Thursday, December 4, 2008

RSC Rocks Complete Works (Abridged) [Revised]

It's been a busy fall.  In addition to plugging away on my second novel, I finished up my adaptation of William Shakespeare's The Tempest for Starz Film Roman... now comes the long process of trying to get it actually made.  I am, as always, cautiously optimistic.

I also had the time-warping experience of joining current Reduced Shakespeare Company mavens Reed Martin and Austin Tichenor for rehearsals of The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged) [revised] in L.A. a couple of weeks ago. The updated text is based on the work original RSC founder Daniel Singer and I did on the script for a twentieth-anniversary West End run last summer.  A few tweaks were required to make the show US-friendly, and Reed, Austin and I took the opportunity to play with a few new gags and refinements as well.  The RSC is now up and running with the revised text at the Arsht Center for the Performing Arts in Miami. Check out the excellent review of the revised show in the Miami Herald.

For those of you in the US who have never seen an officially-sponsored, author-approved, Reduced Shakespeare Company performance of the show, this and the RSC tour coming next year is the one to see.

You might want to check out episode #104 of The Reduced Shakespeare Company Podcast.  It features an interview with yours truly about the whys and wherefores of the updated script.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Rallying Against Prop 8

I got up early on Saturday to make my way, via the Red Line, downtown for the rally in objection to Prop 8.  It was a hot, smoky day, and I looked forward to coming home and watching coverage of the extraordinary event on the news. Of course, there was no news but that of the devastating wildfires, which, incidentally, destroyed the family home of the man who made my wedding ring.

I only just realized the significance of that as I typed it. Before we got married, my wife and I arranged not to breed.  To some -- those who believe that the only legitimate purpose of marriage is to promote the getting of children by 1 man and 1 woman -- that would seem to disqualify us from have been granted a marriage license at all.

I hope the debate turns from boycotts against individual businesses and Mormons (you can find a lengthier discussion of my Last Word on this is on my restaurant blog, regarding El Coyote, here) and toward this larger, fundamental issue of equality and civil rights. As funny as some of the signs and as impassioned as some of the speeches from the podium were on Saturday, the single best summation of the issue was one I overheard on the subway on the way home.  A woman explained to a straight man who was conflicted about the issue: "On the ballot, the first words describing the Prop 8 were: Changes California Constitution to eliminate right of... I don't even need to read a single word farther to know that it's wrong."

Constitutions are made to guarantee rights, not eliminate them.

Okay... here are some of those funny signs (many of which traded on the conceit that chickens were voted more rights than gay people in the election.  Last snap courtesy

Thursday, November 13, 2008

El Coyote Boycott News

I was out of the office yesterday, and so was unable to report on yesterday's meeting between management of El Coyote and local members of the gay community upset about the revelation that a member of El Coyote's family ownership had made a personal, $100 donation to the Yes on Proposition 8 campaign.  I can be saved the time of describing the meeting blow by blow, as there is a factually correct account of it posted on

What the report fails to communicate is the level of upset among the El Coyote staff present.  Each and every one I spoke to was visibly shaken, some crying openly.  Each one stated clearly that although they disagree with Margie's personal position on the issue, that it is not the position of El Coyote as establishment or its management, so they do not understand the boycott.  They truly wish everyone could just get along, and allow individuals have their opinions without threatening the well-being of the entire establishment, a gathering place for a uniquely diverse community.  I tend to agree with that sentiment.

That said, it is not surprising that the meeting went the way it did, and it need not have done so.  One important element is missing from the reportage that helps explain why it turned ugly so quickly.  When Sam asked Margie if she would be willing to donate an equal or greater amount to Repeal Prop. 8, she deferred to management.  Management stated "We know Margie is so upset about this, and she would take back the donation if she could."

But when Sam pressed his question, Margie refused to donate a C-note to the opposite side, which would have effectively "taken back" the donation.  The deeds did not match the rhetoric.  I suspect that if Margie had agreed to do this, to put some meat into her apology, the issue would be dead.  But, sadly, it is not.

So... while I think the boycott is misguided, and its energy could be directed toward any number of larger, more complicit establishments, I understand and respect the anger and frustration of the community, and the need to make a visible protest of a visible target.

