and KEEP sending it off. If you believe in it, act on that. And believe me, if I can do it, anyone can.