My Writing Process Blog Tour

Thank you to my fellow storyteller and writer Julie Threlkeld for asking me to take part in this Writing Round Robin Blog Tour Thingy™. To read Julie’s response to the Writing Round Robin Blog Tour Thingy™ and to check out her other work, click here. So, here we go…

What am I working on?
Good question! If bingeing on seasons one through three of Game of Thrones so that I’m caught up and the Internet can no longer ruin it for me is “work”, then that’s what I’m working on. During my downtime (a/k/a “As the HBO Go App’s Wheel Turns”), I’m tinkering on a few things.

1) I adapted my memoir about me and My Jailed Deaf Dad into a solo show which I produced and performed a few months ago. I am giving it a tune up based on those shows. I’m re-thinking the ending mostly and trimming off the fat in other parts. Maybe I’ll enter it into a festival or keep taking it to colleges if they’ll have me.

2) I’ve got a new solo show idea in mind about my love for David Lee Roth and how he became my spiritual advisor when I was a vulnerable teenager. I’m calling it “The Book of David” or “The Gospel of David” and the show will be like attending church service but with Diamond Dave as my lord and savior. I think it could be funny, charming and, believe it or not, insightful. We’ll see. I plan to enter it into the next SoloCom or another festival for new works.

3) This summer, I’m taking a class on TV writing. I’ve got in mind a sitcom pilot but need to get some book learnin’ under my belt. I’ve never considered myself a writer and, even after banging out a memoir, still don’t. It’s not the thing that makes my motor hum the way producing and performing do. But without a script, I’ve got nothing to produce. Hence the class. It’s mostly for fun but I never thought I’d get a book deal from telling stories for fun in Ochi’s Lounge, so who knows?

How does my work differ from others of its genre?
Since my work is all autobiographical –blogging, solo shows, memoir– it is uniquely mine  by default. While our stories are universal, they come from our own experiences and points of view. I’d say my POV uses sarcasm and humor to counter some of the more brutal or sad stuff. Lately, thankfully, not much has been sad…just bizarre when it comes to living in NYC, having a comedian husband and a deaf dad in a Texas prison.

Why do I write what I do?
I was given a treasure trove of material to write with the family and life experience I got. I’d be a fool not to! Also, as a hearing kid in a deaf family, I was often serving as an interpreter and told what to say and how to say it. Having a mom who hated her private business being fodder for Deaf community gossip emphasized this even more. She gave me frequent warnings of not to tell anyone –even family– about stuff. Writing about my life with no boundaries or strict rules or fear is very liberating. The truth sets you free, yada, yada, yada. I’ve considered writing fiction but it’s a bit of an enigma to me. The endless possibilities overwhelm rather than excite me. And the fiction that I’ve thought about writing is all based on true events, so…yeah.

How does my writing process work?
By deadlines. Without deadlines I do not write. Once I have a deadline, I generally meet it. I took a playwriting class last summer during which I banged out my solo show. Since the show was based on my memoir, I wasn’t writing from scratch and it should be a cinch, right? But I had no deadline looming over me to say I need this script by X date. By signing up for the class, I was able to accomplish that goal. During the thick of writing my first draft of my memoir, I spent a lot of time cleaning house. Scrubbing, washing, dusting, organizing are all ways I free my mind to wander. There’s a lot of talking to myself, acting out, crying, yelling, laughing. Saying things out loud are important, especially if done in front of an audience. So I sign up for a lot of open mike type storytelling shows and work on my pieces that way as well.

So that’s it for me. Thanks, Julie, for tagging me! Next up on the are these terrific people:

DAVID DICKERSON is a writer, humorist, video blogger, teacher, editor, storyteller, and radio performer. I vividly remember the first time I met him in Ochi’s Lounge, the space I ran in the basement of Comix. That’s how instantaneously charming, smart as a whip and nicer than most he is. David’s writing has appeared in The Atlantic Monthly, Story Quarterly, The Gettysburg Review, and Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror. In 2009, he released his greeting card memoir, House of Cards, which is currently in development as a sitcom with USA. He is now working on his next book, a road trip/travel narrative tentatively titled Tomorrow Might Suck Less.