I had plans to dine at El Coyote tonight, at about 7:00... when the protest officially begins.  I will honor the protesters by not crossing that picket line.  But I will not boycott the restaurant before or after the protest.  The gay (and Other) staff, nearly all long-serving, dedicated employees, and truly wonderful people, depend on my dining dollars to feed their families.  Suggestions posted elsewhere that employees should "get other jobs" truly don't understand the nature of the restaurant: it is a family place in every sense, where owners, customers, and especially staff treat each other like family.  One might as well suggest these employees "get a new mother and father."

You may see me in El Coyote the next few days... you will also see me at the Repeal Prop. 8 rally at City Hall on Saturday.  I truly feel that's a more appropriate place to display our displeasure at the passage of Prop. 8.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

The Official Post-Election Post

I have put off an official Post Election Post until now.  There is so much to say, and so much already being said so well.  I feel the same sense of hope and wistfulness as Al Martinez expresses in his beautiful column from Monday's LA Times.  (Don't worry, despite his line about martinis and cigarettes, my heart is in no present danger.  But the poignancy of his dealing with hope during difficult  times is one I share.  But no matter how poignant Al's story is, nothing compares to the tear-jerking bittersweetness of the retired White House butler and his wife that appeared a few days ago.

In yesterday's LA Times Opinion section, there is a great piece: A vote too late for Obama.
It tells the story of a woman who decided not to vote, then, in the ensuing days of celebration and watching Obama conduct himself, felt like she might have missed out on a historic moment.

This echoes one personal story I'd like to share.

I have a friend who went through similar feelings.  A lifelong Republican in the financial services industry, he voted for Bush twice, and had come to regret it.  He was shocked at the choice of Sarah Palin.  He's moderate on social issues, but as are most in his business, suspicious of Obama's plan to soak the rich; the rich, he believes, are where jobs come from.  No new news there.  He respected and admired McCain, but was put off by his campaign tactics, and by his party's shift to extreme right-wing social conservatism: reproductive rights, Creationism, all that.  He talked with me extensively about Obama, and my take on the election.  We debated, and agreed a lot about what ails the country and how to fix it.  Roads.  Health care.  Education.  A sensible foreign policy that doesn't support dictators.

And he called me the day before the election.  He was, to my amzement, still undecided, and we talked some more.  He wanted me to reassure him that if Obama was elected, and his economic advisors came to him and said that raising the capital gains tax was a bad idea for the economy, he'd listen.  I told him I couldn't guarantee anything.  That there are a lot of unreasonable hopes being placed on this one talented, inspiring but very skinny fellow. But that I believe Obama is, if he is anything, a good listener, and not and ideologue.

After we hung up, I sent him one last e-mail.  "I think that Obama," I said, "is gonna win.  It's going to be historic.  And I think you're going to want to be able to tell your grandchildren you were a part of it."

I got a call from my friend the day after election day.  He told me that he went and talked with his own mother about which way to vote on election eve.  They talked for half an hour about Obama vs. McCain.  They seriously discussed leaving that section of the ballot blank.

At last, he said, he voted for McCain.

But when he saw his mother the next day, after Obama had won, he asked her, "aren't you just a little bit relieved, that it turned out this way?"  And she agreed that she was.

My friend and I agreed that it's time for reasonable people to move on.  He told me that it's like a football team... the QB you want to start the next game because he throws you a lot of passes isn't starting, it's the other guy.  You still go out and work as hard as you can for the team.  I agreed.  I told him I would do the same thing if McCain had won (unlike some of my friends who threatened to really, this time, leave the country if a Republican took the White House).  We thanked each other for offering our perspectives on our nation in a civil and forward-looking way.

It is this spirit of unity, even more than Barack's oratory, thoughtfulness, and intellect, that give me hope for the next administration.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Politics Meets Food -- The El Coyote Boycott

My novel, MY NAME IS WILL, is a cautionary tale about the danger of mixing politics and religion. I gave our friend Margie, the niece of the owners of El Coyote, a copy last week, but I doubt she's read it yet. Now she's learning the lesson the hard way.

