Thursday, August 11, 2011

'Firing Off Rat-a-tat-tat-tat'

I spent a lot of time at the library when I was a teenager. When I look at the crazy schedule I had back then (tennis, track, Lit Mag, French club...the list goes on...I was a classic overachiever) I do wonder when I found the time to read the amount of books I read. And I especially wonder how I found time to read 812.

When I say 812, I am referring to the dewey decimal system. 812 is American Drama. And for some reason, my teenage self found it necessary to read 812 in it's entirety.

Some clarification: We're not talking the Library of Congress here. We're talking the Hicksville Public Library. 812 consisted of about four shelves of loosely packed, hard-cover plays (I only mention that because paperback would be much thinner and take up less room, allowing for more plays in the section) and it was my goal to read every one of them.

I did.

Add that to semesters of playwriting and screenwriting classes. Tack on a few months transcribing documentaries and several years writing scripts for children. And you have a person who is obsessed with dialogue. Who is in an ever-constant investigation of the spoken word as it is written on the page. Who struggles every day to write dialogue that rings true, voices that rise and fall a certain way, conversations that one, two, one, two back and forth at just the right moment for the time, the place, the mood. Like I said, it is my writing obsession. When I write, when I read, I pay careful attention to dialogue. And maybe I'll get it right someday in my own work. For now, all I can do is study and try.

(insert transition here)

Enter 'One Crazy Summer' by Rita Williams-Garcia. Here's a book that I admired for it's many dead-right, spot-on qualities but one I especially admired for it's beautiful dialogue. So if you're struggling, if you're investigating, as I am, this book is, in my opinion, a resource.

Just a sampling from the book of this trio of sisters: Delphine, Vonetta, and Fern. Who speak in poetry (And their rhythm of speech is dissected here. I told you. Like a resource. A guide.) It is wonderful.

When my sisters and I speak, one right after the other, it's like a song we sing, a game we play. We never need to pass signals. We just fire off rat-a-tat-tat-tat. Delphine. Vonetta. Fern.

I said, "What if all the people could recite all of your poems?"
Vonetta: "And they said them on the radio."
Fern: "And you became famous."
Me: "You couldn't hide then."
Fern: "Surely couldn't."


  1. I remember long summer hours at the library too, but I didn't read out an entire section like you did--I should have though. :)

  2. well now you KNOW I love this (all of it)

  3. Going to the library once a week was a heavenly treat. How could anyone live without books?

  4. We always lived too far away from the library to go there often as a kid, but luckily, my mom believed in book stores. And she always let us pick "just one" each time we went.

    Now I go multiple times a week with my kids. They have the place memorized and it tickles my heart every time. I love it.

    But I love what you did with reading screenplays and how you set that goal and it became such a part of you and who you are.

  5. I love your new picture.

    Never read this book. Have to look it up.

    Hicksville? As in Hicksville, NY? My aunt and cousin lived in one of the levitts. I used to visit.

  6. Libraries are special places. The book ... I need to look into that! Thank you for bringing it to the fore.