JENNIFER TRESS is vibrant, intelligent, has the best laugh and is one fiercely driven lady.  She’s the author of the memoir You’re Not Pretty EnoughThough the book is a collection of funny, heartfelt stories, the title story refers to something her ex-husband said to her as the reason he was having an affair (which is why, ahem, he’s her ex-husband). She is also a speaker and the founder of the Project by the same name, which is aimed at building higher self-esteem by providing a forum and discussions around beauty norms and their impact on the individual.

JENN DODD and I had the same high school drama teacher back in Texas exactly 10 years apart and now we both live in Queens. She writes more sketches and characters than anyone I know. Her solo show No Show: A One Woman Show won the Best of Studio Award at the “Out of the Loop” Fringe Festival last month and Jenn has been a finalist in the Andy Kaufmann Awards. She is a graduate of Circle in the Square Theatre School, in the cast of the off-Broadway hit The Gong Show LIVE in which she plays multiple original characters, and is a member of The Final Edition Radio Hour. You can see her live every month at the The People’s Improv Theatre where she hosts the monthly character showcase Buttski & Glasscock’s New Talent Blow Out.

Solo Shows & Storytelling

The first time I saw the Oscar-winning movie Midnight Express was the summer I turned seven years old. The Academy Award-winning film was based on the memoir by a young American named Billy Hayes who was arrested in Turkey in 1970 during an attempt to smuggle hashish out of the country by taping it all over his body. His sentence of four years was, for various reasons, converted to a minimum of thirty years to life. For trying to smuggle pot. Crazy.

Life in a Turkish prison is pretty horrific as you can imagine, and Mr. Hayes’ story left an indelible mark on my young, impressionable mind.  The movie is rated R for violence, a gay-lite prison sex scene (hubba, hubba), tons of nudity (including full frontal male, hubba, hubba, hubba), and a prison visit masturbation scene (hubb…oh…wait…this is heart-wrenching).

Obviously, it was highly inappropriate for me to watch it. Yet I did…alone…dozens of times thanks to a summer spent at my deaf grandparents who had cable TV. This should serve as a testament to powerful storytelling that a seven-year-old kid would watch a long, quietly intense drama about a Turkish prison experience.

midnightexpressLast week, I went to see Mr. Hayes in his solo show “Riding the Midnight Express”. It’s just him and a stool and a bottle of Poland Spring followed by a Q&A and book signing. He was generous of his time and gave us his all even though it was a light crowd on a Wednesday afternoon during  a snowstorm.

He told the same story he wrote in his memoir — the memoir that Oliver Stone turned into a movie that won an Oscar. After winning, I’m sure plenty would think, “Hang up the hat, dude. You did it!”. Now, 40+ years later, Mr. Hayes is touring the world with a solo show.

This is encouraging to me as someone who is worried that I’ve squeezed all the juice from the lemons life gave me.

My memoir is almost two years old and even older to NYC alt comedy and storytelling audiences. Now, here I am on a train to Rochester to give a speech at RIT/NTID and am in the early stages of producing a solo show of me telling the same old story. Really? YUP!

So the timing of seeing Mr. Hayes could not have been more perfect. There are billions of people in the world and all but several thousand of them have never heard of me, my book, my storytelling, nothing. Add to that, that I actually have a *message* of hope and societal change to share, why would I stop now?

I’m reminded of Mike Birbiglia, too. I saw him tell him tell his Sleepwalk with Me story many times as a long stand up comedy bit about ten years ago, give or take. It progressed to long form storytelling on This American Life and, most recently, a feature film.