Margie appeared on a list of donors to the Yes on Prop. 8 campaign, which has led to calls for a boycott. Now as you know, I spend a lot of time at El Coyote, and I've spent some time here defending its kitchen. I'm going to spend a little more time defending it against a boycott.

Margie is variously described as the owner or the manager of the restaurant in various blogs and e-mails currently making their way around the 'net. My understanding is, she's possibly in line to take over someday; currently just an employee. When questions come up about the menu, or prices, or my and others longstanding request for some seafood, any seafood, she invariably refers us to the managers, Billy or Bobby. Billy and Bobby are both gay. In fact, I'd guess (with my fairly accurate straight man's gaydar) that a solid majority of the staff of the restaurant is gay. On any given night, particularly a Thursday (which has become an unofficial "gay night" -- always amusing when I sometimes go there with Kent while Sa's at her belly dance class!) a majority of the clientele is likely to be gay as well.

I'm sure she's not going to need to hear from me about the mistake I think she made donating $100 of her own money -- and listing her place of work as "El Coyote Cafe" -- when I go there tomorrow or Thursday for dinner. But I hope that the boycott call doesn't hurt their business. Some of the wages that her family pays to all those gay employees no doubt made its way into the No on 8 coffers. And I'd hate to take money out of the bank accounts and tip-takings of Billy and Bobby and Roberto and Jose and all of our other gay friends there, just because another employee (however closely related to the owners) prefers to donate differently.

We've talked with Margie quite a bit. She's the nice, tall, willowy lady who comes around with ice water and asks how you're doing. We talk about movies, current events, and, yes, politics. She's a Republican. So is almost half the country, and about four in ten Californians. She's also a lifelong Mormon (is there any other kind?). She was very excited about my book, and asked for a signed copy; I warned her it might be a little "racy" for her taste, but she wanted it anyway.

Perhaps when she reads the book, she'll get some reinforcement of the concept that toeing a church line on political issues is a slippery slope. But I think maybe she's already gotten that. From an apology letter posted online at shutupIknow, where there is some heated discussion of the issue:







Was Margie on the wrong side of this issue? I think so. Does the restaurant where she works deserve to be boycotted for it? I don't think so, but if you do, I'd at least go hear her out before deciding.

I leave you with a photo of one of the clearly-oppressed staff of El Coyote a couple of Halloweens ago. That's Roberto, affectionately known as Betty...

Friday, November 7, 2008

The First Press Conference

I watched it with trepidation, excitement, and a critical mind.  Would the dude I've been shilling for the past eight months handle himself as well as I hoped he would?

I watched the Dow ticker on CNN go from 200 to 100 as he spoke about middle class tax relief.  Then watched it go back up to the high 100s when he talked about bailing out US automakers.  No surprise there.

I did think he made one wince-worthy misstep, when he made a joke about talking to dead presidents via seance, a la Nancy Reagan.  Mind you, I thought of the same joke before he made it, and I too conflated the Hillary stories with the Nancy stories. 

And yet, Obama apologized within hours.  Need we note: he's already admitting he made his first mistake, when Dubya's still trying to think of one of his.

Meanwhile, Sarah Palin's calling people who reported her own faux pas "cowards and jerks."  So far, sooo predictable.

Monday, November 3, 2008

DC Recap

My trip to DC was a whirlwind.  Quite literally, as it was one of those "you-shoulda-been-here-last-week, it was beautiful" trips.  It was cold.  Freaking cold.  And whirlwindy.  Little dust devils of fall leaves everywhere.

I arrive on Friday night and take a taxi to the hotel.  Ten bucks.  A nice change after all the $40-50 LA and NY cab fares I've racked up on the book tour.  The Capitol Suites, a block or two from the Folger, the Supreme Court, the Capitol.  Unfortunately, I got in late.  Like, 10:30.  No bar or restaurant at the hotel as it was a long-term stay type place, so I asked about restaurants.  Was told, up to Pennsylvania Avenue, turn right.  Jokes about "I've had enough of the right on Pennsylvania Ave." flood through my mind.  Well, Pennsylvania Ave. SW on a Sunday night at 10:50 pm is like downtown LA used to be before its Renaissance.  Nothing like those bars where they made deals on West Wing.  Absolutely nobody there, but a few homeless, and a very few skanky bars with skanky clientele.  I finally found one place (which shall remain nameless) that would reluctantly serve me a cheeseburger.  A local, first thing when I walk in, insults my jacket.  If you know me, you know that insulting my jacket (I have a bigger collection than anyone who lives in SoCal has a right owning) will put me off the establishment away.  I actually walk out, only to find NO other food for blocks.   I come back, tail between my legs, have that cheeseburger.  I'm sure it had been spat on, but I was starving.  It sucked.  Okay, it was called the "Tune Inn."

