Wednesday, July 18, 2012

The Marathon Month - Part One

I apologize for being offline again for a while there, but July has definitely been a marathon month for me, even before I went to the marathon.

The first week of July was relatively easy, except for a small problem I'd noticed cropping up.  The main database (and some of the ancillary databases) had...well...blown up.  I still don't know what happened, but suffice it to say, a report that was taking 5 seconds longer every week suddenly jumped to 20 minutes longer, then 40 minutes.

On the upside, my mother was in town, and she plied me with breakfast, lunch and dinner almost every day.  There was some bad stuff that happened when she was down (her wallet stolen), but some pretty good stuff too (every penny of the stolen money was returned by the bank before the end of the week - including the thief's ATM charges!), and handmade French toast makes any bad day better. And, on the day of her birthday, I took her out to watch Brave, and then we went out for dessert.  I just realized right this minute that I have a candle in my purse that I could have used.  I don't know why I have a candle in my purse.  I just do.

Which brings us to the second week of July.  My mother had gone out to the Eastern Townships to visit family, while I, lucky old me, got to work on rebuilding the database from the ground up.  Understand, this is no small feat:  it took 60 days to build it in the beginning, and this time around, I had to fix it and improve it at the same time - to say nothing of the ancilliary "feeder" databases I had to repair and upgrade at the same time.  And I had three days to rebuild it from the ground up.

So, in 30 hours between Sunday evening and Tuesday afternoon, I rebuilt more formulae than I care to remember, on minimal sleep, with testing completed and many successful conversions.

It was a three day work-week, that's why the push.  I was due in a car Thursday morning, packed and fueled.  And all of my mothly and weekly reports were due before I left.

So you can imagine, I'd already put in a stupidly busy, frustrating and tiresome week, and all that on minimal sleep (averaging 4-6 hours every night but Wednesday).  I was already in marathon mode before I'd even gotten in the car.  And boy, was I glad my mother was in the car with me.

Oh - and the Wednesday night, once that last report had gone out, I shut down the computer, and between my mother and I, we started the process of a) making the apartment ready for company and b) printing off materials for the next day.  That process continued into the Thursday morning, in preparation for Brendan Gallagher's arrival.  No, not the hockey guy.  Mady's son.  By the way, B - awesome job, seriously.  You even washed dishes that you hadn't dirtied.  Above and beyond the call of duty there, bud.

Thursday afternoon, we left an hour behind schedule, but with enough time that we could drive at a comfortable (and legal) speed.  And as soon as we were in the car, I was a giddy, chatty basket case, because the fun was just about to begin.

I'd first had idea for the "Thursday Thing" shortly after hooking up with some high school and work friends of mine by Facebook.  My time in town was limited, and I wanted to catch up with friends new, old and really really old, so I thought, hey why not meet up with them all at the same time in the same place?

My mother and I chatted about it, and we decided it would be a cool idea to turn the coffee klatsch into a fundraising event, and she would invite some of her friends and family too.  My mother also suggested that I read something.  I insisted that I couldn't do it because I didn't have anything officially published.  And I couldn't very well do a book launch for the story I hadn't even written yet, now could I?

And then I thought, "I mean, I only have radio plays published."

And then I thought, "Well, that would be boring, and tiring, if only one person read all the parts."

And then I looked at the guest list, and grinned like Snidely Whiplash.  It's probably the first and last time I'll have known my audience so well, in advance.

Also, thanks to Tobin Elliott for making the reservations for us.  They gave us a table with 8 seats.  We needed 14.  How AWESOME is that?  I have a hard time getting 14 people out to an event with established authors.

So, then we all ordered our coffees and our snacks and sat down, and that's when I sprang the surprise on them.

What I said was that, during the marathon, I was going to write about characters I'd first conceived of back in 1992 - a twenty year old story idea - and what had inspired that:  Orson Welles being the unknown voice of the Shadow, an era in which The War of the Worlds inspired panic in some highly imaginative listeners, and so forth.  Most of the guests there had heard of radio plays, so they knew what I was talking about, so that made the introduction pretty darned easy.

Then...I asked for volunteers.

We needed seven actors, most of whom played dual roles.  Sean Stafford, the husband of my colleague Tracey Webster, took two of the most important roles (hapless robber Red, and scatter-brained genius Dr. Bairns); Tobin Elliott played the part of Flynn, Captain of Police (and a taxi driver); Gary Whitbourn played the main role of Sheldon Webb; Norma Jean Thibodeau played opposite him as Miss Linda Vie Kaine; Tracey Webster played Kaine's secretary Francine, and "Woman getting into cab"; and fellow marathoner Sandra Clarke picked up the role of "Announcer" and "Man getting into cab".  I had the odd pleasure of playing the bad guy, Mad Matty Brown - who turns out to be far more insidious in the book than in the play.

See, I didn't tell them about the Fog of Dockside City, about his character, about his history, nothing.  It was revealed during the reading.  No one had any idea of what to expect, and no one had read the script in advance.

I had goosebumps, which I'm sure is appropriate for a "cold reading".  But I can't tell you how amazing it was to hear voices come to life outside my head for a change.  I can't tell you how freakishly cool it was to hear people - who had never read the script before - reading the characters so faithfully to the way I had imagined them.

And because the others at the table were given scripts so that they could follow along, there was no need to strain to hear each other.  They could follow along - even adding sound effects, music and shrieks where applicable.

Fortunately (and unfortunately) the cafe was deserted except for us and the staff, so we could get a litte hammy without any risk of embarrasment.

It's amazing what more you learn when you hear a radio play, compared to what you learn by listening.  I'd already known about having contrasting characters and voices; I'd known about having easy to pronounce names.  But what I think doesn't always match with practical reality.  During a cold reading without any introductinos, "BAIRNS" gets read as "Barns", "Bains" and "Bairns" at random (and I lost count of how many times I'd written "BRAINS" during the first draft).  So I changed his name in the book:  the nutty doctor is now called "Zanx", which is about as distinct and easy to pronounce as any name I've ever made up.

And it's amazing what more you can put in.  Sean played as much of his role on script as off.  Seriously, if he doesn't go looking for some way of capitalizing on his radio-voice, I'll go back to the Durham Region and kick him in the bum.  One of his killer ad libs was the ironic death-scene exclamation, "How interesting!"  It worked so well with the character that, darn it, that line is now in the book, and I'll defend keeping it there.

Anyhow, fun was had by all.  I had a ripsnorting blast, I really did.  And I was so inspired and excited - first this, and then the marathon the next day? - I didn't sleep more than 90 minutes Thursday night.

So, with the exception of Wednesday night, I had not had a full night of sleep since the first week of July, and I was headed up to the Muskoka Novel Marathon.

I was about to find out just how little sleep the body needed to survive, and just how badly sleep is needed.

But that's for part two.

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