I started my professional writing career by accident. First, I was mistaken for an actress and got hired to act in a murder mystery. Then I was hired by another company to write mysteries. Soon after I met, Jon Schwartz, and we would begin writing and producing our own murder mysteries for corporate events mostly under Bacchus Mystery Theatre. But the first mystery we wrote together was for Seven Course Theatre, 25 years ago!
It was the spring of 1992 and we wrote a 1920 mob murder mystery called “Speak Softly and Carry a Big Gun.” We had dancing girls, a jazz singer, comedians Rob Cleveland and Kenny Raskin, a cute entertainer named Dan. Dan was hired to do his one man show within our mystery. Well, sort of. You see, every time Dan got on stage and proclaimed he was an entertainer and started doing his act, Jon would shoot him and inform him he was a “bus boy.” We actually had a film company squib him, so his shirt would explode and a blood pack would splatter from it! We called Dan’s character “Lucky.”
I never set out to write live murder mysteries, but it was a lot of fun and I learned to “kill my darlings” as William Faulkner and Stephen King have said. It means editing out the unnecessary and unimportant. Writing is rewriting and that requires cutting out the fat, keeping it tight and moving the story forward.
Jon and I loved the dénouement of that first mystery. It lasted 20 minutes, had about 20 actors and eight guns firing at the same time. It was LOUD, chaotic and WAY over done.
It was just hours before the show, but the first chance we had to run it with the whole cast and the blank guns. The client was understandably concerned and panicked, asked the Producer if there was something she could do to get us to change the ending. (Did they really thing we would refuse?) By the time our Producer made her way over to us, we had cut it down to 5 minutes and two gun shots. We rewrote the ending with two elderly star-crossed lovers/mobsters getting shot and moving in slow motion across the room to each other, with a variety of incidents happening before falling into each others arms. It was much quieter, more satisfying and way funnier.
I learned early on not to be “married to my writing.” I can love a scene, love a line, even love a character, but I will cut it in a heartbeat to make the script better.
I did, however, fall in love and marry that cute Dan Thurmon. We will celebrate 25 years of marriage next year! I’d say I’m the lucky one!