I take an Ambien to counteract the time lag, but still don't fall asleep til 3.  Next day I wake up at noon, shower, and get a lovely breakfast from Le Bon Cafe next door.  This place is excellent, by the way.  Great coffee, great pastries, nice little cafe vibe.  It's raining, and I haven't brought any rain gear. (72 degrees, mostly sunny!) has failed me again.

I go to the Folger.  It's deserted, in the rain on a Monday a week before the election.  I walk in to find an empty Folger, just one woman talking to the stage door guard.  I tell the guard my name, that I'm reading there tonight.  He says to the woman, "clearly you should talk to him."  She's a reporter from All Things Considered, getting people to read the witches scene from Macbeth.  He declines, but I accept.  You can hear the result here.  meet my contact, she shows me around.  The theater has a nice setup for "Henry IV P. I," and I'll be reading from a podium on the stage. 

It looks fantastic.  I meet Betsy Walsh, who will take me for a tour of the place.  It's stunning if you've never been.  The most extraordinary collection of Shakespeareana in the world.  Bizarre that it's in D.C., though; an Elizabethan building wrapped in a neoclassical shell.  I have an English friend who is very angry indeed that all their stuff is here.  But that, I say, is how empires roll.  I do not mention the Elgin Marbles.

The best part is the vault tour.  I have some other pics, but I promised not to publish 'em!) Two stories down, behind the vault door, there are their special collection stacks.  They have, count 'em, 79 copies of the 1623 First Folio.  Since these go for anywhere from 2 to 6 million a copy, depending on their condition, this is one pricey pile of old books.  They have one out on display, for those who are allowed in the inner sanctum (me!  Nyah nyah!) to fondle.  I fondle it.  It's a very nice copy, probably closer to six mil than two.  I look at my favorite bits.  She points out fun publishing arcana to me.

I also see other things of note: A first-English-edition Don Quixote.  The only known quarto copy of Titus Andronicus.  Queen Elizabeth I's very own Bible. (yes, hers... it's in a sumptuous, very old binding, with the ER seal on the front). The famous Edward de Vere bible with his notations and markings. (This is one of the pieces of evidence that Oxfordians use... "many of his highlighted passages appear in Shakespeare's works!"  Guess what, I've seen it now and DeVere highlighted, like, every other verse, and most of the famous ones, for large swaths of the Good Book. It would be nearly impossible for these NOT to appear in Shakespeare's works.)  There were also original copies of several of the book that in my novel, William's friend Richard Field brings from London, including a copy of Anthony Munday's anti-Catholic screed with the long title.  I notice that it had quill-pen margin notes that looked contemporary.  I wondered whose they were... she said she'd try to find out. This was, seriously, the most fun I've had looking at books on shelves, ever.

I go back to the hotel and work on my presentation for a bit.  It's a prestigious gig, and I don't want to suck in any way.  I arrive at the librar at 7:00.  It looks deserted.  It's raining outside, and miserable.  Anyone who's ever done a book tour knows this feeling.  It's one of those readings where no one is going to show up.  I wait in the Founder's room, under the debunked Ashbourne Portrait of "Shakespeare." 

I'm going over my notes, when my handler comes in and says, ready to go?  It's exactly 7:30, and these things never start on time.  "Are we going to another room?" I ask, and she says "yes, we're going to another room."  My handler is 7 months pregnant, and a little fuzzy.  I guess she thought I mean, am I doing the reading in here, because when I grab my tea and my splayed out notes, she leads me directly into the theater... where there are about a hundred people waiting!

This is a good turnout for readings, trust me.