Like Mike, I have other stories to share and hope to not be telling the same story in 40 years, but even if I am? Fantastic. What a privilege it is to have people come out, spend their hard earned money and precious time to see me. Thank you, each and every one of you, who have given me that honor.

Classic NYC Week

Highlights from my classic New York week in a nutshell:

— Worked on “The Following” where I cheek-kissed Connie Nielsen about 20 times & ogled Kevin Bacon for 12 hours.

— Ran 7 blocks through crowded streets in Queens & raced up 3 flights of stairs at the Frank Sinatra School of the Arts to vote in the mayoral primary with only 30 seconds to spare before polls closed. It was as intense & stressful as any chase scene in a movie. I should’ve had German techno music playing in the background.

— Finished my Playwriting I class with a 1st draft of my solo show script.

— Invited to perform on the first ever Solo Comedy Festival #SoloCom at The Peoples Improv Theater with the script from ^.

— Got into a screaming match with a cab driver.

This week I’ll work on “The Good Wife”, hang with my protégé after school & accompany Christian Finnegan to his headlining gig in Virginia Beach. No screaming matches allowed.

Yappy Hour Script

(Wo)Man’s Best Friend

by

Christian Finnegan & Kambri Crews

Originally performed by Christian, Kambri and Paquita in front of a live audience on “Yappy Hour” at UCB Theater on 11/1/10. And, yes, Paquita performed this exactly as scripted. Remarkable little girl.

~~~~~~

INT. ROOM
SFX: Sexy music

Kambri is laying on a bearskin rug, wearing a nightgown,
pouring herself a glass of wine. She spritzes perfume on
herself.Paquita Yappy Hour
There is a knock at the door.

KAMBRI
Come in!
Pause.
KAMBRI (CONT’D)
I’ve been waiting for you.
Come to me, Paquita. Come to me now!

Paquita comes running in and leaps into Kambri’s arms.

KAMBRI (CONT’D)
Oh, I’ve waited so long. Kiss me,
you fool!

Kambri and Paquita kiss passionately.

KAMBRI (CONT’D)
No no stop! No need to rush. I want
to savor every moment of this. Have
some wine.

Paquita drinks from Kambri’s wine glass.

KAMBRI (CONT’D)
And can I offer you some…cheese?

Paquita perks up.

KAMBRI (CONT’D)
I knew you’d like that. But I’m
going to make you earn it, baby.
Let me take a look at you!

Kambri gets Paquita to “go around” and “roll over” a few
times, periodically feeding her cheese.

KAMBRI (CONT’D)
The way you move, it’s so sexy.
It’s like your some kind
of…animal! Not like my husband,
that pathetic little worm!
But he’s out of town on business,
which means we have the whole night
to ourselves. Isn’t that wonderful,
darling? High five!

Kambri and Paquita high five.

KAMBRI (CONT’D)
Enough with all these games. I want
you. But I need to know you want me
too! I need you to speak! Speak!
Paquita barks.

KAMBRI (CONT’D)
Oh, I can’t take all of this sexual
tension. Take me! Ravage me! Let’s
make our own gravy!!

Paquita starts humping Kambri’s arm. Kambri begins writhing
in sexual extasy.

KAMBRI (CONT’D)
Yes! Yes! Give it to me, my little
chorizo!

CHRISTIAN (O.S.)
Honey, I’m home!

Christian enters, wearing his jacket and carrying a
briefcase.

CHRISTIAN (CONT’D)
Great news! I was able to close the
Mortensen deal, so I took an
earlier flight…

Christian stops, in shock. Paquita and Kambri continue their revelry, unaware.

Paquita Yappy Hour 3

CHRISTIAN (CONT’D)
What…the…FUCK IS GOING ON
HERE??

Kambri snaps out of it and clutches Paquita to her chest.

KAMBRI
Christian? What are you doing home?
I…um…
CHRISTIAN
What is the meaning of this? My wife?
And my…BEST…FRIEND?

KAMBRI
Nothing! I mean, Paquita just came
by to…I mean…

CHRISTIAN
I knew something was going on!
After all I’ve done for you, this
is how you thank me? By two-timing
me with this little bitch?

KAMBRI
She’s twice the man you’ll ever be!
Yeah, that’s right–Paquita is my
