Lois Paige Simenson | A Playwright’s Journey

When I retired from my day job, I resolved to be a writer.
A real one. You know, one that actually writes and publishes. Not a
pseudo-writer like I used to be, all talk and no action.

I read every how-to blog, book, and snippet until I
confused myself into a fetal position.
“Go to the 2015 Kachemak Bay Writers’ Conference,” someone
advised. So I did. I armed myself with information, motivation, and the inspiration
to take off like a rocket and write. And write… and write.

“It’s a numbers game,” someone else said. “Submit as much
as you can.” So I did. And voila, I published some stories. Bwahahaha… I was on
a roll. Nanowrimo? Yes! Do it! So I did. I wound up with a 90,000-word fiction
thriller that’s been fermenting in my computer since last November.
“Here’s a book on how to write a memoir in 30 days,”
someone gifted me. Could I do it? Yes, I did. I wrote twenty-eight lengthy scenes
from childhood, also aging like a good merlot in my computer. Got truth? No,
can’t remember it—a dilemma, since memoir requires truth. I love making stuff
up. “So, make it a fictional memoir,” someone said when I whined of my
inability for sticking to truth.
I was trying to find my writing niche. I was fickle,
flirting with any genre that winked at me—comedy, drama, non-fiction, realistic
fiction, romance, satire. I was genre-addlepated.

“Simenson, you have decades of theatre acting under your
belt, write a play,” suggested a friend and well-known stage and TV personality
in Anchorage. Well, I do know the stage after treading the boards in Anchorage for
years on end, reciting lines of other writers—maybe it’s time to write lines of
my own.

I wrote a ten-minute play for Short Attention Span Theatre in Anchorage. I wrote it based on a bizarre
news snippet I’d heard on KFQD while driving down the Glenn Highway. My friend
suggested I expand it into a one-act and submit it to the Last Frontier Theatre Conference held in Valdez each year. So I
did. I forgot about it and worked on other writing.

When I read the email accepting my play, Evacuation, for the theatre conference,
I shrieked at my monitor, slapped my own face, and tipped over backwards (I
know other writers have done this). Having a play accepted for a staged reading
at the conference Play Lab is, well, a huge honor, as hundreds of plays are
submitted each year from all over Alaska and the Lower 48—and from around the

Once actors finish the play reading, a sophisticated panel
of theatre professionals critiques it in front of an audience, while the
playwright sweats. Each panel has three featured artists consisting of directors,
producers, and writers in professional theatre from Alaska and the Lower 48.
The critique is followed by a one-on-one discussion alone with the panel lead.
Thank goodness I’d joined some writer critique groups and had experience receiving
feedback. If I hadn’t, I may have chickened out of the conference. So I went.

I gulped at the prospect of going as a writer. I had
attended twice before, as a reader/actor of other plays and knew what to expect.
As an actor I remember being thankful I wasn’t on the hot seat.
As a first-time playwright, butterflies fought in my
stomach. I felt intimidated. I wasn’t worthy. When the reading ended my heart
pounded as the panel and the audience began commenting. I waited for the axe to
fall, you know what I mean, statements like, “The play intrigued me, but… maybe
you should start over and rewrite it.”

The horror.

I braced myself for the negative. Thankfully, I recorded
the commentary because I had post-play-reading-stage-fright deafness and couldn’t
remember what was said. The negative didn’t make its frightful entrance.
Instead, encouragement and support did. Each panel member explained what
engaged them, what didn’t, and why—what moved them, what didn’t, and why—what
was credible and what wasn’t. This is gold to a writer. “It’s gold, Jerry, gold!” Banya says in Seinfeld.

When I met with the director of the off-Broadway premiere
of one of Delia and Nora Ephron’s plays (Love,
Loss & What I Wore
), as a writer I felt I had died and gone to heaven.
By the luck of the draw, this featured artist theatre heavyweight had been
assigned as the lead panelist for my play. She offered specifics for revision
and explained why I should pursue this play to the end zone—into production and
performance by a theatre company. She told me to contact her when I finish
revising it. So I will.

Another delight was meeting writers like me, some
experienced, some not, all of us learning from the week of play readings,
discussions, and writing workshops. I can’t put a measure on this. Only writers

When I wrote my first humor blog, and timidly clicked ‘publish’
for the first time a fast year ago, this wasn’t a blip on my radar. But isn’t
that what’s fun about writing something new and different? We find ourselves in
dream-come-true situations if we stick with it and don’t give up.

I listen to my recording of the Valdez panel comments each
day when I wake up now, as I ready to write. I fast forward to the last
statement. “Congratulations, you’re a playwright.” I listen to the applause, I strengthen
my resolve, and thank the universe I chose to be a writer.

You know, a real one.

Lois Paige Simenson lives in Eagle River and writes for newspapers, magazines, and blogs at loispaigesimenson.com. She is working on two novels, The Butte Girls Club and Otter Rock.
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