I begin my shtick... much revised, this time, so I have no idea how it'll go.  I begin theatrically, saying nothing but opening to page one of the book and reading the first three paragraphs.  "Elizabeth I's left tit" and "boner" both get big laughs, and when I stuffily say "good evening and welcome to the Folger Library," that gets a laugh too.

The whole thing goes great.  People are engaged, laughing, nodding.  I read, and lecture, and because it's DC I've skewed the whole thing towards politics.  My digs on McCain and REagan get mostly cheers, some friendly boos.  That's good.  My references to Guantanmo and torture... a little chilling.  I open up to Q&A and the questions are smart and and engaging.  I get asked about the best Mexican restaurant in LA, and "Why do the Angels suck?"  "Because they're from Orange County," I reply.  More cheers and boos.

At then end of Q&A, I say, I don't usually do this, but since it's the last night of the tour... I will attempt to break the world's record for the fastest solo performance of Hamlet.  There's a great set for Hnery IV, with a cool thrust, so I use that.  I get a guy in the audience to time me.  Of course I break the record, to much applause.  No boos.  But then I realize aloud, damn, I skipped Ophleia's drowning scene.  So I take the water glass from the lectern, throw it in my own face, and melt.  Yes, I improv-ed a new encore, on the spot.

I sell a couple dozen books in the foyer afterwards, a nice, healthy line, all full of people I don't know who have already paid $12 for the evening.  In short, it went really well, and they want me back "anytime."

The next day, I woke early and walked, in a bitter cold, windy, nasty day, from my hotel near the Folger down the Mall from the Capitol Building -- which was a construction zone, they're already building the dais for Inauguration Day -- the Lincoln, Jefferson and FDR memorials.  The Jefferson Memorial was inspiring.  The FDR monument is highly underrated, a beautiful series of waterfalls and courtyards, each representing one of his four terms.  The sculpture of the soup line from his second term is stunning.

At the Lincoln Memorial, I made a wish for our friend Mackey with a penny he gave me, and tossed it into the reflecting pool.

Then across the Potomac to Arlington Cemetery, which I was curious to visit after reading Connie Willis's <a href="">Lincoln's Dreams</a><img src="" width="1" height="1" border="0" alt="" style="border:none !important; margin:0px !important;" />

After five miles, I came away with chapped lips and, yes it's true, a renewed love of country. Washington's a bit stolid for my taste, all that marble, but hey, I could make Scalia jokes a half block from where he dispenses "justice" without getting arrested, and that's encouraging. And there is nothing to humble you like a twenty foot statue of, and the extraordinary mind of, Thomas Jefferson.

The last thing I did was to cozy up to the bar at the Capital Grille, where those West Wing deals were all being made.  I had a half dozen delightful Blue Point oysters, talked hockey with the guy next to me, had a bowl of chowder before heading to Reagan National Airport.  (YCK)

My trip to DC went very, very well.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Wish Tree

With Tuesday approaching, I find myself engaged in a lot of wishing and hoping, most of it on a fairly large scale.  Here are some wishes, many on a much smaller scale, that gave me a much-needed laugh, and a few sad sighs.  Peace and chocolate, indeed.

Friday, October 31, 2008


It was George Orwell (not LaVar Burton) who first said "all literature is political," and I believe that.  For those who missed it, MY NAME IS WILL is, at its largest political level, about the dangers of aligning political and religious power. That's why stuff like this scares the bejeezus out of me.

I couldn't help thinking of this prominently displayed, marble-eternalized quote in the Jefferson Memorial.  It's from Virginia's 1777 "Bill for Establishing Religious Freedom," upon which the First Amemedment freedom of religion clause was based.

"No man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship or ministry or shall otherwise suffer on account of his religious opinions or belief, but all men shall be free to profess and by argument to maintain, their opinions in matters of religion."

Throw that at your rightwing neighbor, and ask 'em if they support atheists as loudly as they support guns.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Happy To Be On Blogger

Although I love Rapidweaver for website creation, I had a hell of time with its blog function, and therefore my blog was entirely non-functional for most of my summer tour for MY NAME IS WILL: A Novel of Sex Drugs and Shakespeare.  Quelle dommage!  So I've switched to Blogger, which has happily hosted LA Food Crazy for years.  Now that I'm hunkered down at home, working on my next book, I plan to post here as often as humanly possible.  Generally, directly after reading the morning newspaper, when I'm still really mad about stuff and all full of opinions and espresso.   It'll also be easy to post from The Road when I hit it.