lover. And she does things to me
you could never dream of? Don’t
you, Paquita honey?

Kambri and Paquita kiss.

CHRISTIAN
Stop it! Stop it! I can’t take this
anymore!

KAMBRI
Yeah, well what are you gonna do
about it? Ha ha ha! What a loser!
Right, Paquita?

Kambri cackles while she and Paquita high five and kiss.

CHRISTIAN
I can’t take it…can’t take it…

Christian slowly pulls out a gun (his hand). Kambri notices
and is mortified.

KAMBRIPaquita Yappy Hour 2
Christian…? Where did you get
that? What are you doing?

CHRISTIAN
I’m a loser, huh?

KAMBRI
Christian, don’t! DON’T!

CHRISTIAN
If I can’t have you, no one will!
Die, you canine-loving whore!!!

Christian points his finger at Kambri and “shoots” her
repeatedly.

CHRISTIAN (CONT’D)
BANG! BANG! BANG!

KAMBRI
NO!!!

Kambri writhes as if being shot.

KAMBRI (CONT’D)
(With her dying breath,)
Unh…unh…Good dog, Paquita.
Good…dog.
Kambri dies.

Pause.

CHRISTIAN
And you. You happy now, Paquita?
Was it worth it? Ruining my life,
just for a little bit of cheese?

Christian dangles a baggy of cheese. Paquita runs over.

CHRISTIAN (CONT’D)
Look at you! Even now, it’s all you
can think about! You were supposed
to be my best friend! Well fine,
eat up.

Christian tosses her a morsel of cheese.

CHRISTIAN (CONT’D)
Consider it your last meal…bitch.
Christian pulls out his “gun”, stoops down and…

CHRISTIAN (CONT’D)
BANG!

Paquita plays dead. Christian keeps his gun on her for a few seconds, then looks away. Paquita gets up.

CHRISTIAN (CONT’D)
Oh, still alive, are you? BANG!
BANG!

Paquita again plays dead. Again, she eventually gets up.

CHRISTIAN (CONT’D)
WHY WON’T YOU DIE?? BANG! BANG!
BANG!

Paquita dies in Kambri’s arms.

THE END

Sign from Above

Before I went to bed last night, I considered what I might do today. I thought of starting yoga or meditation, saying to Christian, “I need to clear my mind. I need an open heart and eyes to feel and see.”

I privately, sheepishly declared to myself, “What is right for me? What should I be doing? I need a sign from above!”

I woke to a peaceful, breezy cool day at the Rock House. I spent much of the day researching a new hobby and helping Christian chainsaw some trees. My only “chores” were to drop Christian off at the bus station and pick up a few things at the market. After I returned home, I was on the patio putting my seedlings to bed for the night. That’s when I heard a commotion in the woods behind the outbuilding. I quickly made sure the dogs were secure then wandered to where the sound was. It had been a heavy thump with some thrashing about of leaves followed by silence. If it were deer, I would have seen and/or heard them run away. That’s when I noticed five very large birds circling very low by our outbuilding.

Bird of Prey Quill One or more must’ve attacked something. I was so glad I had made Paquita take cover. I’d read just yesterday about how Bald Eagles, which can be spotted all over these parts, can carry about 4 pounds. That doesn’t mean they wouldn’t try to lift her up and drop her from a height that could kill her. As I marveled at their cunning hunting skills and how low they were flying, this feather floated down to earth.

As I picked it up, I laughed. “A quill?! So I should write?!”

I did ask for a sign from above. Ask and you shall receive, regardless if you like the answer.

The calamus, the hollow shaft of the feather that attaches it to the bird’s skin*, was still wet with a little bit of flesh around it as though it had been ripped out from the bird’s body. Creepy! Weird! COOL!

It measures at 18 inches long (!!!) and is almost perfect except for a teensy, weensy missing nick at the top. As much as I love my little parakeet Dinah, her feathers aren’t nearly this fascinating. The dogs sniffed at it for a full five minutes, but if it moved, they jumped back as if they’d touched an electric wire.

