My senior year in college, I needed some elective credit that wouldn’t cause me too many headaches. Since I had already been writing fiction for a few years, I thought it might be a kick if I took a creative writing course of some kind–you know, impress all the wannabes with my voluminous (albeit unpublished) body of work.
Being a journalism major, I also thought it would be a nice change of pace from all that just-the-facts-ma’am writing I had to do in my reporting classes. Strumming through the course catalog, I happened across something that looked kind of cool: Playwriting. I’d never taken a theater class in my life, but was enough of a ham to appreciate the performing arts. Getting a taste of that life sounded like just the ticket.
Ah, the difference between appearance and reality!
My professor, the late Charles Gordone, came with some impressive credentials. He had won a Pulitzer for his play No Place to Be Somebody, and written, as Eric Monte, the screenplay for Cooley High, which later became the basis for the TV series What’s Happening (hey HEY hey!). Charles was an interesting guy, though I must admit most of his lectures–not to mention his students–baffled me. I was a meat and potatoes writer who didn’t think there was anything mystical about the process, yet there I was surrounded by people who talked about writing in existential terms, using drama to articulate their inner demons or some such bother. So I did what any self-respecting student would–I sat in the back of the room and kept my mouth shut.
After spending the semester with the notion everybody was full of crap, however, Charles surprised me. When discussing the one-act plays everyone had written for the class, he started to savage almost everyone for sacrificing drama and character to riff on their own personal hangups–in other words, for producing exactly the kind of work we had discussed.
Almost as shocking was the grade he gave me for my play. I’d written an offshoot of a novel I had recently finished called The Lazarus Heart, a simple story without much in the way of symbolism or angst, and had fully expected to get dinged for my lack of literary sensibility. Instead, Charles gave me an A. He liked the characters and the tone, and thought the drama was tense and believable. I was so floored, I signed up for Playwriting 2 the next semester.
Weird as they were, those courses sparked my interest in plays and screenwriting. I took a few stabs at the art over the next few years, and even came close to making a sale to my two favorite TV shows at the time. So, Charles, for better or for worse, I dedicate this section to you, for much of this is the result of your handiwork. Thanks for being so unconventional.