But first, I will be importing over old posts from

Hope to see you here, often!

Sunday, September 14, 2008

The Hot Chick and Other Republicanisms

Thanks to their handy convention, I think I've nearly got Republican ideology figured out.


Getting paid to serve your country is good, but getting paid to serve your community is bad. Government is bad when it tells you what to do about your tires, but good when it tells you what to do about your womb. Going to Iraq (or Vietnam) as a warrior, risking life and limb to serve God and country, is good; but risking life or limb to serve the truth as a journalist... wait, gimme a second... yeah, you're part of the left-wing mainstream media, so that's bad. Investing in alternative fuels because of global warming is bad, but seeking alternative fuels to achieve independence from evildoers is good. And drilling for oil is always really, really, REALLY good, but taxing oil company profits is always really, really, REALLY bad... and Dick Cheney had nothing to do with this message!

I just have just one remaining question: what does "moral equivalency" mean?

Monday, July 21, 2008

LA Times Reviews My Name Is Will

If you haven't read your Sunday (7/20) Los Angeles Times Book Review, don't recycle it yet. In a glowing review, Donna Seaman calls MY NAME IS WILL "hilarious," "fascinating," and "a celebration of the power of language and story," among other very nice things.

The New York Times picked WILL for their summer reading list, and The New York Times Book Review will run a full page review this coming Sunday (7/27): I've seen it... it's a little snarky about my cartoon credentials and bawdy wordplay, but it's a lively piece about the book: "A lusty, pun-drunk first novel... where there's a Will, there's a way." Look for it online or on newsstands this weekend.

And my attempt to set the World's Record for "Most Shakespeare Plays Performed Solo in a Single Day in Brooklyn" received lots of press, from The New Yorker magazine to YouTube; I highly recommend this great article and podcast about the event in The Brooklyn Paper.

There's also a nice feature in Sunday's Santa Cruz Sentinel.

For all the latest, including much more news, more reviews, announcements about upcoming radio interviews on NPR, tour dates for San Diego, the Bay Area, and Seattle, etc., hop on over to

Finally, check out my new online store, where you can purchase some cool merchandise, including exclusive MY NAME IS WILL tour t-shirts.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Mushrooms In The News

Some of the news this week threatened to throw me into the holiday weekend on bit of a downer. First there's the "Obama Running To The Center" news cycle. It was to be expected, but during the heady days of primary Obamamania I and much of his liberal base conveniently forgot little things like his support (albeit limited) of the death penalty and his, shall we say, "nuanced" take on gun control. I was headed toward despair when he came out in favor of Bush's faith-based initiatives plan, but it only took a visit to BlySpace to settle my nerves.

Then there was the
LA Times piece on the lawsuit between the Tolkien estate and the recently-deceased New Line Cinema. I'm not a huge fan of the Tolkien estate (J.R.R. explicitly created Middle Earth for other writers and artists to use as a mythology, but his son Christopher has stingily kept the names, places, and tales strictly guarded for his own painfully pedantic purposes), but for them to have not received a penny of the billions of dollars raked in by the film trilogy is... well, there's no adjective big enough to describe the injustice. (I find it telling that, although a picture of the Professor appeared in the print edition, Tolkien remains anonymous in the online edition; presumably Elijah Wood makes for a sexier page.) As both a former producer myself and a playwright and screenwriter who's worked with some skanky money men, it never to ceases to amaze me how rare it is to find a producer who truly respects the writer. Many give lip service; few put their money where their lips are. I'm glad to say that my experience the publishing industry is a breath of fresh air. My agent Ellen Levine at Trident and editor Cary Goldstein and publisher Jonathan Karp at Twelve Books all define the word "integrity."

Speaking of integrity... I'm thrilled to note that my good friend and great comedian/raconteur Nick Revell has begun regular
blogging for The Huffington Post. Think Jon Stewart about to start a pub brawl through sheer intelligence. This is a very good thing for the world.

