Posted by on Aug 10, 2012 in On Writing: Craft and Commiseration, Polar Twilight | 0 comments

Writing

Writing (Photo credit: jjpacres)

After Three Oranges was published in the spring of last year, I started brainstorming ideas for other plays. Don’t get me wrong, I had three other plays in progress before the Playscripts version of Three Oranges went to print but none of them would appeal to that same high school demographic Oranges seems to be such a perpetual hit with. Two of the plays are adult dramas and the third, while it could well end up being teen friendly, is very experimental in nature and I wouldn’t want to pursue any publication options until I’d been able to workshop the show in productions for a while to make sure it, you know, worked.

Ever since I published Three Oranges, schools have been asking me for a sequel. And while I know what they mean (they want me to redo either another commedia dell ‘arte play or write a brand new play in the same faux commedia style that’s a straight sequel with the same characters) I couldn’t help but think that, until I have the chance to do all the research and work of tackling commedia again, some of these same fans probably wouldn’t say no to another school friendly comedy even if it wasn’t a rewrite.

So I was in brainstorming mode. In early summer, I was goofing around in the pool with my mother, just throwing out ludicrous ideas. This is something I do often, most usually with poor Long Suffering Husband. I just say whatever ridiculous things pop into my head just to see someone else’s reaction and sometimes I come up with my best ideas that way. This particular day, my mother and I were joking about mash-ups, trying to combine the most unlikely things we could think of.

I tossed out the idea of a vampire Christmas. And then, no, wait, what if Santa Claus himself was the vampire? Out of all the ridiculous things I’d been saying out, this was the first one I actually got excited about. I immediately started to think the idea through and the more I thought about it, the more I liked it. In fact, as happens in the final play, even after a few minutes of thinking about it, I could actually make a pretty good case for why Santa Claus being a vampire actually made a lot of sense, if you thought about it.

My mother shot it down. I pressed her on why because, while she’s usually an excellent judge of how good a story idea is, I was really into this idea and I didn’t want to toss it unless she could give me a really good reason. Firstly, she argued, no school would ever be able to perform such a play. It was a minefield for two reasons: it was a play specifically about Christmas when most schools are focusing on plays that celebrate all the winter holidays inclusively and it also simultaneously mocked some elements of Christmas in a way that would probably make Bill O’Reilly pop a blood vessel.

I saw her point. She was a teacher for many years before her retirement and my father was both a teacher and assistant principal. They’d both know better than I about the challenges teachers and administrators faced.

But, I persisted, schools aren’t the only people performing plays. OK, sure, I’d started out looking for a school-friendly idea but I was really starting to dig this concept and was willing to be flexible. I wasn’t convinced that the idea should be abandoned just because some schools would be wary.

My mother took her objections one level farther. The idea of making Santa Claus a vampire wasn’t just a hard sell to schools, it was a hard sell to ANYONE. It crossed into the realm of taboo and it became clear the more we discussed it that she had a real problem with the idea on almost a moral level. Combining Santa, one of the most wholesome images of childhood with something gruesome and dark just wasn’t a good idea as far as my mother was concerned.

But I still liked the idea so I tried it out on a variety of friends. Some, like my mother, had serious moral and (in some cases) religious objections. Others countered with reasonable considerations like, “But I thought vampires were a dead genre right now?” Still others, like my husband, gave me a look that said, albeit kindly, “Hillary, this is the dumbest idea you’ve ever had.”

So, I decided not to write it. But like so many ideas whose time has come, my brain didn’t actually shelve it when I told it to. Every few weeks, I’d throw my newest thought out to my husband who’d listen patiently but whose face told me he still thought it was a dumb idea. Many days even I thought it was too silly to attempt and there are moments when I feel that way even now.

After over half a year of trying not to write this play that everyone told me was a dumb idea, I finally said screw it and banged out a first draft over the holiday break. After letting it sit for a few weeks, I revisited that draft in January and started to give it to beta readers and start the final edits a bit after that. I sent it out to a few publishers at the very end of February (mostly because I was so sick of being sick with the whoop, I just wanted to feel like I’d accomplished SOMETHING) and it was sold and published by the end of July. The rest, as they say, is history.

But one of the most important moments in the history of this play happened when I’d finished that first draft and polished it enough that I was willing to give it to my first readers which, for this projects were Team Doubting Thomas: my mother and husband, all of whom I knew were not on board with this play at all. (I also sent it to my dad, but he was the control in this experiment: the only person who I hadn’t talked to about the play ahead of time.) When people speak of the terror of letting someone read their stuff for the first time I usually can’t relate because, by the time I let someone else read my stuff, I’m usually convinced that I’m on to something and just want their help in making it the best it can be. But this time I had NO idea what to expect. I was giving the people who were usually my biggest fans something they had basically tried to discourage me from writing.

To my surprise and delight, when my husband read the show, he loved it. Exuberantly. He was pacing around my office quoting my own play back to me. He wanted to see it on stage. Right now. Forget that, he wanted to be IN IT and was frantically trying to decide which part he most wanted to play.

My parents’ reaction was much calmer (they were in the middle of a high stakes game of RummiKub when I called) but they also loved it. But I thought it was sacrilegious and taboo? I asked my mother and she replied that the play wasn’t as bad as she’d pictured it in her head… instead it was cute. She actually referred to my horrifying Vampire Santa Claus as lovable. I started the next round of beta readers feeling pretty darn good about the play at this point since I’d won over the hardest critic of all.

I talked a little bit about this idea (of believing in an idea when no one else does) in this post, though I never mentioned the play by name: On trusting your gut… sometimes.

So there, as promised, is the story of how Polar Twilight came about. While the actual writing of the play really didn’t take very long, the longest part of the process was how long it took me to actually convince myself the show was worth writing no matter what anyone else said.

There’s more to talk about with this play, of course, such as “How the hell did you manage to get a publishing deal so freaking fast?” but this post is longer than I’d like so you’ll have to wait for more info on that aspect of the story. For now, are there any lingering questions on the writing of this play? Please feel free to leave them below and I’ll answer as best as I can.

And remember, you can read all but the last few pages of this play right now for free here.