I never did meditate today. As for tomorrow? Tomorrow I’ll wash the dishes and craft a quill pen out of my feather.

And write.

~Kambri
*Yes, I did look that up and will quiz you on it later.

I Read it for the Articles, I Swear!

Y’all. Mom found my Penthouse magazine while searching my office for paper!

I flew Mom up to New York City so she could attend my book launch party. Not just any book…my first book. A memoir, you know, about my whole life. And the publishing process took four years. Having a publication date is a monumental event –much like a wedding or a birth– and I couldn’t NOT have Mom here to celebrate. It’s her life, too. Plus, I had a fun idea for her and I to perform a little something at my party*. It would make the event even more special for her and my guests.

Mom arrived and we had a few days of tromping around New York City and rehearsing our surprise treat. I was also dragging her around Manhattan on not-so-fun errands in rainy weather with her achy knee and my split jeans. In the book, I divulged many things that Mom would probably prefer to keep in the closet with the other dusty skeletons. The time for her to accept that our laundry was about to be aired and for me to unleash my life to anonymous reviewers was drawing near.

Shit was getting real. Mad real.Penthouse

To distract us and work on something that had zilch to do with book stuff, I suggested she and I work on our new Ancestry.com project. Her face said it all: “GREAT IDEA!”

She leapt up and said, “I’ll grab some paper.”

Quicker than a wink, she was at my office printer.

My printer.

PRECISELY WHERE I’D HIDDEN MY PENTHOUSE! I thought that had been the perfect spot for it, but lo how wrong I was.

“Why did I have a Penthouse?” you ask.

For the articles, of course. Duh. Seriously! I swear! Well, one article in particular: a review for my book. It was a good review, too.

So, why hide it then? Well, I know my mom better than most people and I knew –could lay my life on it– that she would take offense to it. Not because of the vaginas, boobs, penises and balls, silly, but because of the very first line:

“Kambri Crews grew up dirt poor…”

Whether you agree or disagree with that sentence, makes no difference. Mom disagrees with it and vehemently so. It’s one of those things that really gets under her skin in a hot second. It’s a pride thing. The same way I fight tooth and nail over small injustices. Justice is my thing. Pride is hers. SO…anyway…

In the mere seconds it took her to fly off the couch into my office heading straight for the offending material, two choices flashed through my mind:

Me & Mom

1) Let Mom think I had a girly magazine hidden in my office and was possibly a closeted lesbian; or

2) Show Mom the review and face the ensuing argument.

I can’t have Mom thinking I like looking at nekkid girls! EEEEEWWW! So, I swallowed my fear and said, “Oh, hey, my Penthouse…did you see the review?”

Instant relief swept across her face. I cringe and laugh out loud thinking of what must’ve gone through her mind in those brief moments.

As predicted, she was offended. We hashed it out: There are finite lines in a girly magazine; ya gotta have a strong lede. We were poor to some people and had it good compared to others…it depends on perspective. Yadda, yadda, yadda.

At the end of the day, I wrote a book. It got reviewed in a major magazine. It was lauded. Let’s celebrate! And, boy, did we ever! We raised our glasses and laughed and hugged and smiled till our faces hurt.

We’re done keeping secrets, she and I. If there’s anything writing a memoir taught me it is this:  While it might hurt to bare the truth, secrets will make you sick. They will corrode your love and trust until all that’s left is a rusty heap of worthless scrap.

So, what did Mom think of the book? Don’t ask me, read her interview in Time Out New York!

*Here’s the fun idea I had for my book party. Enjoy!