Finally, I've had a couple of friends point me to a
recent story about the long-term therapeutic effects of magic mushrooms. This comes as no surprise; it merely backs up the very real research that my fictionalized Timothy Leary spouts in MY NAME IS WILL.

That little tidbit heads me into the holiday -- and my book launch next week -- on a happy note. Have a safe and celebratory Independence Day weekend!

Friday, April 25, 2008

Blogs, Hers and Mine

I'm also thrilled to report that favorite political blogger is back online. For progressive political opinion with a suburban punk rock mom edge, there's no better place on the web than Bly Space. I'm proud to say that my anonymous-lest-she-become-the-victim-of-a-vast-right-wing-conspiracy (does anybody really deny that they exist?) has inspired me to blog again, and I hope vice versa.

Speaking of politics, I might as well link here to an op-ed piece I wrote in the LA Times a few weeks ago. It was actually written to run on Shakespeare's Birthday (April 23), the day after the Pennsylvania primary, but the Times wanted to run it right away. It'll make more sense when you know that.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

The Write Tool For the Job

font face="sans-serif">I want to proselytize a bit about a piece of software. Sometimes, software truly opens a door in the mind, makes you do something you couldn't or wouldn't do before. I only became a writer when I got my first Macintosh with Word 2.0 installed; I can't imagine writing, as both of my writer parents did, with ribbon, ink, and carbon paper. I didn't know I could, or wanted to, learn to play the piano and write a song or two before GarageBand came out, or process my own photo images before Photoshop. Software can change the paradigm.

Such a piece of software is Scrivener, a dedicated writing application that is as far beyond Microsoft Word as Word is beyond the wax tablet and chisel. Designed for writers by a writer, it works the way a writer thinks. The features are so many and so different from paragraph-and-page based word processing apps that it's hard to describe here. Scrivener assembles your work as a "project" with an iTunes-like sidebar organizing the project into different folders and documents. There are default folders depending on the type of project template, but these are entirely customizable. The current novel I'm working on, for example, I've divided into Book One, Book Two, and Book Three, with separate folders for each chapter and separate documents for each scene. There is also a folder for "research," which is a boon: you can drag and drop nearly any image, jpeg, pdf, website, or document that you might refer to, and have it at your fingertips right in the same program. A split-screen feature lets you view, say, a Google Maps street-level image of the streets your character is navigating in one half your screen, while writing in the other. The text editor doesn't really care about "pages" or other formatting until you wish to print or export to another program, at which point it offers all sorts of handy options like converting all m dashes to double dashes, or italics to underlines, entering hash marks to divide scenes, replacing double spaces after sentences with single spaces, and the like. This is liberating, as it keeps you focused on cranking out pages instead of whether the margins are lining up prettily.

You can view your project several different ways. The "Full Screen" view takes just the chunk you're working on and blacks out everything else on your computer, giving you a completely distraction-free writing space. The chunks of your project can also be viewed in either "Corkboard" mode -- a virtual pin-up environment (you can even color code the pushpins to represent different types of, or drafts of, your work) and an "Outline" mode that's better than all but the most dedicated stand-alone outlining programs. And this is the best part... move a chunk of your project in Outline view, or the Corkboard, or in your folder structure in the sidebar, and it moves in your text document, too... and vice versa. Anyone who's spent a day revising an outline to match what was actually written before being able to continue working knows this is a boon. I also love the "statistics" feature, a floating window that not only tells you your word count but lets you set targets, both daily and overall: 80,000 words for a novel say, and 1000 words for daily output, and gives you a status bar to let you know how you're doing. There is so much more: keywords that let you easily track characters or themes, highlighting features, annotations, a killer versioning tool that lets you quickly take a "snapshot" of your current version before embarking on a dubious "what if" scenario, screenplay commands based on Final Draft, autosaves practically every millisecond so you never lose work... too much to list here.

On the tiny downside, the export options can be a little daunting, and there is a bit of a learning curve because it's so different from other word processors. But if you're a writer you owe it to yourself to check it out. After all, you had to learn to throw away the wax table and chisel when you bought a word processor, too.

There's a terrific demo video on their website. The free demo version is fully-functional, allowing thirty launches before requiring you to buy a license... $39.95 for as many machines as you use. Hell, you might have your novel done after 30 launches.<